One option a jury has when deciding on a defendant’s fate during a criminal case is known as “jury nullification.” What is it? The legal definition of jury nullification is a decision made by a jury to acquit a defendant who has violated a law that the jury believes is an unjust or wrong law. It is not uncommon to have a judge who will not allow a criminal defense lawyer to ask a jury to acquit his or her client for this reason, however. Though, juries have been known to use jury nullification when they believe the punishment does not match the crime. For example, a jury may not believe a person who has been convicted three times for the same offense, which is a minor offense, should have to spent the rest of his or her life in prison. During the Vietnam War, jury nullification was commonly used by juries opposed to the war who agreed to acquit war protesters for their actions.
How Does Jury Nullification Work?
Disagreement with a law, sympathy for a victim, feelings about a particular crime, or a dislike for the defendant isn’t supposed to stop a jury from following the law and making an unbiased decision on a defendant’s guilt or innocence. When jury nullification does occur, the verdict is going against the letter of the law. Why? Because the jury members ultimately are saying they disagree with the law the defendant was prosecuted under or they believe the law should not apply this time and to this defendant. Additionally, jury nullification can occur when a jury decides to convict a defendant because it does not like his or her alleged actions, even though the trial evidence proves the law was not broken, technically.
The Results of Jury Nullification
Jury nullification has taken place ever since the start of the trial system in the United States of America and continues because courts are limited by law when it comes to looking into the motivations of the jurors after a verdict has been determined. Even if a verdict has been reached improperly by jury nullification, the jurors are protected by law from being punished for their verdict. Jury nullification can halt a defendant who was acquitted for a crime from being tried again for that crime. However, a conviction may be overturned on an appeal in some jurisdictions.
Should a Defense Attorney Suggest Jury Nullification?
Typically, a judge will not allow an attorney to explain jury nullification to a jury because nullification is based on a disregard for the law. This means a criminal defense attorney can’t openly recommend jury nullification to acquit his or her client. Sometimes, though, a defense attorney is able to present the facts of the case in a manner that could lead the jury to consider nullification. This can be done by the defense lawyer explaining the defendant acted out on his or her strong moral convictions and the the jurors may share those same convictions. The defense attorney also may lead the jury to have sympathy for the defendant and this could result in jury nullification.