Chances are you've heard about jury nullification from the occasional reference in modern media. There have even been a number of high profile court cases where the issue of jury nullification has come up, such as the case involving Ammon Bundy and several other participants of the recent Oregon standoff. Jury nullification is an interesting and sometimes contentious element of the judicial process. The following not only sheds more light on the issue, but also how it could potentially affect your criminal case.
Defining Jury Nullification
Simply put, the concept of jury nullification involves the jury returning a verdict of "not guilty" despite the jury's belief that the defendant is guilty of the charges they're facing. Jury nullification often occurs when the jury has a strong moral disagreement with the law upon which the defendant is charged with violating.
While the defendant is technically guilty of violating said law, the jury may have its own objections and, as a result, declines to convict. These objections may be based on religious beliefs, potential constitutional issues or societal issues that result in an unfair and socially negative impact. Jury nullification can also be used to protest abusive prosecutions or misplaced enforcement priorities.
Jury nullification has been used throughout history to protest laws that were believed to be immoral or unjustly applied to those accused. For instance, jury nullification was a common form of protest in cases involving violations of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. It was also prevalent throughout the Prohibition era when juries refused to convict individuals charged with violating the various alcohol control laws of the era.
How Does the Court See Jury Nullification?
Although jury nullification is a legal practice, judges often take a dim view of the matter. Most courts avoid discussion of the practice for fear that it could encourage jury members to ignore the courts instructions and render independent verdicts instead of following general protocols. To that end, most juries are simply not informed of their power to nullify the law and defense attorneys are usually instructed not to mention the issue to the jury pool. Many judges routinely forbid any and all mentions of jury nullification in the courtroom in an effort to avoid a hung jury.
Aside from being potentially held in contempt for violating explicit instructions to not bring up jury nullification, there are no criminal penalties associated with nullifying a verdict. During the jury selection process, however, prosecutors can screen for those who are perceived as being knowledgeable about jury nullification or willing to engage in nullification. It's not unusual for jurors who believe in the concept to be struck from the jury pool at the earliest opportunity.
Jury nullification is a powerful tool in the hands of jurors, because once a person is acquitted due to nullification, they cannot be retried for the same crime due to the Fifth Amendment's double jeopardy clause. It's little wonder that the practice is often used to send a message to overzealous prosecutors and as protest against unjust laws.
Can It Help Your Case?
Since there are so many complex variables that can affect the outcome of your case, it's nearly impossible to predict if the jury will exercise its power to nullify the law and render a verdict in your favor. These variables often include the trial venue, jury makeup, the facts surrounding the case and even the likability of the plaintiff and defendant.
In other words, you shouldn't place your hopes on the jury nullifying the law in your criminal case. An experienced criminal law attorney can help you investigate other avenues of defense and ensure that you're tried by a fair and impartial jury of your peers.
Hello and welcome, I'm Winfred Paulo. I have a passion for civil court cases of all kinds. Some time back, I ended up in the thick of a civil case after a lengthy dispute with my neighbor. The dispute went on for years and ended badly with an incident that landed us both in court. We had to prove our side of the case in an effort to obtain a positive outcome and recoup our losses. Unfortunately, I lost the case due to a lack of evidence. Since then, I've maintain a strong interest in civil cases and their proceedings. I will share information about civil cases on this site to help others understand these proceedings better. I may talk about legal terms, and expected outcomes for each case type. I hope you visit often to learn more. Thanks for stopping by my website.