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What is jury nullification?

The result of a jury trial is called a verdict. The main two verdicts are guilty or not guilty. These are what are commonly seen in tv, movies, and books dealing with the criminal justice system. However, there is a third option referred to as jury nullification.

It is the providence of the jury to determine fact and the providence of the judge to determine law. At the end of a trial, after both sides have presented evidence and argument, the judge instructs the jury on what the law is for that particular case. The judge then instructs the jurors to go back and deliberate to determine if the State has proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt. What happens in the jury room is confidential and unknown to all those in the courtroom anxiously awaiting the result. So what happens if the jurors agree that the person committed a crime, but does not believe the defendant's actions should be illegal? Or there are many mitigating factors or legitimate reasons for the commission of the crime? Does the jury have to find him guilty anyway?

The simple answer is no, the jury can find the defendant not guilty. When the evidence proves the defendant committed the charged crime beyond a reasonable doubt, but a jury finds him not guilty anyway, this is jury nullification. A judge will not instruct the jurors about, and neither party can mention or request, jury nullification because judges and lawyers want juries to reach a "just" verdict in a case. But it can and does happen everyday and most of the time there is nothing a judge or lawyer can do about it.

Categories: Criminal Defense, trial, Judge
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