jury nullification | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Introduction / Law

Jury nullification refers to a finding of not guilty by a jury that believes the defendant does not deserve punishment.

Jury nullification happens in a courtroom during a trial. A trial is a process where a person accused of a crime, called a defendant, faces a jury. The jury is a group of ordinary people who listen to the evidence, the stories, and the facts about the case. They then decide if the defendant is guilty or not.

But, sometimes, the jury chooses not to follow the law strictly. They might think that the law is unfair or that it shouldn’t apply in the specific case they are hearing. If they believe this, they might find the defendant not guilty, even if the facts and the law would usually lead to a guilty verdict. This action is what we call jury nullification.

The Role of the Jury

The jury’s job is very important in our criminal justice system. They represent the public, and they ensure that the government’s power is not absolute. Above all, they make sure that justice is done. This role allows them to make a decision based on not only the facts and the law but also on their own beliefs about what is fair and right.

If the jury thinks that a law is unjust or that applying it in a particular case would lead to an unfair result, they have the power to nullify that law. They do this by finding the defendant not guilty. Remember, this is not the usual way a jury operates, but it’s a possibility that our justice system allows for.

Jury Nullification and Its Controversy

Jury nullification can be very controversial. On one hand, it can be seen as a powerful way for ordinary people to protest against unjust laws. If a jury believes that a law is unjust, they can refuse to apply it, thereby sending a message to lawmakers that they should reconsider that law.

However, on the other hand, some people worry that jury nullification can undermine the rule of law. The rule of law is the principle that every person, no matter who they are, should be treated equally under the law. If juries can just decide not to apply a law because they don’t agree with it, some worry that it could lead to unequal treatment.

Jury Nullification and You

So, why does this matter to you? Well, as a future juror, you might be faced with a difficult decision about a defendant’s guilt. Understanding jury nullification will help you to know that you have the power to think critically about the law and its application.

Also, as a citizen, understanding jury nullification can help you think more deeply about the nature of our justice system. After all, our criminal justice system is not just about laws and punishments. It’s also about fairness, justice, and the role of ordinary people in maintaining those values.

In conclusion, jury nullification is an interesting and controversial aspect of our criminal justice system. It represents the power of the jury to uphold fairness and justice, but it also poses challenging questions about the rule of law. It’s an important concept to understand whether you’re studying law, preparing to serve on a jury, or just trying to be a well-informed citizen.

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Last Modified: 06/12/2023

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