Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Jury nullification; the power to forgive

In a published decision, State v. Hooks, which came out today, the Court of Appeals addressed the issue of jury nullification. It defined it as "the extraordinary power of the jury to issue a not guilty verdict even if the law as applied to the proven facts establishes that the defendant is guilty." It continued by saying that: "It is the jury’s prerogative to disregard the law without actually committing an unlawful offense in doing so; its exercise is literally illegitimate (contrary to law) but practically legitimate (allowed by law). It is the physical power to disregard the law that has been laid down to the jury by the court."

However, although the courts must instruct jurors on the legal framework to guide their decision whether to convict or acquit, they are not required to instruct jurors that they also have the power of lenity allowing them to disregard that legal framework.At the same time courts are prohibited from directing verdicts for the state even if all the facts point only to guilt.

Thus, a defendant is entitled to have all the elements of the offense with which he is charged submitted to the jury even if the evidence relating to these elements is uncontradicted, because the Court must recogize the fact that the defendant can still be found not guilty based on the jury's power to disregard the law and be lenient to the defendant.

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