Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Jury Nullification

Wandering around the web, I stumbled on this thread on jury nullification at Patterico's Pontifications. The best comment on the subject I found there is this one. In part:

Jury nullification is the reason for juries in the first place. Absent that power, there is no reason whatever to involve nonspecialists in evaluating evidence and applying the law.
The reason juries exist, and are supposed to be made up of the “peers” — social equals — of the defendant, is that the jury has the power to say, “Yes, this was a violation of the law, but the law is an ass in this case. Turn ‘im loose!”
A jury that cannot nullify is not a jury. It is a panel of incompetent lawyers. Eliminate that power and you have eliminated the guarantee that the jury system offers the accused.
The important part here is "in this case." Jury nullification in one case does not affect any other case - past, present, or (for the most part) future. It applies only to the specific case the jury is deciding. Unlike a circuit court (or higher) decision, it is not binding on any other case, anywhere - even in the same court the next day. The law remains as it was.

It can also be a great tool if the legislature is not paying attention to the people. If enough prosecutions under a bad law are victims of jury nullification, there's a good chance the prosecutors will stop bringing charges under that particular law, because it looks bad if they lose (and that is where it can affect future cases).

Having said all that, there is another important point that needs to be made. Jury nullification is a tool that should be used both sparingly and carefully. It has been used for good (when juries would refuse to convict conductors on the underground railroad) and evil (when juries would refuse to convict klansmen for murders). It still has that potential today, and likely always will.

Note: I know this was an old thread, but I got inspired, and just couldn't leave the subject alone.


straightarrow said...

there was a long comment string on this very thing at Uncle's, mostly between myself and one of the lawyers there. I think you might find this interesting. Especially the law professional's absolute refusal to consider anything that went against his preconceptions.

Gotta wonder what law school is training them for, at least I do?

This should get it. If I didn't screw it up.

straightarrow said...

google won't find it, but yahoo search did.

I will warn you that it is an impolite thread, and I am as guilty as anyone there of discourtesy. But a hot button of mine is when professionals in any field substitute their personal preferences for fact.

One more caveat, the case references are limited, but I read a great many cases that upheld a jury's right to judge the law. However, it became apparent that I was not debating honest people, so I didn't bother with many. There was no way to get honest consideration of Sparf said, it would have been the same with the others as well.

As I said I soon ran out of courtesy, but I often do when dealing with the dishonest.

straightarrow said...

Ijust went and read the referenced thread. and my opinion of patterico and his ilk is not favorable.

I had already surmised that he and at least one other of my opponents at Uncle's were prosecutors who believed they could not function in a fair system where the jury understood its duty. That does not speak to the law, but rather to their characters.

Riposte3 said...

What got me was how so many of them seemed to have an "it could never happen in America" attitude when the history of pre-revolution jury nullification was brought up. They ignore how the founders witnessed the beneficial powers of jury nullification of unjust laws... right up until the king suspended the right to a jury trial.