by Bill St. Clair

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Jury nullification happens when a juror refuses to convict a defendant, even though the evidence shows beyond reasonable doubt that he violated the criminal law in question. Such a juror chooses to follow his conscience, not the law, either because he doesn’t think that the defendant did anything wrong, because the so-called “law” is itself wrong, or because the juror believes that the expected sentence is too severe.

I was prompted to write this short piece, taking a break from my habitual all-gun-rights-all-the-time reporting, by this Fully Informed Jury Association article, reporting on Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor’s statement that “the prevailing Second Circuit view of jury nullification is too harsh and that juries could benefit from being aware of their option of jury nullification.”

I believe that nullification is the sole purpose of trial by jury. Jury trials exist so that we the people can overrule the state, whether by finding that there is no good reason to believe the defendant actually committed the alleged crime or by deciding the alleged crime is not a crime at all, and correcting the error of the legislature in declaring it to be so.

I believe that every judge should be required in every jury trial to inform the jurors of their age old right and duty to judge the alleged law as well as the alleged law-breaker. That every juror has the rightful power to veto the entire legal system. And that that is a good thing, the very raison d’être of trial by jury. Their purpose should be to ensure that not a single person is ever punished by the state without sufficient grounds, even if it means freeing a thousand guilty criminals.