Fully Informed Jury Association

Are you fully informed about jury nullification?

Function of Juries & Jury Nullification | 19 Mar 2015

-Effecting Change Outside the Law with Jury Nullification


Jury BoxA big thank you to Joseph S. Diedrich for including jury nullification in his recent article on effecting change outside the law, published on the website of the Foundation for Economic Education! Read on for Joseph’s comments on juries.
Effecting Change Outside the Law

A jury can convict you if it finds guilt beyond a reasonable doubt on every element of a charged offense. Stated differently, if all 12 jurors agree that there is legally sufficient evidence to find a defendant guilty, they can convict him.

But they don’t have to.

That’s because juries have the implicit power to nullify unjust laws. Even if there is enough evidence to find guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, a jury can still choose to acquit. Over time, repeated jury nullifications can lead to the de facto repeal of a law. On the eve of the Civil War, juries repeatedly practiced nullification in protest of the Fugitive Slave Act. For example, juries refused to convict runaway slaves in the Shadrach Rescue Cases, which the late Penn State York scholar Gary Collison credits with ruining Daniel Webster’s presidential aspirations.

However, the state does everything it can to prevent juries from exercising their right to judge the law itself in addition to the facts of the case. Judges have no obligation to inform jurors about their nullification powers, and they don’t. Defense attorneys are prohibited from informing jurors about nullification in the courtroom. Still, if a juror already understands the theory and legal status of jury nullification before entering the courtroom, he or she can be a powerful agent of social change.