Friday, December 23, 2011
The Question of Jury Nullification Does the Jury have the Right to Engage in Jury Nullification? Making the Argument that You Must Find the Defendant Not Guilty When There is Insufficient Evidence.
In the United States unlike many other countries once a jury renders a verdict of not guilty it is final, meaning the defendant can never be tried again because of principals of double jeopardy, and second, the jury can never be punished for its verdict no matter what it is.
Historically jury nullification was used by some northern juries in refusing to convict people engaged in freeing and helping black slaves hide and escape, in violation of the U.S. Fugitive Slave Act. On the flip side sometimes southern juries sometimes refused to convict defendants, especially police officers engaged in blatant violation of federal civil rights laws especially applied to African-Americans and other minorities. Unfortunately this all too frequently happens even today when police officers are placed on trial and acquitted or held liable when they should be convicted of violating the law or held liable for abusing others.
Evidence of jury nullification by the jury is sometimes manifested by the jury convicting of lesser included offenses, or hung juries.
Under New Jersey law under the definition of reasonable doubt which is given to each jury at the beginning and end of each criminal trial, the jury is instructed that if “you are not firmly convinced of defendant’s guilt, you must give defendant the benefit of the doubt and find him or her not guilty.
The powerful and operative words are you must. An honest jury which is sworn to uphold the law cannot violate its sworn duty to fairly and impartially follow this jury instruction. Accordingly, in that case the jury must enter a verdict of not guilty, if the State does not prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. Accordingly, any doubt, which is reasonable, must be a vote of not guilty for that jury.
Accordingly, whether that acquitting juror is in the majority or the minority is of absolutely no significance since it is that juror who has made his or her individual decision which is scared and irrevocable and based on his or her own conscience.
Harvard Law school graduate, and former federal prosecutor and now law professor at the George Washington University National Law Center (my undergraduate alma mater), Paul Butler, argues that under the Bill of Rights to the United States Constitution ever jury has the right to engage in “jury nullification.” Professor Butler in his OP-Ed article in the New York Times is perplexed why the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of in New York is prosecuting Julian P. Heicklen a retired chemistry professor for handing out leaflets in front of the United States Court House for advocating jury nullification that Professor Butler has been advocating through such forums at The Yale Law Journal, “60 Minutes” and You Tube. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e8eQ_EYwQQI
Professor argues that founding fathers John Hancock and John Adams believed that in the concept of jury nullification. Citing Adams, each juror has the duty to vote based on his or her “own best understanding, judgment and conscience, though in direct opposition and conscience, though in direct opposition to the direction of the court.”
Professor Butler even suggests that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia appeared to be open to the suggestion that jurors can engage in jury nullification when he appeared before the United States Senate, when Justice Scalia stated that jurors “can ignore the law” if the law “is producing a terrible results.”
This New Jersey criminal defense attorney respectfully submits that because New Jersey criminal law allows for a verdict which is based on all the evidence and facts of any given case it is improper for anyone to second guess the decision of jury and their decision making process.
Law Office of Vincent J. Sanzone, Jr.
Elizabeth, New Jersey
Tel. No. (908) 354-7006
Dated: December 23, 2011
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