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Considering Jury Nullification: When May and Should a Jury Reject the Law To Do Justice

NCJ Number
American Criminal Law Review Volume: 30 Issue: 2 Dated: (Winter 1993) Pages: 239-254
J B Weinstein
Date Published
16 pages
Nullification of the law can take the forms of non- prosecution, judge or jury nullification, and pardon or amnesty. Jury nullification occurs when jurors, based on their own sense of justice, refuse to follow the law and acquit a defendant even when the evidence presented seems to point to an incontrovertible verdict of guilty.
The current concerns with nullification seem to stem from disquieting societal trends, centered around racial disharmony and antagonism. However, nullification is a legitimate result of an appropriate constitutional process safeguarded by judges and the judicial process. This author, for one, maintains that, although juries should not be explicitly instructed that they have the power to nullify, judges should use their discretion to allow nullification by applying the concepts of relevancy and prejudice and by admitted evidence bearing on moral issues. Most jurors, he points out, follow the evidence, deliberate fully, and ask the right questions during their deliberations. Nullification had its American origins in colonial juries which ignored British law to acquit dissidents. Along with civil disobedience, nullification may be seen as an integral feature of the birth of this nation. The group decisionmaking process inherent in the jury system protects the law from the chaos that would result if each individual could interpret it according to his sense of justice. This author concludes that judges should allow nullification without fostering it. 65 notes


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