DISCLAIMER: Reading this article may prevent you from ever serving on a jury without risk of committing perjury. The NWYJ or any of its affiliates are not responsible for any damages incurred directly or indirectly from this article. Read this article at your own risk.
DISCLAIMER 2: The NWYJ or any of its affiliates do not have a stance on jury nullification. This article is meant to acknowledge the existence of it.
The choice is simple. If the evidence says guilty, the jury decides guilty. If the evidence says not guilty, the jury decides not guilty. In other words, if it doesn’t fit, you must acquit… right? Not always. Sometimes if it does fit, you acquit. Other times, the opposite might happen.
This is the effect of jury nullification. Nullification exists as a consequence of the purpose of the jury as dictated by the law. The jury is not there to find the guilt or innocence of a suspect, but to create a decision on their guilt. Most times, this decision is based on law, but does not always have to. Furthermore, juries cannot be punished for a ‘wrong’ decision, so nullification is protected.
Nullification has two types. The first type is when evidence points to a guilty verdict, but the jury decides to acquit. This is much more common, even as uncommon as nullification is, mostly because a judge cannot overturn a not guilty verdict. The other type is when evidence points to acquittal, but the jury decides to convict. This is the less common type, because the judge can overturn the guilty verdict.
Nullification has strong support and opposition. Supporters bring up examples such as helpers of fugitive slaves. Technically committing crimes against the Fugitive Slave Act, many Norther juries decided to acquit these helpers. Opponents bring up examples from a similar time. Lynch mobs, technically committing some form of illegal homicide, were generally acquitted by Southern juries.
Such as in the previous example, nullification is sometimes used to push a social cause or be able to use a standard of justice – dictated by the mob and that is contrary to the law.
Nullification, good or bad as it may be, will be here to stay as long as the government will.
This column is not an adequate or appropriate replacement or substitute for legal advice. The Northwest Youth Journal or any of its affiliates are void of any liability stemming from this article. Contact your lawyer for legal advice.