The point of the US justice system is to put decisions above behavior and crime into the hands of the people who are affected by them. A jury trial puts the evidence of a crime before the people of the jury. This group then comes together to determine the validity of the evidence. Because this is a legal decision that comes forth, there are times when someone might violate a law that a jury believes shouldn’t exist. Rather than convict someone who has violated this “unjust” law, they’ll declare the defendant to be innocent to set them free.
There are some pros and cons associated with jury nullification and all should be considered before forming an opinion on the subject.
Juries Have the Responsibility To Use Their Own Judgment
In controversial cases, a judge will often instruct a jury that they are supposed to decide on the merits of the case at hand and not the overall merits of the law. The whole point of putting together a jury, however, is to bring about people of different backgrounds together so that the fairest outcome possible can be achieved. If a jury believes a law is wrong, then it is their duty to declare it as such. Human thought during the jury process is a beautiful thing.
It Could Set Some People Free
Although the principles of jury nullification seem good on the surface, like anything else, it can also be used to perpetrate a negative outcome. If a jury is put together and combined they have a racist attitude toward a minority victim that was murdered, they may choose to let the murderer go because of the victim that was killed. The jury could take pleasure in being able to set a guilty person free for a crime that they have “respect” for committing.
It Allows For Variation Within the Law
By the letter of the law, someone who reacts in rage to the crime of someone else is often guilty of their own crime. If a father is struck by a drunk driver and his child is killed in the crash, by the letter of the law, if he kills the drunk driver, he is guilty of murder. The same is true for the father who beats the man to death who is trying to sexually assault his daughter or wife in some jurisdictions. By giving the case to the jury, it is the people who must live in that local society who will decide on the threat level. If they don’t deem the circumstances to be unsafe, they can choose to let that person go free.
There Is a Legal Standard for Jury Nullification
The first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, was a big proponent of jury nullification. “The jury has the right to judge both the law, as well as the fact, in controversy.” The point of a jury is to find justice. If justice cannot be found in a certain case in the eyes of a jury, then they have the legal responsibility to take issue with the law because it is the law that is not providing for justice. This is the biggest advantage of the jury system.
Any system can fail. No legal system created by humanity will be perfect because humans, at their core, are prone to mistakes. By putting in checks and balances, most of these mistakes can be eliminated. That’s what the jury system does and why jury nullification is such an important part of the modern legal system.