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What Is Jury Nullification?


In the United States of America, when a criminal case goes to trial, jury members are selected, and their role is to evaluate the evidence presented at trial and determine if the defendant is guilty or innocent. Jurors are required to apply the relevant laws to the evidence presented at trial and reach a verdict. Usually, the judge is the one who gives jury members the applicable laws. Generally, jurors must not let their sympathy for the defendant or victim, feelings about the crime, or disagreement with a law prevent them from objectively evaluating the defendant’s guilt or innocence. However, at times, jurors disregard the law and reach a verdict that is contrary to the law. This is referred to as jury nullification. This article discusses jury nullification.

How Does Jury Nullification Work?

Jury nullification is when a jury knowingly and deliberately rejects the evidence presented at trial or refuses to apply the law. It is when the jury returns a verdict of “not guilty” even if it believes beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty. This can happen because jury members disagree with the law the defendant is prosecuted under or think the law should not be applied in the particular case. Jury nullification can occur because jury members want to send a social message or because the result dictated by law contradicts their sense of morality, justice, or fairness.

Is Jury Nullification Legal?

You may wonder, is jury nullification legal? Whether jury nullification is legal or not in the United States is a complex matter. However, jury nullification has been happening in the U.S. since the beginning of the trial system and has been upheld in various cases.

Because courts are dedicated to ensuring jury members apply the law evenly and fairly, some judges prohibit the mention of jury nullification in the courtroom. Also, a person can be punished if they tell the jury about jury nullification. A person may be charged with jury tampering if they are caught spreading information about jury nullification to jurors. Even a criminal defense attorney cannot ask a jury to consider nullification.

Generally, jury nullification stems from two situations. First, the court cannot punish jurors for the verdict they render, regardless of how unpopular it is. Second, an improper acquittal cannot be appealed since people are protected against double jeopardy. The Double Jeopardy Clause prohibits a person from being prosecuted twice for the same crime. Once a jury returns a verdict of “not guilty,” even if it is because members nullified the law, the verdict cannot be overturned.

What Is the Effect of Jury Nullification?

Generally, jury nullification cannot change the law. However, if there is a consistent pattern of acquittals for a particular crime, it can result in a statute being invalidated. For example, the consistent pattern of jury members nullifying the law in alcohol prosecutions led to “Prohibition” being repealed. The Prohibition era was a time when a nationwide law prohibited the production, transportation, importation, and sale of alcohol.

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To get help with a criminal case, contact our experienced NYC criminal attorney, Mark I. Cohen, at 212-732-0002.

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