Jury nullification sounds like a lofty, confusing word that lawyers throw around in a high stakes John Grisham novel. I’m sure Grisham inspired lawyers probably have used the term jury nullification once or twice, but this term isn’t just for lawyers. This is something every American should be aware of.
What is Jury Nullification?
The good people at Merriam-Webster define jury nullification as, “the acquitting of a defendant by a jury in disregard of the judge’s instructions and contrary to the jury’s findings of fact.”
To put that in layman’s terms, jury nullification happens when a jury refuses to convict someone of a crime they have committed because the jury feels the law is unjust. It can also work the other way when a jury convicts an innocent person of a crime they didn’t commit because they feel the law is incomplete.
As you can imagine, there are some staunch opinions on this matter. Both sides passionately defend their side, and vehemently claim the other side is undermining the criminal justice system. Here’s a sample of what each side has to say.
In Support of Jury Nullification
When a jury is formed they are asked to fulfill an important but weighty duty. To take away a citizen’s liberty and freedom, sometimes even their life. With such high stakes why should they not be able to speak out and tell the government enough is enough?
This jury deliberation is the only place left in our system wherein the government has to seek permission before they act. The jury, not elected officials who are bought and sold for votes, represents the collective morality and will of the community.
The beauty of a jury is that they aren’t running for re-election, they make one decision and walk away. This allows them to look at each case and decide if this one set of actions, on this one day, in this particular set of circumstances is worthy of a conviction, prison, deprivation of rights.
Lawmakers don’t always make perfect laws, and the jury needs the option to uphold true justice without being bound. It’s important to note that supporters of jury nullification aren’t advocating for this to happen every case, but only in rare circumstances.
In Opposition of Jury Nullification
The jury’s job isn’t to make laws or even interpret the laws. The jury only decides if the defendant committed the crime they are accused of. Not only is it not the jury’s job, it’s not the jury’s responsibility. Placing that responsibility on juries to decide what the law should be, is too much for them to bear. The members of a jury are not legal experts and should not be tasked with such a difficult job.
If we were to allow juries to decide what laws are good and what laws are bad, why even have laws? Why don’t we just let the jury decide the law on a case by case basis?
Lawmakers make the law because they are trained and elected to do so. We as the people must trust that the individuals we elect through a democratic process represent our values, interests, and opinions.
This is a complex issue with lots of angles to look at. After hearing both sides of the issue, what do you think about jury nullification?