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Jury Nullification: The Evolution of a Doctrine

NCJ Number
Clay S. Conrad
Date Published
334 pages
This book traces the origin and evolution of the jury's independence in its decisionmaking, with attention to jury nullification, i.e., "the act of a criminal trial jury in deciding not to enforce a law where they believe it would be unjust or misguided to do so."
The author concludes that the history of independent juries and the available social science research show that jurors are conscientious, responsible, dedicated, and serious about their tasks. Further, they show that bad lawyering, bad laws, and bad judging are more often responsible for bad verdicts than bad juries; most of the criticism of juries is not only misguided, but often deliberate scapegoating. This book shows that jury independence is neither "left" nor "right" nor anti-democratic. It is about citizen oversight of prosecutorial discretion and about the responsible limitation of the power and intrusiveness of the legislature and the criminal sanction. The author advises that properly understood, instructed, and empowered, juries can reduce social intolerance and divisiveness, reduce unnecessary incarceration, and redirect the criminal justice system to provide social protection instead of social engineering. The concluding chapter recommends that courts allow defendants and their counsel to tell jurors about the various points of view concerning the doctrine of jury nullification and the purposes the doctrine serves. Further, judges should make clear to jurors the gravity and responsibility inherent in a decision to veto the written law, but they should also make it clear that this is a responsibility the legal system places in their hands. A table of cases and a subject index