“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”
… Martin Luther King, Jr.
You’re sitting at the defense table, handcuffed. You’re waiting for the jury to read their verdict, the verdict that decides your future. The evidence has stacked up against you in court; even you think you’re guilty. The law that you’re being charged under is old and outdated—you didn’t even know it existed before the day you were arrested. The jury comes out, they take their seats and the judge asks them what their verdict is. As the foreperson stands up and begins reading, time slows, your breath catches and your heart nearly stops. “…Not Guilty” are the only words you hear and you realize that despite all of the evidence and the clear understanding that you were, in fact, guilty of the crime you are free.
Juries are not often told that they are allowed to return a verdict of “Not Guilty” even though they believe that the defendant on trial is guilty of the violation they have been charged with. This action is called jury nullification and it is not very well publicized. When a jury feels as if the law that the defendant is being charged under is either immoral or is being incorrectly applied to the case at hand they can return a verdict of “Not Guilty” despite their beliefs about whether or not the defendant was guilty. Technically, the jury does not have the right to be able to nullify a law and the defense is not able to publicize this idea. The Supreme Court has often asserted that judges are in no way obligated to tell juries about this option but it is one that exists for all juries… just nobody can discuss it. That is why it is important to have expert knowledge of jury nullification
Jury nullification is something that has the potential to upset the system. Think about it, if a socially and politically aware jury who are well educated on a particular matter sit down and really think about the power in their hands, they could effectively overthrow a system that has been in place for generations. A jury that is aware of racial inequalities in the prison system and see a defendant who was a victim of racial profiling and they believe that the reason behind why this particular defendant was charged are wrong, they can free him. They have the power to use their education, their common sense, and their life experiences to affect the justice system immediately without waiting for the bureaucratic red tape that would come with an official reform of the judicial system. It’s insane to think that although it is everyone’s civic duty to serve on a jury if selected, most members of a jury don’t know the true extent of the power that they possess. Each member of society who can serve on a jury has the ability to directly affect not only the future of the person on trial but also the law—it’s a shame not everyone knows all of their options when they are in the jury box and behind the curtains in the jury deliberation room.
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