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What Juries Need to Know About Saying No

I just wanted to take a minute at the start of a new year to remind everyone about Jury Nullification. If you are ever on a jury, no court, judge, or even defense lawyer will ever tell you about your constitutional right to Just Say No.

That’s right. If you are a juror for someone who is accused of smoking marijuana, even if you are sure they are guilty you have the right to vote not guilty. Maybe because you think drug laws are stupid and that nobody should be thrown in jail and have their life ruined for smoking pot. That’s called jury nullification, because you are in effect nullifying the law.

The judge may even tell you that you have to vote purely on whether the defendant is guilty as charged. If so, the judge is lying, and he almost certainly knows he is lying.

What makes this an even more important issue is that there seems to be a campaign against jury nullification. Earlier this year a retired professor was charged with a crime for providing information about jury nullification outside a courthouse. If that is a crime, then I am probably breaking the same law by writing this post.



  1. Alvin B. wrote:

    People need to learn what the “Social Contract” is. Jury Nullification is one of the peaceful methods to enforce the “Social Contract”. So is protest. Revolution is one of the non-peaceful methods. Which do the American people prefer?

    Sunday, January 1, 2012 at 2:51 pm | Permalink
  2. BuddyGoodness wrote:

    I have done this myself when called for Jury Duty

    Sunday, January 1, 2012 at 4:02 pm | Permalink
  3. Don wrote:

    No worries, mate. I’d contribute to your bail, IK.

    Sunday, January 1, 2012 at 5:55 pm | Permalink
  4. Mountain Man wrote:

    Uhhh – let me clue you fella – the other side isn’t considering “alternatives” as hypotheticals at all. It IS us versus them because they’ve said that’s how they want it to be.

    Sunday, January 1, 2012 at 8:04 pm | Permalink
  5. This is actually tricky.

    It would seem to me that anyone attempting to persuade jurors to vote one way or another could be guilty of jury tampering, and the guy handing leaflets to jurors outside of a courthouse is walking the line on this one, so I can see why he’d be arrested and charged.

    That being said, it is important that people who are called to jury duty be educated on their legal options. An individual citizen handing out leaflets is clearly a controversial and “outside of the system” way of achieving these means.

    I myself did not know about jury nullification, and I admire this man for being brave enough to raise awareness of the issue (if indeed there is a systemic attempt to marginalize or negate the option in the mind of jurors). I admire him more for taking the personal risk, but I am neither surprised nor shocked at his charge, and I see the legitimacy in his arrest.

    More people should be arrested for doing what he did. I hope you know what I mean by that.

    Monday, January 2, 2012 at 12:00 am | Permalink
  6. TENTHIRTYTWO wrote:

    I’m not sure telling people they have the right to vote not guilty based on their personal convictions about the law is “persuading jurors to vote one way or another.”

    Monday, January 2, 2012 at 9:32 am | Permalink
  7. Without knowing more details about how he conducted himself, I’m not sure either – but it’s not difficult to imagine that he might have been having conversations with the jurors he approached and depending on what was said in those conversations, he might be found guilty.

    And if ultimately he isn’t found guilty – or his own jury of peers nullifies – then he will have won a victory and should be allowed to continue doing what it is that got him charged in the first place.

    Monday, January 2, 2012 at 10:31 am | Permalink
  8. Also, you don’t have to actually persuade a juror to vote a certain way, you just have to be convicted of attempting to do so.

    Monday, January 2, 2012 at 10:33 am | Permalink
  9. starluna wrote:

    Jury nullification is a double-edged sword. The example of refusing to convict someone of marijuana possession seems innocuous enough. However, plenty of people also believe that hate crimes laws are unjust. Historically, jury nullification is one way that all white juries ensured that white perpetrators of violent civil rights violations were not convicted.

    I’m not opposed to jury nullification, but I am also a proponent of the rule of law. I’m not convinced that the other forms of bias in our criminal justice system would necessarily be balanced with the widespread use of jury nullification.

    Monday, January 2, 2012 at 4:01 pm | Permalink
  10. eyesoars wrote:

    The law on this is pretty whacked.

    You are right, and the constitution and law say that you have an absolute right to vote on the jury as you wish. This kept at least one founding father out of jail.

    On the other hand, the courts have ruled that jurors have no right to be informed about that right, and that absent the judge’s permission, the jury may not be informed of this.

    Further, if you’ve ever been up for jury selection, the judge will almost always ask you about whether or not you will follow the judge’s direction with regard to matters of law, usually in such a way that if you believe in jury nullification, you must say no. (I found out about jury nullification when the judge asked me such a question, and it was so odd I went and searched. And found FIJA (the Fully Informed Jury Association), which fights for the right of juries to be informed of this.)

    Jury nullification does have a substantial ugly side — it was a major roadblock for those who tried to prosecute lynchings and extra-judicial enforcement of jim crow.

    Giving that power back to judges, however, is not necessarily an improvement. If we’re ever to get rid of the absurd drug laws in this country, jury nullification may be the only way to do it.

    Tuesday, January 3, 2012 at 12:21 am | Permalink
  11. Peter wrote:

    Entertaining aside–mention “nullification” while being considered for a jury and you will be immediately sent home.

    Tuesday, January 3, 2012 at 1:04 am | Permalink
  12. Iron Knee wrote:

    Peter, by the judge or by the prosecuting attorney?

    Tuesday, January 3, 2012 at 4:40 pm | Permalink