by David Sims
IN ANY criminal trial, jurors have a constitutional right to judge not only the defendant, but also the law itself. A jury might determine that a defendant is guilty of breaking a law, but refuse to convict him because they have also determined that the law that he broke is unjust, unreasonable, or unconstitutional.
That’s jury nullification. Every juror has the right to exercise it. Judges don’t tell them this, however. In fact, the US Supreme Court ruled in 1895 (in United States v Sparf) that jurors did not have the right to be informed that they had the power to nullify the law for the case they were hearing. Notice that the Court did NOT say that this right doesn’t exist (it does), but only that judges don’t have any obligation to tell them about it.
The American people should use their power to nullify laws if there is any doubt about their wisdom. Most of the laws are written to favor corporations, rich people, special interests, and, generally, the status quo of the currently powerful elites. But they haven’t gotten rid of jury nullification, which is just about the last potentially effective legal defense the people have. As we all should know by now, our elections are controlled.
If you are named as a juror, and you have any doubt at all regarding the ethics or the wisdom of the law that your defendant is said to have broken, then by all means inform your fellow jurors about jury nullification and why you believe it should be used in the case before you.
If a child is arrested for selling lemonade without a license, nullify the law under which the child was charged.
If your neighbor is arrested for growing vegetables in his front yard, nullify the law under which your neighbor was charged.
It’s simple. Nullifying unreasonable or unjust laws should not be a difficult thing to do. Don’t go with the herd mentality. Do it for your neighbor, the defendant, as you would have him do for you, if your place and his were reversed. Don’t listen to official bombast from the judge about what you “must” do. As a juror, you have the right to nullify laws, and, if there is any doubt about whether the law is moral and is wise, then nullifying it is exactly what you should do.
Jurors may never be punished for any verdict they return. If a judge tries to punish a jury for nullification, then the judge is breaking the law himself.
I think that a jury could legally go so far as to perform a few of Shakespeare’s plays in the courtroom, and, as long as they called it their “verdict,” they could get away with it.
So, of course, nullification is a perfectly legal thing for a jury to do.
“We, the jury, refuse to convict the defendant. We are nullifying the law under which he was charged. Some of us, during our deliberations, as we were considering the facts of the case, came to the opinion that the defendant would have been justified in breaking this law and so shouldn’t be punished even if he were guilty. Others of us believe that this particular law should never have existed in the first place. We refuse to convict the defendant, and that, Your Honor, is our verdict.”
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Source: David Sims