Jury nullification is one of the most effective weapons activists have in their civil-rights arsenal when combating bad, unjust laws. Despite this, far too few people know about and understand what jury nullification is, or that it even exists.
Jury nullification is the act of a jury acquitting someone of a charge by finding them “not guilty”, even if the evidence is clear that the individual did in fact commit the alleged crime. By doing this, jurors can literally ignore a law that they find unjust; for example, nonviolent crimes related to the drug war.
No matter how small the charge placed against someone – such as possession of a cannabis roach – or how large – such as a 10,000 plant grow operation – a jury is completely within their legal right to find that person “not guilty”, regardless of what either attorney or the judge has to say. It’s not easy, given it takes a unanimous vote from the jury, but it’s possible.
When it comes to jury nullification, education is vastly important, as many in our society know absolutely nothing about it. This isn’t a surprise as its usage is widely hated and shadowed by judges. In fact, in most instances attorneys are ethically prohibited from directly advocating for jury nullification: When they do, a judge will almost always and instantly call a mistrial. This, along with a general public that doesn’t tend to care about the specifics of their nation’s legal system, has led to jury nullification being widely underused, despite it being a huge weapon against unfair laws.
Even though jury nullification is underused, it’s not entirely uncommon, and its presence is increasing in courtrooms around the nation. Laws are even beginning to change, with states like New Hampshire passing legislative in 2012 to explicitly allow defense attorneys to inform juries of their right to jury nullification. Just a few months after this law took effect, a man was nullified of a cannabis cultivation charge, which would have been a felony.
To increase cases like this, advocates must do their best to educate others on the existence and necessity of jury nullification.