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Old 02-02-2009, 03:22 PM
Location: Nebraska
4,222 posts, read 6,989,869 times
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I am not an attorney and 99% of my reading on legal issues has been from John Grisham and other novelists works. One concept I have always wondered about is the idea of "Jury Nullification". My understanding of Jury Nullification is that ANY member of a Jury can refuse to convict a defendant if the Jury thinks that the LAW the accused has violated is unconstitutional.

Do any of you LEGAL scholars know if Jury Nullification is a recognized legal principle or is it just a figment of the imagination of Novelists?

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Old 02-02-2009, 03:32 PM
Location: The Woods
16,454 posts, read 21,465,702 times
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A right of juries in every state and federal court. But some judges are quite hostile towards it.
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Old 02-02-2009, 03:36 PM
Location: Victoria TX
42,668 posts, read 71,523,609 times
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I'm not a legal scholar, but when called for jury duty, a asked a couple of attorneys about nullification, and here are the nuts and bolts of what they told me.

If a jury returns a verdict, in any state, it cannot be revisited, so a nullifying verdict must stand. It would be unlawful for any judge to sanction any member of a jury after the verdict is returned, and this is also something which, I believe, would not be subject to state statutes.

Interestingly, if a prospective juror asks a judge about nullification, whether by name or by inference, the judge will invariable instruct the juror that nullification would not be permissible. However, that is not true. But any juror who indicated that he even knew the meaning of the word would likely be disqualified from jury duty by the judge, and if not, would certainly be excused as a peremptory by the prosecutor.

The fact is, judges, charged with a fair trial, will invariably lie blatantly to any prospective juror who asks such a question, and everyone who knows law knows that such a judge is lying while acting as an officer of the court. But I know of none who has ever been reprimanded for this.
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Old 02-02-2009, 04:43 PM
Location: Eastern Washington
13,388 posts, read 42,701,155 times
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When I was called up for jury duty recently in Washington State, our general instructions were that the jury would decide the facts of the case, ie who to believe, while the judge would decide the law, ie what law if any was broken, and if so what the penalty should be.

Do we have a lawyer in the house? A judge even? I have wondered about this myself, but have never heard a definitive answer (maybe because there is no definitive answer on offer)...
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Old 02-02-2009, 05:41 PM
5,767 posts, read 10,024,297 times
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It really depends on what is meant by "nullification," the state in question, and whether the trial is criminal or civil.

I assume criminal trials are the most relevant to this discussion. The issue of JN is actually very confused and contradictory, but it comes down to a few principles:

-Jury nullification is entirely possible, and is entirely legal

-However, judges have no duty to tell jurors about this fact, defense attorneys may be barred from raising it, and judges can legally tell jurors (at least in federal courts) that nullification is not valid. For example, a judge in an income tax evasion case was legally able to tell jurors that:

There is no such thing as valid jury nullification. Your obligation is to follow the instructions of the Court as to the law given to you. You would violate your oath and the law if you willfully brought in a verdict contrary to the law given you in this case.
See: US v. Krzyske (857 F.2d 1089; 6th Circuit) (http://www.altlaw.org/v1/cases/503541 - broken link)

Judges in some states may also be allowed to remove jurors during the deliberation process if other jurors claim that juror is deciding the case based on a "dislike of law."

-But, once a jury returns a verdict that incorporates nullification, that's that. The principle of double jeopardy prevents the state from re-trying the defendant on the same charges.

So, let's say you are a juror who is assigned to a case where you feel that the charges themselves are illegitimate or abusive, and you want to nullify. How would you do it?

Well, you'd have to be very careful. You could just stand up in the jury room and declare "This law is stupid! I won't convict on it, and neither should you!" And maybe that would work, if your fellow jurors are like-minded. But, if they aren't, you might find yourself replaced by one of the alternate jurors.

Instead, you'd have to carefully approach the issue, and perhaps approach it indirectly. You might argue that the burden of proof simply wasn't met, or that you found the evidence unreliable. As long as you don't seem to be basing your decision on a general contempt for the law itself, you'll be alright.

Nullification has a long history in American law, even though judges have never been very fond of it. Prohibition-era juries nullified the majority of alcohol possession prosecutions in some states, and this helped lead to its eventual repeal, just to cite one example.

The principle remains intact, but it's one of those things "the system" won't tell you about unless you learn about it for yourself. If there were no nullification, what would be the purpose of having juries at all, as opposed to having cases tried by a panel of judges? To me, anyway, part of the purpose of a jury is to help curb possible abuses of prosecution. Jurors have the power to take public policy into account as well as the letter of the law.

But many people nowadays don't have enough training in civics to know that anymore.
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Old 02-02-2009, 07:35 PM
Location: San Antonio
10,148 posts, read 18,123,288 times
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Hell, when I was a kid we learned about Peter Zenger in school, in the Chicago public schools, in Civics and History classes. And juries in the North refused to uphold violations of the Fugitive Slave Act, everybody ought to know that too.

"If you knew the history of your country the way you say you do Mr Costello........"
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Old 02-02-2009, 09:16 PM
Location: Nebraska
4,222 posts, read 6,989,869 times
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Great post.
I must have been sleeping during History class when John Zenger's name came up.
Thanks to you I now know more about him.

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Old 05-27-2009, 01:32 PM
31 posts, read 48,106 times
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Default google result

I found this article on Google: Jury Nullification: History, questions and answers about nullification, links
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Old 05-28-2009, 10:36 AM
Location: Portland, Oregon
7,091 posts, read 10,486,058 times
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I thought it was heading to the wayside as there are appellate courts to appeal the validity of the law now, which wasn't really in existence as much back in the 1700-1800's because the need wasn't there, and the original trial court was to find if the defendant just broke said law.
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Old 05-28-2009, 01:07 PM
Location: Victoria TX
42,668 posts, read 71,523,609 times
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I believe appellate courts never use juries, so nullification would be impossible there. Then, a not-tguilty verdict cannot be appealed, so an appellate court would never hear a case that had been nullified. Unless in the converse, which I suppose would be hypothetically feasible, a jury nullifies by convicting a person that they believe should be convicted of something, but cannot convict as charged. The jury would in fact be nullifying a law that would entitle the defendant to go free. In fact, with so many people being tried by the media these days, it's a little bit surprising that this is not already happening. In fact, maybe it is, like Michael Vick for example. However, the statutes are so numerous and so broad, that there is not a single person in the USA who could not be sent to prison tomorrow by a good prosecutor.
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