With true power, comes great responsibility

Jury Nullification is a concept that has been around since the 1600’s. It is the ability of a jury to nullify the law in connection with the case they are hearing. It is not a power that is discussed frequently but some find it to be a strength of our judicial system. If a jury agrees that a law is unjust, or that circumstances justify ignoring the law, they then have the power to reach a verdict that is very different from what usually happens. It is almost like a feature to all of us citizens that gives us great power in the court room and to permit justice in any unusual circumstances. In New Jersey this power was enacted upon when officers caught a man with a joint, and the jury found him not guilty. That man is now planning a jury nullification tour because he was so impressed by the power of it and amazed by how few people knew about it. This case was proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was guilty because of our many laws banning marijuana, but because of the power of nullification, that is not what happened.

Image“NJ Weedman”

Image

Unfair laws and overzealous prosecutions do nothing but hinder our society. Paul Butler understands this and in his article that we read he clearly points out all the positives of jury nullification. For example, in the Zenger case, an American revolutionary was accused of criminal charges when he published statements critical of English rule of the colonies. He wasn’t just accused of this crime, he was actually guilty! Zenger’s attorney disproved his guilt in his closing statement to the jury but said that the jury should decide whether the law itself was fair. The jury famously acquitted Zenger. The Zenger case came to stand for the idea that American juries have the power to overturn unfair laws and defeat overzealous prosecutors. I am personally thankful for cases like the Zenger case because it helps make me feel safer knowing that my peers potentially have the power to save me from going to prison if I am ever in an unfair situation. It is also beneficial in the sense that prosecutors who realize the power of this tool potentially respond in their case selection accordingly, “There is no evidence that juries nullified simply because they could. It was a power that they used sparingly, perhaps because prosecutors were careful about the cases that they brought, knowing jurors could check their power if they thought law enforcement was getting out of hand.” (Butler, pg. 47) Whether the issue is with alcohol or with weed the message is the same. Our government can make all the laws it wants to keep us from enjoying the things we love, but we as a people have the ability to fight it. The citizens who acquitted people during the prohibition for drinking are no different than the Arizonians acquitting people for smoking weed. We have rights in this country that allow us to fight injustice and it is these rules that make our country so great. We should all be telling our friends, families, and neighbors about jury nullification in the small chance that they might one day need to enact upon their rights and fight back against the man:)

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5 Responses to With true power, comes great responsibility

  1. ffleming72 says:

    I think topic a lot actually. The first time I heard about jury nullification was actually on a tv show called Manswers. The question was how to get out of jury duty and the only thing they could come up with was jury nullification. I think jury nullification is a great tool in the court system and should be known by more people so they use this tool when needed. I almost feel like that the court system keeps this quiet because they want everyone to think that they have all the power in the court room. They want to be in control. However, when it comes down to it, the jury has the power and they decide the outcome. I feel that a great way to get jury nullification out to everyone is by having all the law tv shows have a episode on it to inform us. I think by using this method you would be able to get jury nullification out to the common people and not just people who study and practice law. Making jury nullification a known tool used in the court system can save a lot of people just like “NJ Weedman.”

  2. cindylyon says:

    Great job finding a contemporary example to tie into the reading! I, unfortunately, didn’t read the article by Butler that you reference so I have only this post to go off of. The concept of jury nullification is one that I am familiar with, and it’s always fascinated me. I think of it as a safety net, the emergency shoot you can pull if you’re even in hot enough water. It is calming and reassuring to know that such a thing exists. Our public institutions, as we know, are flawed. The prosecutor, the judge, and the entire court itself could be wrong, but a jury of your peers could be your redemption. Something I feel like could have been mentioned in this post was the alternate. Jurors have been known to wrongly convict people before, or even worse, make up their minds before all of the evidence has been presented.This can happen for a number of reasons: they were influenced by outside sources like the media (even though they’re not supposed to be), they could have standing prejudices that affect how they view the plaintiff/defendant, etc. I’m not sure there’s a word for the opposite of jury nullification (if there is I’m blanking on it now) but both concepts are a powerful thing.

  3. kiracanderson says:

    While reading this blog, I was immediately reminded of this video by CGP Grey: http://youtu.be/uqH_Y1TupoQ
    In it, Grey not only describes jury nullification, but gives examples when it has been used, both for perceived good (northern juries refusing to prosecute run-away slaves) and evil (southern juries refusing to prosecute lynch mobs). I wonder about this especially in regards to the plethora of police brutality cases lately. If these cases make it to trial, what’s to say a jury can’t use the concept to make a larger point? Police-sympathizes could rule a police officer not guilty in spite of evidence. Or juries may believe that the officer on trial, while perceived not guilty, should be punished as a warning or in retaliation for other cases. It’s a very interesting concept that I hope to explore more fully.

  4. gchanneyla says:

    What an interesting case and the outcome is even a bigger surprise. I can actually say I am one those people who was unaware of jury nullification prior to reading this post. However, I am aware of the important role that a jury plays when deciding the fate of a peer and now I am intrigued as to how a jury can nullify a case because we do not see nullification by a jury occurring very often. The law tends to have loopholes that defendants and prosecutors must be able to find or to fight depending on whicht side you are on, but both sides should fear the power of a jury.
    Jury members all have different opinions therefore coming to a consensus is never an easy task, I am truly intrigued with the idea of a jury disagreeing with the law itself. I would like to look into more cases where jury nullification has been used and studying how and why a jury could use their power to execute this type of decision. Also, one big question I have is when can the jury exercise this power (is there restrictions with jury nullification or is it available in all cases)? It is interesting because people are always so quick to disagree or find flaws within our laws so it interesting that we do not see jury nullification occurring more often in order for other defendants to have a fair trial as possible.

  5. legomez5 says:

    Great post. I like how you brought up those who were acquitted for drinking during the times of the prohibition and compared them to people acquitted for smoking marijuana. Jury Nullification is a double edged sword, while it may help those who find themselves being wrongly persecuted for a crime, it can also in some instances set a guilty man free. I agree jury nullification may indeed be a positive phenomenon for the American court system, but I also feel that it holds many dangers. Of course, one would not want a good university student with good grades and a part time job to be put in jail for smoking some weed, right? Well I certainly wouldn’t. However what if i was to tell you that the concept of jury nullification has been used in the wrong way? Who am I kidding, of course you would believe me, the is always some pros and cons to everything. Still i invite you to read over a trial that involved a young black boy named Emmett Till, you may read it if you chose at http://www.biography.com/people/emmett-till-507515#trial
    Great post and good ideas.

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