” A recent Chicago Tribune editorial targets a new fully informed jury bill introduced by the New Hampshire House of Representatives. The bill would strengthen the current state law passed in 2012 that allows lawyers “to inform the jury of its right to judge the facts and the application of the law in relation to the facts in controversy.” The editorial is noteworthy, because it deploys the most common legal establishment objections to jury nullification.
Objection #1: Jury nullification was a tool of the Jim Crow South
It begins by reminding readers of one of the most horrific examples of racial injustice in the Jim Crow South.
In 1955, two white men went on trial in Mississippi for the murder of Emmett Till, a black 14-year-old from Chicago who supposedly had been too friendly to a white woman. In the Jim Crow South, there was never much chance of conviction, and they were acquitted by a jury that deliberated for barely an hour. The two men, free of the danger of prosecution, later acknowledged their guilt. That case and many like it are worth keeping in mind in any consideration of the place of jury nullification in the criminal justice system.
Let there be no mistake about it, racist juries routinely failed to deliver justice in the Jim Crow South. And jury injustice sometimes happens today when, for example, juries acquit police caught on video brutalizing defenseless citizens. So how can advocates reconcile the abuse of jury nullification with its noble history of delivering justice in the face of unjust laws?
As Paul Butler, a Georgetown University law professor and former federal prosecutor suggests, “nullification is like any other democratic power; some people may try to misuse it, but that does not mean it should be taken away from everyone else.”
Moreover, according to legal scholar Clay Conrad, the jury is a convenient scapegoat for institutional injustices. After the trial is over, the jury doesn’t exist. Jurors return home and go back to work. So when police, prosecutors, judges, and even lawmakers are incompetent or malicious, they can blame the jury to divert attention from their failures.”
The other seven bogus objections are refuted here at the Free Thought Project