Jury Nullification

“Anecdotally speaking, jury nullification occurs where individual jurors, or the jury as a whole, in a criminal case may believe a defendant to be guilty, but nevertheless choose not to convict because the jury considers the law involved in the case to be unjust or wrong or perhaps the jury simply does not want to apply the law.”  State v. Sayles, 244 A.3d 1139 (Md. App. 2021).

“A jury has the discretionary power to acquit a defendant, even if each juror believes the defendant to be guilty according to the law and the evidence. This is called jury nullification. While appellate courts recognize that juries have this de facto power, they uniformly agree that trial courts should not encourage jury nullification. This is because this de facto power is at odds with other foundational features of the jury system: the historical allocation of responsibilities under which the court determines the law and the jury the facts; the oath that jurors take to well and truly try the matter before the court, and render a true verdict, according to the evidence and the law; and the court’s instructions to the jury that it must follow the law even it disagrees with the law or does not understand the reasons for the law.”  People v. Scott, 494 P.3d 651 (2021)

“What is referred to as ‘jury nullification’ is a jury’s defiance of the law.  It can cover a number of distinct, though related, phenomena, encompassing conduct that takes place for a variety of different reasons; jurors may nullify, for example, because of the identity of a party, a disapprobation of the particular prosecution at issue, or a more general opposition to the applicable criminal law or laws.  Jurors have a duty to follow the law as stated to them by the trial court. Nevertheless, although it is a power which they have no right to exercise, jurors have the ability to disregard, or nullify, the law. But the circumstance that the prosecution may be powerless to challenge a jury verdict or finding that is prompted by the jury’s refusal to apply a particular law does not lessen the obligation of each juror to obey the court’s instructions. Accordingly, it is important not to encourage or glorify the jury’s power to disregard the law. While that power has, on some occasions, achieved just results, it also has led to verdicts based upon bigotry and racism. A jury that disregards the law and, instead, reaches a verdict based upon the personal views and beliefs of the jurors violates one of our nation’s most basic precepts: that we are a government of laws and not men.  For this reason, the trial court need not instruct the jury concerning its power to nullify the law. Courts also have the authority to prevent jury nullification from occurring. Hence, when a trial court learns that a juror is refusing to follow the law, the court may discharge the juror because a juror who does so is unable to perform his duty’ within the meaning of Penal Code section 1089.”  People v. Estrada, 141 Cal.App.4th 408 (2006).

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