Introduction Jury nullification is the act of a jury in exonerating a defendant, even though they are truly guilty of violating the law. When this happens, the defendant is found innocent, even though without an act of jury nullification they would have been found guilty. Normally, jury nullification is carried out by a jury that disagrees with a law; this is a way of indicating their disagreement with the law, and their choice not to penalize the person who broke that law.
Jury nullification is a significant tool that citizens use to make their outlook on the law clear, and over time the consequence of this action can have a profound effect on the ways that laws are formed and instituted. Jury Nullification Arguments for Race-Based Jury Nullification A jury is most likely to acquit a defendant when members of the jury are sympathetic toward the defendant or disfavor the law under which the charges fall. Cases continue to exist, however, in which a juror’s desire not to convict is for racial reasons.
Some argue that after a long history of all White juries acquitting defendants who committed crimes against African Americans –and in a system in which African Americans have a higher likelihood of arrest and conviction –jury nullification can be a political tool in the face of a discriminatory process. As lawyer and former Democratic National Committee Chairperson Paul Butler claimed, “The race of a black defendant is sometimes a legally and morally appropriate factor for jury nullification” (Yale Law Journal, 1995, p. 6).
After all, juries bravely used this right to block the prosecutions of individuals who resisted the Fugitive Slave Act (King, 2006). Butler further expressed that the African American community would benefit from certain nonviolent offenders remaining in the community rather than serving prison sentences (Butler, 1995). Arguments against Race-Based Jury Nullification The main argument against race-based jury nullification is that it leads to undeserved acquittals, hung juries, and a refusal to consider the evidence that undermines the criminal justice process.
As long as jury nullification is allowed, the courts cannot neatly confine it to the rejection of bad laws or the acquittal of good defendants, for which it is ideal. Unfortunately, jury nullification has enabled a pattern of lawlessness in which juries acquit defendants who are clearly guilty of violence against an unpopular victim, such as an African American. Shortly after the Civil War, the federal government passed The Klan Act to combat race-based jury nullification (King, 2006).
The Klan Act barred Ku Klux Klan members or sympathizers from serving on juries but did not seem to have much of an impact on the pattern of White juries acquitting White defendants for committing crimes against African Americans at the time. Examples of raced based Jury nullifications Jury nullification is something that has been in existence for quite some time now. The form of race-based jury nullification is when the race of the defendant is the sole factor in whether or not he or she is found guilty. There are certain members of the legal world that have made it very clear that they support Race-based jury nullification.
One law professor at George Washington University; Paul Butler, is a strong supporter of this practice. He states that “black juries should acquit black defendants for nonviolent offenses even when the evidence of guilt is clear” (Cato, 1999). Throughout history there are some examples of cases where the aforementioned has happened. The most famous case of proposed jury nullification was in the O. J. Simpson trial. During this trial, Simpson was charged with the murder of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson. The jury that was selected for him was predominately Black. At the end of the case, he was acquitted of any murder charges.
Since the jurors were of the same race as Simpson, many see the verdict as a prime example of race based jury nullification. There additional examples throughout history. Another case of race-based jury nullification exists in a trial where a Black man was charged with murder. He was assigned an all Black jury and he was eventually cleared of any conviction. Once the case was over, an anonymous juror sent a letter to the court stating that even though the majority of the jurors believed he was guilty, they changed their verdicts to accommodate the holdouts who “didn’t want to send any more young black men to jail.
” (adirondackdailyenterprise. com). this is most likely the primary goal behind race-based jury nullification. Even if some of the people accused of crimes are guilty, there are members of the community that do not want to see any more of their own kind locked up. At this point, ethics, morals, and values are no longer factors. It is all about loyalty and staying true to your own kind. Choose a Position It is difficult to state whether a person should go for or against race-based jury nullification. Where it seems as though this process could be a good idea to some, it could end up being a very large mistake to others.
Many critics believe that jury nullification is disrespectful to the laws of the land. These critics also believe that “if all the jury had to do was apply the rule of law based on the facts, then criminal justice could be done through computers with input and outputs to fulfill the function of a ‘fair and impartial’ jury” (Lal, 2010). So, being able to use a person’s race in order to get an acquittal and guarantee against double jeopardy, is a privilege that many jurors should be willing to utilize when need be. I agree that race-based jury nullification could be useful if there is a case that just does not seem right.
All the evidence should prove that this individual is guilty; yet there is something that just does not fit right in the puzzle; or a person minority person is about to be sent to prison for breaking a law where it would seem that the ends to not justify the means. Instead of declaring a mistrial due to the jury not being able to come up with a decision, race-based jury nullification could be considered a good option if it is permissible at the time. The Constitution clearly states that every individual has the right to a fair trial, to be judged by a jury of their peers.
If people can be found guilty simply because of their race; why can’t they be acquitted for the same reason? Although, what do you do when there is a jury of all whites, the defendant is white, and the victim is a minority? This is where race-based jury nullification could be seen as tricky and unfair. I believe author Prerna Lal may have stated it best in her article The Case for Race-based Jury Nullification, “Do we want a criminal justice system based on punishing every violation of the law, even when the law does not make much sense?
Or do we want a system that is flexible and affords a jury of peers some right to change the outcome of a trial based on what seems fair to their community? ”(2010) Conclusion There are many different viewpoints on whether or not jury nullification is fair or unfair and who it benefits the most. It is truly a hard decision because in some cases the system worked for the individual and in others there was a negative outcome, should race based jury nullification be outlawed or do we continue in order to keep the law just and fair?
In my opinion I feel that we should keep jury nullification, because there are many cases throughout our history that show that when a minority was on trial the outcome ended in their death, because of the fact that they had a unfair advantage with a jury pool that had set in their minds that the individual was already guilty.
References Butler, P. (1995). Racially-based Jury Nullification: Black Power in the Criminal Justice System. Yale Law Journal. Retrieved December 1, 2010 from: http://www. questia. com/ King, N. (2006). Jury Nullification Is Unfair.
Racial Profiling. Retrieved December 2, 2010 from Apollo Library, Opposing Viewpoints Database. Cato. (1999). Jurors should know their rights. Retrieved on December 1, 2010 from http://www. cato. org/pubs/policy_report/v21n1/jury. html Bryjack, G. (2009). Jury Nullification. Adirondack Daily Enterprise. Retrieved December 1, 2010 from http://www. adirondackdailyenterprise. com Lal, P. (2010, September 9). The case for race-based jury nullification. Retrieved from http://humanrights. change. org/blog/view/the_case_for_race-based_jury_nullification