A Jury can ‘nullify’ a law to stop injustice

Jury nullification. Mandatory sentence. 

In at least one country, I would not be permitted to speak to you of those two terms should you happen to be serving on a jury. 

See, the government thought it wiser to keep that information away from a jury hearing a trial in a criminal case. Some jurors might want to take the law into their own hands, so to speak. 

That’s what jury nullification actually is. A jury has the power to “nullify” a law it does not want to follow. Understand that? If you feel the law would be unjust, you can simply decide not to apply the law. 

Can anyone spell anarchy? That’s what would happen if every jury sworn in to uphold the law took it upon itself to disregard it. But, I’m not talking about every case. Just the exceptional one where 12 people agree that application of the  law would cause more harm than good. 

Justice Needs It Sometimes

Kinda goes along with mandatory sentences. Defense lawyers in this same country are not permitted to tell a jury that its verdict will lead to mandatory outcomes, no matter what a jury might have been lead to believe. Studies show that most juries believe defendants usually end up getting probation or some “light” sentence. But state legislators in this country wanted to insure no “lenient” judge could get away with not “sending someone away” no matter what the circumstances for certain offenses. 

A lot of “mandatory” sentences have to do with crimes against victims of a certain age. Do you know if you strike a child of a certain age, the law mandates that you serve at least one year in jail, no matter what? Unless a prosecutor agrees to “demandatorize” a sentence, a babysitter 18 or older slapping a child of a certain age must serve 365 days in jail upon conviction, at least in the part of the country I’m talking about. 

A young man who is led to believe the young  female he spent the night with was over a certain age, faces a similar mandatory sentence. It’s called statutory rape, no matter what lies the person under 14 offered, or the lack of intent to commit any crime when he had consensual sex. 

Most may say the sombitch deserves it. Unless it is a member of their family, a close friend, or, God forbid, themselves

Or got involved with drugs and had on your  possession an amount that presupposes possession with the intent to deliver, which calls for, you guessed it, a mandatory sentence no matter what the circumstances. 

I was shocked when I learned a person who simply possessed a certain amount of marijuana could be charged with a felony for selling dope. People I knew in my teens often purchased an ounce or more. If they’d put the grass in small zip lock bags for later use and or convenience, the packaging of the marijuana itself could lead to rebuttable presumption it was for the “intent to deliver.” 

Well, a jury could disregard the law if it saw fit. 

But I was never allowed to tell a jury in Philadelphia that it had such power. Not permitted to even mention mandatory sentence or I’d face contempt charges from a judge. Sentencing is not in the “province” of the jury, only guilt or innocence, is what a judge would instruct me after my imprisonment, monetary fine, or both. 

Could not tell a jury in America that landmark cases such as those involving William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania, or  John Peter Zenger, a New York printer whose case stood for both freedom of the press and truth as a defense against libel, were kept from imprisonment because a jury saw fit to disregard the law each brave man had so clearly broken. They were found “Not Guilty,” despite the law. Some might say “in spite” of the law. 

A dream I had last night inspired me to whisper this piece of advice to you should you ever serve on a jury. Go ahead. Disregard the law if you, in all “good consciousness” feel it’s the right thing to do. 

It really is the American Way no matter what my government won’t allow me to tell you.

21 comments on “A Jury can ‘nullify’ a law to stop injustice

  1. I heard that jury nullification occurs when a jury doesn’t believe the witnesses the persecutor, I mean, “prosecutor” presents to the members of the jury.

    In most cases, it is the cops..Cops who have reputations for planting evidence on the bad guys but getting a few good guys caught up in their web of deceit.

    A jury can often smell something is rotten and it will nullify the law presented by the assistant district attorney.

    Ask Seth Williams, the District Attorney of Philadelphia, a good prosecutor who may not want to comment on this story.

    Not Guilty!


  2. Can we nullify a political party? Like the No-Nothings and the Whigs of old?


  3. […] A Jury can ‘nullify’ a law to stop injustice « ContoverosJun 16, 2010 … walter gremillion says: 06/16/2010 at 22:42. Hi mike, i’ve served on a couple of juries. one murder, one traffic. The two aspects of jury duty need … […]


  4. […] Revenge Law Nullify Witch Hunts Involuntary Incaceration Edenton 7 NewInquisitors […]


  5. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Mikhail I, Joe Revolution. Joe Revolution said: A Jury can 'nullify' a law to stop injustice « Contoveros: That's what jury nullification actually is. A jury has … http://bit.ly/bL8JBv […]


  6. souldipper says:

    Michael – Your blog is terrific! Erudite, informative and well expressed…if you will accept me being a judge. I read a few of your articles and plan to explore more. This piques my curiosity – how would one determine if Canada has Jury Nullification?

    Seems that jury members deserve to have ALL their tools and manuals at their finger tips. Someone’s life may be dependent upon it.

    Now I REALLY would like to have you over for soup!



  7. […] Nullify Witch Hunts Involuntary Incaceration Edenton 7 […]


  8. tobeme says:

    We have some perverse laws in this country driven by the good intentions of the few. The wonderful thing is that an educated citizenry can choose to disregard the law when it does not serve the best interest of the community at large. The downside is that most jury members do not fully understand the power they are able to use.
    Reminds me of one of my all time favorite movies “12 Angry Men”. I have used this movie to teach various lessons to various groups of students.
    Great post!


    • contoveros says:

      12 Angry Men,” with Henry Fonda should be shown to all prospective jurors to open them to the jury process. Unfortunately, it may be too “liberal” for the powers that be, which include district attorney offices and, too often, a narrow-minded judiciary.

      Thanks for the reminder!

      michael j


  9. PS, dream on mike, quit whispering and shout


    • contoveros says:

      You are right, Walt, and I wish more people would learn this about the power our founding fathers placed in an ordinary citizen to check those in power. Jury nullification is one of ’em.

      michael j


  10. Hi mike,
    i’ve served on a couple of juries. one murder, one traffic. The two aspects of jury duty need to be broadcast far and wide. the glitz and glimmer, the movies and tv series all focus on the lawyers and sometimes on the judge. BUT the jury has the power. it is the judge and system that is detrimental to justice. another is the strict adherence to the letter of the law rather than the spirit of the law. And as you say, the system hides the information the jury needs to make an informed decision. simply put, justice ain’t. it’s a crap shoot. the decision can turn on a dime, often depending on the vagarities of the judges, political biases, wording etc. essentially, if the judge wants you convicted, you will be. jury be damned. This will scare the hell out of you. the jury is taken out of the loop by the “justice” system.

    if i get a summons, i’m gonna run, (and i know how to do that.) Unless i’m guilty of course. there’s a 50/50 chance i’ll be convicted (or exonerated) whether innocent or guilty.
    this info needs to be spread far and wide. click stumble, put it on facebook. anything to get the info out.



    • contoveros says:

      I believe in the system. It just needs to be “tweaked” now and again.

      Like to Stumble it, but somehow haven’t learned to get the stories out there like I used to. WordPress might have changed its policy.

      Chances of getting convicted are greater if you are a minority and/or you have a record, even an arrest record as an adult. You’re right about some judges, but there are others that people complain are too “defense” oriented and I think it balances out across the board.

      Hate to tell a defendant he’s in front of a “hanging” judge, but I was always truthful with ’em. They have a right to know what they were facing — maximum sentences.

      Good to see you partner.


      michael j


    • Tom Comeau says:

      Speaking of the “letter of the law” where is the specific law that mandates jury duty in California, and if the court can impose a fine for not showing up for jury duty, where is the law that provides for that fine?


      • contoveros says:

        Check your local ordinances, but also you state laws. Each of us — whether we like it or not — are subject to being called for jury duty. In Pennsylvania, it is a state law requiring a person to report or face a fine. Yes, you’ll have to take time out of your busy schedule and your work week. Most are not picked to serve, however. Only the “lucky” ones!


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