September 5th marks “National Jury Nullification Awareness Day” You walk to your mailbox, get the mail and walk back into your home. Open the mail and there lies a jury duty notification. Most people’s instincts will jump to the feeling a Burden has been placed on them. They will have to request time off work to abide by the summons, sit for hours while lawyers ask questions and then if you are picked to serve on a jury, a new set of requirements of your time arises. But what if jury duty is a completely different scenario? Jury duty is a person’s chance to possibly save the accused life. So why is jury duty such a dreaded task in America’s society?
What is jury duty?
In America’s justice system jury duty is the obligation to serve as a juror in a court proceeding. This may vary from traffic court to capital murder cases. Our constitution states in the 6th amendment that the accused have a right to a speedy trial and an impartial jury, serving on a jury helps that process along. This seems like a simple enough task but often jurors are not informed of all their rights such as the right to evoke jury nullification.
What is jury nullification?
Jury nullification is a right every juror in America possesses. Jury nullification is the process in which one or more jurors invoke their right to vote not guilty even if the jurors believe beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused has in fact broken the law. This not guilty verdict can be based on the fact that the law was an unjust law to begin with, or if the punishment does not fit the crime or even if the jury feels like the prosecution used immoral tactics to attempt a conviction. Once there is a not guilty verdict reached by all jurors, the verdict cannot be overturned. Jurors cannot be punished for their verdict, but it is reported by Kalven and Zeisel’s study of the American jury states, that jurors only used nullification 3-4% of the time (Legal Information Institute, 2015).
So why don’t people use their right of jury nullification?
A Facebook poll was taken in 2019 and the results reported that only 1 in 5 people who participated knew what jury nullification was. There is also another barrier to break through before the public is fully aware of our right to evoke jury nullification if we serve as a juror and that is America’s judges. Often judges will not inform their jurors of their right to evoke jury nullification and many times judges will instruct the jurors to “only judge the facts being presented”. There have been consistent reports throughout America that state some judges routinely forbid any mention of jury nullification in their courtrooms.
Jury Nullification is a juror’s right.
America’s supreme court ruled that jury nullification is a recognized right, but state courts are not required to inform jurors of this power. This means it is the public and the defender’s job to inform the jurors about this power of freedom they hold. The State of New Hampshire became the first state in 2016 to introduce a bill that would require all jurors in their state to be informed of their right to evoke jury nullification, but it did not make it past the state senate. This means that jury nullification is a power that judges, and prosecutors do not want the public to know about, a super freedom fighting power that all jurors must use and know. John Jay said once, “The Jury has the right to judge both the law as well as the fact in controversy” (Informed Jury Association, 2018).
Jury duty may feel like an undesirable job that no one wants to do, but it may be a chance to save someone’s life if you know the rights you have as a juror such as jury nullification. In the United States Jury Nullification is legal and jurors cannot be punished for their verdicts whatever their reason may be, and a jury’s verdict of not guilty cannot be overturned. Telling jurors about jury nullification is not illegal. Whether or not to allow the discussion of this right in the courtroom is up to the judge. John Adams said in 1789, “It’s not only the jurors right, but his duty, in that case, to find the verdict according to his own best understanding, judgement, and conscience, through indirect opposition to the direction of the court” (Informed Jury association, 2018).
“Famous Cases.” Jury Nullification –Rights & Responsibilities, 2017, jacksnavelyjurynullification.weebly.com/famous-cases.html.
Quotes on Jury Authority and Jury Nullification.”Fully Informed Jury Association, 2018, fija.org/document-library/essays-editorials/quotes-on-jury-authority-and-jury-nullification/.
Vrobart. “Jury Nullification.” LII / Legal Information Institute, 4 June 2015, www.law.cornell.edu/wex/jury_nullification.
Amberly Taylor is a 35yr old human rights activist. She volunteers for various non profits Like FreedomGrowForever.org and stands FIRM on SUPPORTING BLM and Civil Rights Movements