Advertisement
Legal Dictionary

jury nullification

Legal Definition of jury nullification

Further reading

Jury nullification is the process whereby a jury in a criminal case nullifies a law by acquitting a defendant regardless of the weight of evidence against him or her."[1] Widely, it is any rendering of a verdict by a trial jury which acquits a criminal defendant despite that defendant's violation of the letter of the law that is, of an official rule, and especially a legislative enactment. Jury nullification need not disagree with the instructions by the judge which concerns what the law (common or otherwise) is but it may rule contrary to an instruction that the jury is required to apply the "law" to the defendant in light of the establishment of certain facts.

Strictly speaking, a jury verdict which rules contrary to the letter of the law pertains only to the particular case before it; however, if a pattern of identical verdicts develops in response to repeated attempts to prosecute a statutory offense, it can have the practical effect of invalidating statute. Jury nullification is thus a means for the public to express opposition to an unwanted legislative enactment.

The jury system was established because it was felt that a panel of citizens, drawn at random from the community, and serving for too short a time to be corrupted, would be more likely to render a just verdict, through judging both the evidence and the law, than officials who may be unduly influenced to follow established legal practice, especially when that practice has drifted from its constitutional origins. However, in most modern Western legal systems, juries are often instructed to serve only as "finders of facts", whose role it is to determine the verity of the evidence presented,[2] instructions that are criticized by advocates of jury nullification.

Historical examples of nullification include American revolutionaries who refused to convict under English law,[3] juries who refuse to convict due to perceived injustice of a law in general,[4] the perceived injustice of the way the law is applied in particular cases,[5] and cases where the juries have refused to convict due to their own prejudices such as the race of one of the parties in the case.[6]

References

  1. "Jury nullification". Encarta dictionary. Microsoft Corporation. Archived from the original on 2009-11-01. Retrieved 2009-05-21.
  2. [1] (HTML)
  3. Gaspee Affair
  4. Trial of the Quaker William Penn (founder of Pennsylvania), 1670 and Trial of Penn and Mead (HTML)
  5. Clive Ponting and "Troubled history of Official Secrets Act", 1985
  6. Kennedy, Randall. "Racial Conduct by Jurors and Judges: The Problem of the Tainted Conviction," pp. 277-282, and "Black Power in the Jury Box?", pp. 295-310, Race, Crime and the Law (1997).

Definition of jury nullification

Noun

jury nullification

  1. (law) an acquittal by a jury of a defendant ignoring the facts of the case and/or the law.

    The prosecutor thought he lost the case, not due to the creation of reasonable doubt, but due to jury nullification.

Further reading

Jury nullification occurs in a trial when a jury reaches a verdict contrary to the judge's instructions as to the law.

A jury verdict contrary to the letter of the law pertains only to the particular case before it; however, if a pattern of acquittals develops in response to repeated attempts to prosecute a statutory offence, it can have the de facto effect of invalidating the statute. A pattern of jury nullification may indicate public opposition to an unwanted legislative enactment.

The jury system was established because it was felt that a panel of citizens, drawn at random from the community, and serving for too short a time to be corrupted, would be more likely to render a just verdict. It was feared that a single judge or panel of government officials may be unduly influenced to follow established legal practice, even when that practice had drifted from its origins. However, in most modern Western legal systems, juries are often instructed to serve only as "finders of facts", whose role it is to determine the veracity of the evidence presented, and the weight accorded to the evidence, but not the application of that evidence to the law. Similarly, juries are routinely cautioned by courts and some attorneys to not allow sympathy for a party or other affected persons to compromise the fair and dispassionate evaluation of evidence during the guilt phase of a trial. These instructions are criticized by advocates of jury nullification.

Some commonly cited historical examples of jury nullification involve the refusal of American revolutionaries to convict a defendant under English law. Juries have also refused to convict due to the perceived injustice of a law in general, or the perceived injustice of the way the law is applied in particular cases. There have also been cases where the juries have refused to convict due to their own prejudices such as the race of one of the parties in the case. Other cases reveal that some juries simply refuse to render a guilty verdict in the absence of overwhelming direct or scientific evidence to support such a judgment. With this type of jury impaneled for the trial of a case, even substantial and competently presented circumstantial evidence may be discounted or rendered inconsequential during the jury's deliberation.

Background

Jury nullification is a de facto power of juries. Judges rarely inform juries of their nullification power. The power of jury nullification derives from an inherent quality of most modern common law systems-a general unwillingness to inquire into jurors' motivations during or after deliberations. A jury's ability to nullify the law is further supported by two common law precedents: the prohibition on punishing jury members for their verdict, and the prohibition (in some countries) on retrying defendants after an acquittal (see related topics res judicata and double jeopardy).

References:

  1. Wiktionary. Published under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.



SHARE THIS PAGE


TOP LEGAL TERMS THIS WEEK
1.     stare decisis
2.     banish
3.     Miranda warning
4.     AORO
5.     adjudication order
6.     tenancy in common
7.     precedent
8.     lex patriae
9.     appellant
10.     capital punishment