Jury Nullification

A juror in this case likely nullified!


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For the two people who don’t know what Jury Nullification is:


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Now the real question is, how did the juor(s) get past voir dire?

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They lied. Though in their defense the question was poorly worded and they probably didn’t realize they were lying.

When the lawyer/judge asked “Is there any reason or belief that you have that may prevent you from making a decision based strictly on the law?” They obviously said no.

How does “based strictly on the law” discount jury nullification?

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Because you’re making a judgement based on the morals of the law itself, not strictly on how it’s written.

I can’t think of an example of jury nullification that doesn’t involve jurors deciding the case however they want rather than how the law says they should.

Like if a juror decides not to convict the obviously guilty leader of a lynch mob, 'cause racism. That’s nullification 'cause they’re racist.

The jury in To Kill a Mockingbird who decided to convict the obviously innocent black dude, also nullification in my opinion, again 'cause racism.

Weirdly I feel like if anyone doesn’t answer that question with a yes, they shouldn’t be on a jury. Like, at Nuremberg the “just following orders” defense is true. All the stuff those nazis did, was legal under the laws of the land they were in. Somehow Justice Jackson, got his and by extension America’s head out of their ass and recognized that making a decision based not on the law was the right idea.

Not sure why we’ve regressed. If everyone at Nuremberg truthfully answered that question no, they’d have acquitted goering

It’s a powerful tool. The southern states used it to effectively decriminalize racial violence for a long long time. It took bringing federal charges and federal juries to bear to reign that in.

I see no reason why liberals and reasonable people shouldn’t use this same powerful tool today to achieve opposite ends and resist truly unjust laws.

Isn’t the right to jury nullification part of “the law”? That’s the part that doesn’t make sense to me.

I understand that prosecutors and judges don’t want jurors to know about jury nullification, but I don’t see how this weasel wording somehow forbids jurors from nullifying (assuming they’re aware of nullification beforehand, which is a separate issue).

How can you do a nullification and simultaneously answer “Is there any reason or belief that you have that may prevent you from making a decision based strictly on the law?” with a no?

Theoretically, if you do a nullification then by definition, whatever reason you used to justify your nullification IS the aforementioned reason that you denied in that question.

My guess for the actual mechanism is that that question is asked under oath and lying by saying no is purgery. You can be prosecuted for purgery for saying no to that and then doing a nullification.

My understanding there is no. Nullification isn’t anywhere in the law. It’s just that the jury’s ability to give whatever verdict they want is, without being challenged or having to explain their reasoning. QED nullification exists, not because it’s written down that it does, but because having a legal system like ours means it’d have to exist, as much as most justice boner types’d rather it didnt’t

Simple. You can’t know someone’s mind, so you can’t legislate their thought process. A juror can come to any conclusion they want, and you can’t truly, without specific evidence, claim to know their reasoning and thus second-guess them.

A jury is sacrosanct. They can decide the matter based on the evidence presented. To say that anyone has the power to decide that they decided incorrectly undermines the very concept of a jury.

Nullification is a effectively a natural right so long as juries exist.

Nope. The court can’t claim to know your mind. IANAL, but from everything I’ve read it’s practically impossible to go after anyone for even direct and obvious nullification.

So of course. If you do a nullification correctly, by just deciding whatever you want and not justifying it. You’re golden and there’s nothing anyone can do.

If, on the other hand, you spend the entire jury time explaining to the other jurors that you can decide whatever you want and you can all nullify it and maybe you tell your wife or you tell one of the Councillors or the judge gets wind of it.

I’m not gonna say you’ll definitely be hit with a purgery charge, but I’m not gonna say you definitely won’t either. You’ll almost certainly get ejected from the jury and you may even manage to get a mistrial declared.

No. It’ll be, at worst, a mistrial and the entire process starts all over.

Practically, nullification en masse will likely result in a series of mistrials until the prosecution effectively gives up, over and over again.

No one’s going to jail for nullifying even if they do so openly.

Maybe you’re right, IANAL or a clerk or any person who know’s how this may play out irl. I just think there’s definitely some level of badly you can do this that would result in a charge of some kind, probably purgery.

You apparently agree. I’m curious what you mean by specific evidence. I thought just making your intentions to nullify known to the court would be enough. Especially after lying during voir dire.

As a lawyer, I will say that first, I AM a lawyer, but I’m not a criminal lawyer and it’s been a while since I learned criminal or constitutional law, so don’t rely on what I say as legal advice…

As @SkeleRym wrote out, jury nullification is never explicitly mentioned anywhere. That being said:

Nullification is not an official part of criminal procedure, but is the logical consequence of two rules governing the systems in which it exists:

  1. Jurors cannot be punished for reaching a “wrong” decision (such as acquitting a defendant despite their guilt being proven beyond a reasonable doubt).[5]
  2. A defendant who is acquitted cannot be tried again for the same alleged crime in front of another jury.

(The Wikipedia page for jury nullification is very good and if you’re interested in the subject, you should check it out.)

The interesting wrinkle with nullification is that while juries are allowed to perform it, lawyers are not allowed to mention it as a potential remedy in court.

" In the 1895 case of Sparf v. United States written by Justice John Marshall Harlan, the United States Supreme Court held 5 to 4 that a trial judge has no responsibility to inform the jury of the right to nullify laws.[42] This decision, often cited, has led to a common practice by United States judges to penalize anyone who attempts to present a nullification argument to jurors and to declare a mistrial if such argument has been presented to them. In some states, jurors are likely to be struck from the panel during voir dire if they will not agree to accept as correct the rulings and instructions of the law as provided by the judge.[43]

In recent rulings, the courts have continued to prohibit informing juries about jury nullification. In a 1969, Fourth Circuit decision, U.S. v. Moylan , 417 F.2d 1002 (4th Cir.1969), the Court affirmed the concept of jury nullification, but upheld the power of a court to refuse to permit an instruction to the jury to this effect.[44] In 1972, in United States v. Dougherty , 473 F.2d 1113, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit issued a ruling similar to Moylan that affirmed the de facto power of a jury to nullify the law but upheld the denial of the defense’s chance to instruct the jury about the power to nullify.[45]

In 1988, the Sixth Circuit upheld a jury instruction: “There is no such thing as valid jury nullification.” In United States v. Thomas (1997), the Second Circuit ruled that jurors can be removed if there is evidence that they intend to nullify the law. The Supreme Court has not recently confronted the issue of jury nullification.

In 2017, the Ninth Circuit upheld the first three sentences of the jury’s instruction and overruled the second half. The jury instructions were:

"You cannot substitute your sense of justice, whatever that means, for your duty to follow the law, whether you agree with it or not. It is not for you to determine whether the law is just or whether the law is unjust. That cannot be your task. (UPHELD)

There is no such thing as valid jury nullification. You would violate your oath and the law if you willfully brought a verdict contrary to the law given to you in this case." (OVERRULED)

However, the Ninth Circuit deemed this instruction a harmless error and affirmed the conviction."

Edited to add:

Because juries are allowed to nullify, but lawyers can’t bring it up in court, this leads to most trials trying to remove all lawyers from the jury in voir dire, because lawyers are aware of jury nullification.


Thanks for the great explanation of the guardrails around this topic. I have never served on a jury unfortunately and respect the principle behind voir dire to remove jurors with obvious prejudice for the defendant or circumstances of the case but have never been comfortable with the popular understanding of how juries are whittled down. Specifically, it seems like intelligent people who can reason for themselves are highly unpopular for juries and that feels like a miscarriage of justice if one is entitled to be tried before a jury of their peers. I’m sure that I’m over-generalizing, but the idea that getting a group of compliant idiots (painting with a broad brush, I know) is the common goal feels unconstitutional and unethical.

It’s worse than that actually.

Jury Duty should be held up as a civic duty that we should want to do and be proud to do, like voting. Instead, it’s mostly seen as something to avoid and as a nuisance. Most people will try to do anything they can to avoid jury duty. As a result, not only are the intelligent people weeded out, but you’re left with mostly elderly people (who don’t work) or people who don’t have good excuses.

I’ve wanted to serve on a jury. I’m willing and able.

I’ve been removed every time. Not even for nullification. Every time it was after I explained what I do for a living.

I have sat on a jury for a criminal case, even after explaining what I do, software engineer, for a living. I was fairly young at the time, so maybe that was it? This was a for a case of one dealer stealing from another dealer, so that was maybe why they got rid of all the more down to earth people?