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Function of Juries & Jury Nullification | 14 Mar 2012

The Hershberger Trial and Jury Nullification


In a recent article, Peter Kennedy discusses the full legal power of the jury, specifically with respect to the prosecution of Wisconsin raw milk dairy farmer Vernon Hershberger:

The Hershberger Trial and Jury Nullification

Sometime later this year Loganville, Wisconsin dairy farmer Vernon Hershberger will be tried before a jury in Sauk County Circuit Court on four criminal misdemeanor counts accusing him of violating the state Food and Dairy Code. The case has drawn widespread attention in Wisconsin, with Hershberger’s supporters rallying to his cause.

A question that has been raised about the trial is: can the jury hearing the case legally engage in jury nullification and return a verdict of not guilty on the charges no matter what the facts and the law of the case are? The answer is yes.

Wisconsin courts have recognized that juries “have always had the inherent and fundamental power to return a verdict of not guilty irrespective of the evidence” [1]. They have acknowledged that juries have “nullification” powers “in the sense that they may acquit a defendant in a criminal case on the basis of extraneous considerations, even when the defendant may be objectively guilty in light of the facts of the case and the courts instructions” [2].

In the case of State v. Thomas, a Wisconsin Appellate Court explained the reason jury nullification is necessary:

The purpose of a jury is to guard against the exercise of arbitrary power – to make available the common-sense judgment of the community as a hedge against the overzealous or mistaken prosecutor and in preference to the professional or . . . biased response of a judge. [3]

Click through for the entire article.