Jury Nullification

This was mentioned in another thread, and I am hoping one of our resident legal types, or any informed poster could weigh in. After some cursory research, as I understand it, a jury can render a verdict different from any instructions from the court, basically saying something like “We think this law sucks, blah, blah, and this is our verdict.”

It also seems that judges possibly aren’t required to notify a jury of this option. And finally, a poster said that during voir dire, if a prospective juror mentioned jury nullification, they would be automatically excused. Is this true?

I probably misunderstand this completely, and would appreciate the straight dope.

First of all, it’s not an “official” option, ay least not in most states. Technically it’s violating juries’ purposes to nullify the verdict. However, jurors cannot be punished no matter how they vote, and therefore it de facto part of the legal system. However, the jury does not tell the judge why they voted that way and they cannot be, AFAIK, required to state their reasoning.

This gets tricky – it’s not necessarily, “We think that’s a piece-of-crap law” that can trigger it.

Remember that a jury’s job is to render justice by arriving at an agreement between them that in their opinion the accused did or did not commit [some or all of] the crime[s] he is charged with beyond a reasonable doubt. Note that that whole definition from “jury’s job is” on is pertinent.

If every element of the crime charged is not demonstrably present, they are expected to acquit on that charge. If the defense has established groups for reasonable doubt, they may acquit.

But, and here’s the final point, and the one where jury nullification comes into play: their job is to do justice. And if in their opinion rendering the verdict called for by the law and the facts as they know them would cause a miscarriage of justice, they may vote to acquit.

Some previous threads on the topic:

There was a recent case somewhere in (I think) Saskatchewan in which the judge told the jury that aquittal was NOT an option; they had only to determine what degree of murder was involved. It is expected that this instruction will lead to a successful appeal. If it is reversed, this would amount to a recognition of nullification.

On the facts I have heard, however, I would not have acquitted him. He murdered his daughter’s boyfriend because he was feeding his daughter’s drug habit. She testified that her father saved her life. I don’t buy that murder was the only solution.

This looks like the case: http://www.canada.com/nationalpost/news/story.html?id=9b05d140-b29c-470e-a740-c63b24a5de34&k=71995

Under U.S. law, this amounts to directing a verdict of conviction, which is never permissible.

The alternative isn’t a recognition of nullification (“You can find the defendant not guilty, even though you believe he committed the crime”), but an instruction on the elements of the crime and the burden of proof (“In order to convict, you must find that the prosecution has established the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt”).

I’ve got no idea how it works in Saskatchewan, but this is suggestive: “He cited a unanimous Supreme Court decision from last October where the high court ruled a judge can’t take away a jury’s ability to acquit.”

The Canadian legal stance is basically that jury nullification exists and is legal, but that the courts have no obligation to advise jurors of this and may take steps to ensure that they are not advised (such as forbiding mention by defence lawyers).

It’s covered in some detail in R. v. Latimer, for any interested legal types.

Similar to U.S. law, then.

I have heard about Judged removing jury memembers for failing to negotiate. Recently I heard that one juror said that she believed him not guilty and it was a gut feeling and no matter what the others said, she wouldn’t vote guilty. The judge then removed her and replace her with an alternate juror who voted guilty. Now the whole thing is being appealed.

It will be interesting, as usually whenever judges remove a jury member it leaves open an appeal or mistrial.

Here’s the SCC case cited in the news article: R. v. Krieger, 2006 SCC 47.

The leading statement on jury nullifcation from the Supreme Court of Canada came in R. v. Morgentaler, [1988] 1 S.C.R. 30. The accuseds were doctors who had performed abortions, contrary to the provision of the Criminal Code in force at the time. At trial, their lawyer urged the jury to acquit because they disapproved of the law governing abortion.

Chief Justice Dickson spoke for the Court, unanimous on this point (at pp. 76-79):