Many thanks to Nathan Sween for getting the word out about jury nullification in Merced, California with his letter to the editor published in the Merced Sun-Star this week!
Jury nullification embodies several principles that are crucial to the success of our constitutional republic, including checks and balances, separation of powers, and the social contract.
More importantly, it takes these philosophical ideas and puts them into action at the grass-roots level. In a nutshell, jury nullification is the right of jurors to judge the law as well as the defendant.
In other words, the jury can acquit a defendant who is technically guilty of violating a law if they consider the law itself to be unfair or unjust. Perhaps the most well-known examples of jury nullification occurred before the abolition of slavery with the acquittal of individuals who had violated the federal fugitive slave laws.
Unfortunately, this is not taught so much in elementary schools, high school government classes, or even college political science courses. In fact, most judges today instruct jurors to reach a decision under the assumption that the law is always right. We know this isn’t true.
Fulfill your civic duty. Learn about jury nullification. Be a well-informed juror.
A letter to the editor is a simple way to get the word out in your community without spending any money. You can write in to discuss the relevance of nullification to a local issue of interest to you; to point out its relationship to a particular day such as Jury Rights Day (5 September), Bill of Rights Day (15 December), Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (third Monday in January), etc.; or as a general comment anytime. You can check our online Library for quotes and other material to use in a letter to the editor.