Legal Definition of jury nullification
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." 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, instructions that are criticized by advocates of jury nullification.
Historical examples of nullification include American revolutionaries who refused to convict under English law, juries who refuse to convict due to perceived injustice of a law in general, the perceived injustice of the way the law is applied in particular cases, 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.
- "Jury nullification". Encarta dictionary. Microsoft Corporation. Archived from the original on 2009-11-01. Retrieved 2009-05-21.
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- Gaspee Affair
- Trial of the Quaker William Penn (founder of Pennsylvania), 1670 and Trial of Penn and Mead (HTML)
- Clive Ponting and "Troubled history of Official Secrets Act", 1985
- 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).