The act of jury nullification occurs when a jury comes back with a verdict of not guilty despite the belief that the defendant is guilty of what he or she is charged with. This generally takes place when a jury finds a law is not morally right or that it does not associate with the defendant. “Jurors decide to disregard judicial instructions and arrive at their own resolution of all contested matters of law at trial” (Jenkins & Moore, 2004, p. 1). Although a jury has the right to nullify, most judges do not notify juries of this right for fear of abuse of the system. The reason being, this process does have some positive and negative effects.
The positive would be discouraging prosecutors and judges from judicial misconduct. A negative claim would include some cases in the 50s and 60s in refusal of convicting White supremacists for killing African Americans, despite the evidence against them. This paper will provide evidence and examples of how ethnicity effects jury proceeding and judicial practices; summarize arguments for and against ethnicity-based jury nullification. Within the paper, it will also include contemporary examples of ethnicity-based jury nullification, and my individual position for or against ethnicity-based nullification.
Although individuals in society would like to believe that the justice system is perfect, and a jury of a defendant’s peers would make a rational, non- biased decision of his or her fate for crimes charged. This is ultimately different for those within the majority group such as Whites, and the minority groups, such as Latino and African American. “Perceptions of fairness differs by race and ethnicity. African-Americans perceived the most unfairness. Twice as many African-Americans believed that court outcomes are “seldom” or “never” fair as believed that they are “always” or “usually” fair.
Those with recent court experience in all racial/ethnic groups viewed courts as less fair than did those without such experience” (Rottman et al. , 2003, p. 4). For instance, the men who murdered Emmett Till were never convicted of the crime. The crime occurred during the 1950s, when African Americans were beginning to mobilize their campaign for equal rights in the United States of America. Although there was substantial evidence that would have convicted the men, they were found not guilty by an all-white jury and walked free.
Jury nullification was originated as moral opposition to the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, and later trickled down to the Prohibition Era. While there are not many cases in which jury nullification exist are made public, it has been practiced with juries across the country, especially on non-violent drug offenses. “In New Hampshire, for example, a Rastafarian man named Doug Darrell, who had been growing marijuana in his backyard for purposes of personal consumption, was brought before a jury on felony drug charges. The evidence against Darrell was substantial; he had been clearly in violation of the law.
Nonetheless, his jurors—who found themselves morally opposed to the sort of law that would send a peaceful man to prison—explicitly decided to nullify the case against him by finding him not guilty” (Bassil, 2012, para. 2). There are public opinions for and against the use of jury nullification, and several pros and cons concerning this matter. For instance, typically, a judge does not address the use of nullification to a jury. The only way members of a jury would be informed of nullification is through experiences or law and crime television shows.
“The following are some reasons why juries should have the power to bring some rationality and justice to the application of the law: the nonsensical distinctions between powder and crack cocaine; extreme penalties for petty crime; unfair sentencing favoritism given to “snitches” or police informants; criminalization of "wetlands" violations; regulatory, licensing, and administrative infractions; and the often mechanical application of law favored by prosecutors have resulted in many injustices without reason.
Refusing to enforce unjust laws, juries can help improve the law and the society it governs” (Conrad & King, 2002). In essence, jury nullification works in getting some laws and regulations reviewed and looked upon more closely, along with making sure the courts system is not abused by judges and prosecutors. “In opposing jury nullification, the other author argues that a small group of citizens (the jury) should not have the power to subvert the will of the people as expressed through elected legislators who represent the people.
To invite nullification is to invite jurors to devise their own defenses to a criminal charge. Juries have acquitted defendants in rape cases after concluding that the victims deserved to be raped because of the way they dressed or acted” (Conrad & King, 2002). In conclusion, I support jury nullification, especially for minor or non-violent crimes. There are so many “grey areas” laws and regulations that seem to be morally wrong or the sentencing for minor crimes are not just.
“Studies have concluded that most jurors nullify the law for the following reasons: They believe the law is bad or unjust, they believe the punishment is too severe, they believed the law is good, but the defendant has already suffered enough, to send a message to the state, and for partial nullification (reduced sentences). One of the most controversial aspects of juror discretion deals with the use of race as a factor in jury nullification.
In the past, it was clear that all White jurors used the power of nullification to acquit defendants who were White and perpetrated an act against a Black victim” (Jenkins & Moore, 2004, p. 5). With the cost of courts on the rise, jury nullifications will get the attention needed to change out-of-date laws and impartial politic.
References: Bassil, C. (2012, October 9). Jury nullification in America. The Chronicle. Retrieved from http://www. dukechronicle.com/articles/2012/10/10/jury-nullification-america Jenkins, M. , & Moore, B. (2004). Just Deserts? University Students’ Inclination to nullify the Law: An Exploratory Study. Internet Journal of Criminology, 1-29. Retrieved from http://www. internetjournalofcriminology. com/Jenkins%20%20Moore%20-%20Just%20Deserts. pdf Rottman, Ph. D. , D. B. , Hansen, R. , Mott, Ph. D. , N. , & Grimes, L. (2003, March). Perceptions of the Courts in Your Community: The Influence of Experience, Race and Ethnicity. 1-10. Retrieved from.