Jury Nullification

What is jury nullification?
Jury nullification occurs when a jury refuses to convict a defendant of a crime, despite evidence that the defendant is guilty, effectively nullifying the power of the law.  Jury nullification has a long history in the United States, dating back to patriots who refused to convict American settlers of violating British laws in 18th century colonial courts.  One notable example of jury nullification is the refusal of juries in the pre-Civil War era to convict abolitionists who sheltered slaves in violation of the Fugitive Slave Act.

Can I be punished for my vote on a jury?
No. Under common law, it has long been understood that juries have full authority over their verdicts, and there are no legal penalties for voting to acquit someone that you think may be guilty of the offense charged.  Additionally, federal courts have repeatedly upheld the “undisputed power” of juries to acquit.  You have no obligation to explain your verdict to anybody.

If jury nullification is an option, why doesn’t the judge say that it is allowed?
Though courts have consistently held that juries have an unquestioned right to acquit, judges do not have a responsibility to inform juries of this right.  In fact, they rarely – if ever – do.  It is highly unlikely that you will be told that you are allowed to vote to acquit somebody if you think they are guilty.  However, you still retain the right to vote according to your conscious.

Why is jury nullification important?
Jury nullification is a critical check against the damage that unjust laws and sentencing can inflict on their victims.  If the law would require you to convict someone for doing something that you do not think should be a crime, it is your duty as a citizen to act according to your conscious.  If your choice to convict someone results in them going to jail, the responsibility for their loss of freedom lies with you.

Moreover, jury nullification sends a powerful message.  In the case of RAMPS’s campaign, a “not guilty” verdict tells the people, the state, and the coal industry that the jury is taking a stand against mountaintop removal.  Use your verdict to show the public who the real criminals are.