Over the holidays, I listened to an episode of the Radiolab podcast called Null and Void, about jury nullification. It was fascinating. And I highly recommend it. (Don’t tell the others I’m recommending a non-Token Majority podcast!)
The episode traces the origins of the concept of jury nullification from 16th century England to today. Jury nullification occurs where the jury takes the law into their own hands and finds someone not guilty, despite the evidence and the law, because of some larger concept of justice. Here’s how the Legal Information Institute at Cornell Law School (a fantastic source of free legal information) explains the concept in its free online legal encyclopedia:
Jury nullification refers to a jury’s knowing and deliberate rejection of the evidence or refusal to apply the law either because the jury wants to send a message about some social issue that is larger than the case itself, or because the result dictated by law is contrary to the jury’s sense of justice, morality, or fairness. Essentially, with jury nullification, the jury returns a “not guilty” verdict even if jurors believe beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant broke the law. This can occur because a not guilty verdict cannot be overturned and jurors are protected regardless of their verdicts.
Though jurors are usually protected, there are a few instances of people being prosecuted for jury tampering for handing out pamphlets on the courthouse steps about jury nullification, which are discussed in the episode.
But, as I mentioned, jury nullification necessarily requires the jury to ignore the law. The podcast discusses the good and the bad that can come from such an act and how in recent years communities of color have used jury nullification to make statements about, among other things, the over-prosecution of people of color.
But is it a good idea to normalize ignoring the law? That’s the big question the podcast grapples with. Take a listen, if you are a podcast-listening kind of person.