by J.D. Schmidt
A specter is haunting the courtrooms of the United States—the specter of jury nullification. All the powers of the United States legal system have entered into an unholy alliance to exorcise this specter: judge, prosecutor, and legal scholar, “conservative” and “liberal” alike. What is jury nullification, and why do so many people in positions of power in American jurisprudence either refuse to speak of it or openly attack it?
Jury nullification is a centuries-old practice that exists in many countries. In the U.S., it is a highly contested but historically legal practice with pre-Revolutionary roots in English common law. A law is said to be “nullified” in a particular case when a jury refuses, or is unable, to apply it as written by lawmakers or described to them by prosecutors and judges. Cases in recent years involving issues from drug offenses to climate change protests and even the January 2021 riot at the Capitol have stirred up interest in, and debate over, jury nullification.
Nullification in a Nutshell
“The judge can come outside and speak to me.” This is what Keith Eric Wood told a Mecosta County, Michigan, sheriff’s deputy who stopped him from handing out a ...