Jury nullification refers to the right of a jury to ignore the law and vote on their own conscience when deciding on a verdict for a case. This happens when the jury believes that the law being applied against the defendant is immoral or inappropriate. It is not a well-known law, but it creates problems for the courts when the jurors are aware of it and apply it.
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Question potential jurors about their willingness to follow instructions. Jurors who have difficulty following instructions are more likely to rely on their own interpretations instead of the stated law when deciding on a verdict.
Excuse potential jurors who believe in jury nullification, even if you have to use up a peremptory challenge. These individuals may not only decide to ignore the law that applies to the case when deciding on a verdict, but they are also likely to try to influence other jury members during deliberations.
Emphasize the importance of following the judge's instructions. The judge will give instructions to the jury at the beginning of the trial or just before deliberations. These instructions are meant to guide the jurors on what to consider when trying to arrive at a verdict.
Have the judge explain the problems that often occur when jurors do not follow the given instructions. One such problem is a hung jury, which lengthens the trial and increases expenses.
Avoid any specific reference to jury nullification. When the judge gives instructions to the jury, he has the option of letting them know that they can rely on their conscience when arriving at a verdict or insisting that they follow his guidelines. In order to avoid the possibility of nullification, most judges advise the jury to pay attention only to the facts of the case, the evidence presented and the stated law.
Ensure that the law being applied to the case is appropriate. Jury nullification usually occurs when the jury feels that the law being applied is unfair or immoral.
Excuse potential jurors who do not agree with the law being applied to the case. Also excuse jurors who have a bias about other aspects of the case.
Instruct jurors on how to avoid attempts at jury tampering. Promoters of jury nullification usually try to hand out leaflets to jurors in front of the courts. The courts regard this as jury tampering.
Tips and warnings
- "Peremptory challenge" refers to a lawyer's right to excuse a potential juror without giving a reason.