Jury Nullification—A Power of the People

In the US last month, a judge ruled that jury nullification, a jury’s ability to overrule the law, was still lawful and very much in effect.

This follows a case in which 80-year-old Julian Heicklin was arrested by FBI agents for passing out pamphlets which informed jurors of their right to nullify a case if they thought the law being applied was unfit or unjust.

The prosecution had accused Mr Heicklyn, who was handing out the pamphlets for an organisation known as the Fully Informed Jury Association (FIJA), of trying to influence jurors through written communication.

However, in a victory for justice, US District Court Judge Kimba Wood disagreed with the prosecution, emphasising that, though it is unlawful for jurors to be told how to decide a specific case, jurors can be informed about nullification.

Jury nullification, a legal concept that dates back to seventeenth-century England, remains perfectly lawful in both the UK and the US and can be used by any jury which believes that the law is not fit for purpose in a specific case.

The concept of jury nullification is that juries should be able not only to decide whether a defendant violated the law, but whether the law itself is just and proper.

It is a constitutional doctrine that allows for the acquittal of defendants who are technically guilty of a crime, but who the jury does not feel should be punished for their actions because the law itself is unjust.

Jury nullification highlights the fact that, though we may feel constrained by over oppressive laws and legislation, we, as individuals, still have the capacity to override the law using the common sense that we all have.

Serving on a jury is something people are often afraid of. It should be seen as a right we should fight for at all costs.