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What Is Jury Nullification?

In the American legal system, jury nullification occurs when a jury chooses to deliver a verdict of not guilty despite the evidence indicating the defendant’s guilt. Although the concept is nowhere to be found in the Constitution, the jury’s power of nullification nonetheless holds a large amount of power in our country.

But why does it exist, and what purpose does it serve? To answer this question, we need to look all the way back to the American Revolution. At the time, the Founding Fathers didn’t trust the British legal system to be fair and impartial, and they wanted ordinary people to be part of their new country’s revised justice system.

To this end, juries were largely viewed as a means to protect us from unfair laws and power-hungry politicians. Throughout history, juries have used this power to oppose laws they thought were unjust, such as the Fugitive Slave Act, or unnecessarily punitive drug laws like mandatory minimums.

Significantly, if a jury chooses to acquit a defendant, that decision is final – with limited exceptions. This is due to the concept of double jeopardy, which provides that a citizen cannot be tried for the same crime twice.

Understanding jury nullification is important for American citizens to grasp the full extent of their rights and responsibilities as participants in the legal system. Here, the experienced New York trial attorneys at Schwartzapfel Lawyers can help protect your constitutional rights and provide seasoned legal advice, no matter your situation.

It’s simple. Call us now at 516-342-2200 or visit us online to schedule your free consultation and so much more. Or, if you’d rather read up on jury nullification first, please continue below.

What Is The Role Of Juries In The American Legal System?

In America, you have the constitutional right to a trial by jury in criminal cases, as guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution. This right is written into our Constitution, guaranteeing that if you’re accused of a crime, you get your day in court with a group of everyday people deciding your fate.

Outside of criminal law, this right is extended to civil cases where the claim exceeds a certain dollar value, as ratified by Congress with the Seventh Amendment to the Constitution, “The Right to Jury Trial in Civil Affairs.” However, it’s important to note that this right is not guaranteed in all civil matters; it applies specifically to federal courts and cases meeting the designated financial threshold.

To this end, jury duty is a responsibility we all share, and millions of Americans get called each year to do their part. However, eligible jurors must meet specific requirements to serve.

For one, you have to be a United States citizen. You also must be at least 18 years of age and live in the jurisdiction where the trial is taking place. That means if you live in West Virginia and there’s a trial taking place in Ohio, you can’t serve in that jury system. Additionally, you need to understand English and be of sound mind.

Beyond those requirements, trial attorneys have the opportunity to choose the jurors for their case through a process called “voir dire,” in which potential jurors answer questions under oath to reveal whether they have any existing prejudices that may affect their ability to remain an impartial finder of fact.

Is Jury Nullification Legal?

The legality of jury nullification is murky. In Sparf v. United States (1895), the U.S. Supreme Court declared that juries have no legal right to disregard the law when reaching a verdict.

And while jury nullification isn’t legal, per se, under current American law, it remains alive and well due, in part, to the confidential nature of jury deliberations.

Because jury deliberation happens behind closed doors, it’s difficult to tell if the jury’s verdict of not guilty comes from truly believing the defendant is innocent or from a deliberate decision to ignore the law.

On the one hand, a jury’s ability to nullify the law empowers common people to follow their conscience and potentially right some wrongs. On the other hand, it could result in the law being ignored in favor of a fleeting emotional charge.

In any event, if you or a loved one needs a skilled attorney who will fight for you in and out of court, please don’t hesitate to contact Schwartzapfel Lawyers right away. Our seasoned team is ready and able to provide the legal representation you deserve. Call us now at 516-342-2200 or visit us online to schedule your free consultation and/or case evaluation today!

Alternatives To Jury Nullification

While jury nullification may be understood as a mechanism for the jury to nullify or invalidate a law they believe to be unjust or wrongly applied, there are other ways the American legal system can provide a series of checks and balances on existing legal precedents. One example of this is the concept of “reasonable doubt.”

In effect, if the prosecution doesn’t convincingly prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt in a criminal case, then the jury cannot convict them. In civil cases, the court uses a standard called “preponderance of the evidence” instead, which asks whether a plaintiff’s evidence shows that their story is more likely to be true than not.

Additionally, a “deadlock” or “hung jury” can occur, in which the jury does not come to a decision. Whenever a jury is split, the trial judge may call a mistrial, and that particular case will remain unresolved. While a hung jury doesn’t automatically mean jury nullification is happening, it could be the result of some jurors refusing to convict, even if they suspect the defendant broke the law.

If nothing else, these options show just how complicated (and also versatile) our justice system can be. From mistrial to acquittal and everything in between, court cases are rarely black and white. As such, if you or a loved one is involved in litigation of any kind, it is absolutely critical that you consult with an experienced trial attorney without delay.

Seeing Jury Nullification In Action

The concept of jury nullification is often misunderstood. As we’ve explained, jury nullification is the practice of acquitting someone even though there’s clear evidence that they’re guilty.

Make no mistake: The jury isn’t saying the defendant is innocent. Instead, they’re declaring that they don’t think it’s right to punish the defendant for their crimes. A rare combination of circumstances typically needs to be present for a jury to agree on this type of verdict.

To better illustrate this concept, imagine there’s a criminal trial where the judge instructs the jury on the relevant laws and their duty to apply them to the facts presented. Here, the jurors, not being legally obligated to follow those instructions, can choose to acquit based on their own moral or ethical beliefs, even if it means ignoring the letter of the law.

The Fugitive Slave Act

We’ve seen jury nullification change the course of history. For instance, juries from the North refused to convict anyone accused of breaking the Fugitive Slave Act in the 19th century. That was a federal law of the time that said enslaved people who ran away from the South had to be returned to their owners. 

Since much of America opposed slavery, they pushed back against it and helped free many people who were wrongfully enslaved. These juries thought the law was unjust, and they used their power to make sure it wasn’t enforced. By acquitting individuals charged with aiding fugitive slaves, juries asserted their authority as the ultimate interpreters of justice, challenging prosecutors who viewed such actions as criminal.

For more on jury trials at no charge, call Schwartzapfel Lawyers at 516-342-2200 or visit us online today. One phone call with our award-winning team may save you miles of headache, heartache, and financial strain down the road.

Don’t wait! Act now and have Schwartzapfel Lawyers fight – and win! – for you.

The War On Drugs

Of course, the Fugitive Slave Act wasn’t the only instance of “citizen justice.”

During the Prohibition era and the War on Drugs, some juries refused to convict individuals charged with violating alcohol and drug laws, expressing their disagreement with these policies through their verdicts. Through their verdicts, these groups demonstrated the influence juries can have in reflecting societal values and questioning the legitimacy of certain laws.

And so, you might think of jury nullification as a quiet revolution — a way for ordinary citizens to say “no” to what they believe to be an unjust law, even within the walls of the courtroom. For instance, there’s a concern that jurors might allow personal emotions to interfere with their judgment, thus taking their focus off of the objective facts of the case. Despite this, jury nullification remains firmly embedded in our legal system to this day.

Have Schwartzapfel Lawyers Fight For You!

Jury nullification is a controversial and often misunderstood concept that has for centuries sparked fierce debate across the American legal system. Now you know the answer to “What is jury nullification?” and why this question is so important. This power, held by everyday people sitting on a jury, shows the deep trust our Founding Fathers had in the judgment of ordinary citizens.

In its substance, jury nullification forces us to ask some tough questions: What’s a jury’s true purpose? What does justice really look like? And should everyday people have that kind of power over the government? Moreover, as it keeps as a subject of controversy (without the strongest support from the Supreme Court),, it remains a potent tool for skilled attorneys in both civil and criminal courts when considering all angles of a case.

All that to say, the seasoned NYC trial attorneys at Schwartzapfel Lawyers have more than (150) years of combined experience successfully representing citizens just like you. In building our stellar track record, we have fought and continue to fight tirelessly to protect the rights of our clients and to ensure that they receive a fair trial.

So, please, don’t leave your future to chance. Protect your tomorrows starting today by calling us now at 516-342-2200 for a free consultation and so much more. Allow Schwartzapfel Lawyers the honor and privilege of furnishing you with the legal counsel you so deserve!

DISCLAIMER: Nothing on this page should be considered legal advice. You should seek the appropriate counsel your situation requires. For more information, call 516-342-2200 now!


Schwartzapfel Lawyers, P.C. | Fighting For You

Juror Selection Process | United States Courts

Fugitive Slave Acts – Definition, 1793 & 1850 | HISTORY

The War on Drugs | American Civil Liberties Union

6.25 Deadlocked Jury | Model Jury Instructions

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