Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Jury Nullification

After hearing a presentation by Paul Butler, law professor from George Washington Univ.,I learned about this little-known right of every citizen. Though this option is never announced in the courtroom every juror has the constitutional right to vote for acquital if he/she believes the law, itself, to be unjust.

It cuts both ways. In the antebellum period Northeners who aided in the escape of a fugitive slave to Canada were arrested for commiting a crime.However many were releassed when the jury found the Fugitive Slave law an abomination contrary to their higher moral standards.

However in the sixties civil rights workers were often beaten and even murdered. If perpetrators were found and tried they were often exonerated by the white-supremist jury employing the same privilege.

Mr. Butler argues that black juries can exercise this same authority by not convicting black or Hispanic drug users or even sellers of drugs as they see fit. The justification is that the enforcement of the law is unequally applied. 13% of both Whites, Blacks and Hispanics are drug users but 60% of the prison population
is Black or Hispanic.

The precedent could lead to lawlessness but so could democracy in theory. It is a way for people to redress grievences as they see fit and dramatize their plight to the legislators.

1 comment:

  1. One point: racist jury nullification is extremely rare. Most of the civil rights era cases involved cops that refused to investigate, prosecutors who refused to prosecute, and judges that threw cases to the defense. The officials involved exhibited far more racism than the juries did.

    Consider that the federal civil rights prosecutions (choosing juries from the same communities) regularly ended in convictions. The difference was in the judges, investigators and prosecutors, not in the juries.