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A to Z blogging - Letter J: Jury Nullification

Letter J - Jury Nullification:

This post is for entertainment purposes only for the A to Z Blogging Challenging. It is in no way intended as legal advice or my legal opinion.

Is Jury Nullification Legal?

Is it morally or ethically right?

During closing argument, a good prosecutor will always remind the jury that they "Must follow the law, whether they like the law or not. They can hate the law, disapprove of the law ... but this ain't the time to quarrel with the law or try and change the law." 

If they feel strongly enough about changing the law, then after the trial, get busy writing their congressmen and do something about it. Be proactive. But there's a time and place for everything. Now is the time to listen to the judge read the jury instructions and apply them to the facts of THIS case and if the state proved this case Beyond a Reasonable Doubt, "You must Remember the Oath you Swore when you became a juror ... your oath to follow the law. Follow the law. Not only if you agree with the law, or if you like the law ... you didn't take an oath to follow the law, only if you agree that the sentence won't be too harsh. You cannot sit there and know the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, but say, hmm, I sure do hate for him to have a criminal record ...  and ... that law doesn't seem fair. I'm voting not guilty. Because if you do ... guess what? You've violated your oath." If every jury did that, we would never have law and order. We wouldn't have a need for juries." That's what a good prosecutor would hammer into the minds of every juror during her closing argument.

And when the judge reads the jury instructions to the jury in a hushed courtroom. He reminds them that it is their sole duty to determine whether or not the government has met their burden? Proven their case? He tells them they must weigh the credibility of the witnesses. They have an awesome responsibility. They should not be influenced or swayed by emotions, prejudice or bias for or against anyone. They must base their decision solely on the evidence or lack thereof, presented at trial and are not permitted to consider any outside evidence or any outside knowledge of the case.

Jury Nullification ... is the power to nullify a verdict? Is the power to nullify a verdict the same as the right to?  

Jury Nullification: When a jury returns a verdict of "Not Guilty" despite being convinced the defendant is guilty of the crime charged. The jury in effect, nullifies a law that it believes is wrong, immoral or has been wrongfully applied to the defendant whose fate they have been charged with deciding.

 I remember two specific cases of jury nullification. In the first a jury acquitted a woman charged with murdering her abusive husband. The evidence clearly showed a pattern of horrific injuries sustained over the years her robust husband who lifted weights, boxed and had recently taken up martial arts. In addition to the physical abuse, sexual abuse, he tormented her verbally, and got off putting her down in front of others. He terrorized her with his new martial arts hobby. He had no criminal record and just days before his death he purchased two pistols and and several rifles, he claimed he needed for hunting.

Regrettably, self defense did not apply because the woman was not technically in fear for her life at the exact moment she chose to kill him. Her fear and panic intensified  over the years and she could no longer live with the horror and dread that any day might be her last. She armed herself with two handguns and waited until he was passed out drunk until she shot him. The photos offered into evidence combined with her mutilating injuries, medical records, doctors' testimony and throngs of witnesses who came forward on her behalf from the apartment complex and both her place of work and the decedent's had the jury in tears. There was no way that jury was going to send that petite, fragile girl to prison for the rest of her life. She'd already lived through nine years of hell. Her once quite attractive face was permanently scarred and disfigured and she walked with a limp. She was twenty-six years old, and no longer able to have children because of the abuse. The law required the jury to convict her of murder, but they found her not guilty.

The second case was an elder woman in her sixties, charged with possession of marijuana with intent to distribute. The only reason she caught the intent charge was the massive quantity she had in her home and her refusal to name the person she bought it from. Tragically, she was suffering -- dying from cancer and the pot eased her pain and nausea from the chemo. We live in a state that hasn't legalized weed even for medicinal purposes. The jury found her not guilty in less than half an hour

Do juries have the right to nullify?

There is no question that juries clearly have the power to nullify, but do they have the right to nullify?

Jury nullification occurs when a jury concludes the defendant is technically guilty, but fails to convict on the grounds that the law in question is unjust. While jury nullification is technically legal, most judges refrain from informing the jury of their inherent super power. Some judges go a step further and deny defense counsel the right to share this information with the jury
Check out this First Punitive Response to Jury Nullification, That's taking things a bit far.

Some judges flat out prohibit defense attorneys from mentioning or making reference to jury nullification. 
But check out this jury instruction, it appears to encourage jury nullification ... without actually saying the words.
This is probably a proposed jury instruction from a defense attorney, but from my reading, three or more states are close to adding it to standard jury instructions and individual judges have already permitted it on a case by case basis.

Compare & Contrast to the Florida Jury Instructions:

Once a jury returns a verdict of "not guilty"that verdict cannot be disturbed or questioned by anyone and double jeopardy prohibits them from ever being re-tried. A not guilty verdict is the end of the case. So it is easy to see that any jury can exercise their "power" of jury nullification without any recourse.

If juries have the "power" to nullify, shouldn't they be told?  Not only are they not told, some courts go so far as to tell a jury that they may not exercise jury nullification.

Jurors must learn of this power from outside sources such as the television or from lawyers or other jurors.

So what do you think?  Should jurors be told of their "power" of jury nullification?  Does the power of jury nullification make it a right? Can you think of any circumstance that may cause you to render a verdict of not guilty despite knowing that the government proved the defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt?

Do you support or oppose jury nullification?

Can you foresee a situation that you might return a not guilty verdict even if the government proved the defendant's guilt and you were convinced of the defendant's guilt? Please share in the comments a situation you would exercise jury nullification.

This is not offered as legal advice or my legal opinion. I'm not currently practicing law and this post is strictly for the A to Z Challenge ... entertainment purposes.


PJ said...

Wow, that's so interesting and such an ethical dilemma. Like the two cases you shared, I do think there are instances when Jury nullification definitely would be a good thing, most around similar cases like the abuse one you described.
I'd never heard of this before so thank you for sharing and I need to catch up on your other posts.
Pamela @ Days of Fun

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Melissa - I'm sure it is right in some cases. In England I know sometimes the previous convictions are withheld from the court ... but I'm not fully versed to qualify to give an answer ... I was called for jury service as I was leaving to live in South Africa - so have never had the experience ... I'd be better qualified now - before I'd have been too young (30 or so) in my opinion to fully comprehend - depends on the case though ... Cheers Hilary

Sherry Ellis said...

The two examples you cited can show how jury nullification can be good. Maybe things aren't always black and white. It's such a fine line to walk, though.

Jacqui said...

Hearing those two example, H*** Yes I support it. But we are a nation of laws. As a result, I just don't know.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Melissa - hope all well ... give me a check in - take care and all the best - cheers H xox

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