Jury Nullification

Jury nullification.

Jury Nullification

When a defendant’s criminal case makes it to a jury trial, the jury’s job is to hear the evidence presented by both the prosecution and the defense and come to a verdict. In order to convict a defendant, a jury must vote unanimously. However, not all cases are cut and dry, making juries unable to come to a unanimous “guilty” verdict. For a defendant to be found guilty, the jury must find them to be guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

“Jury nullification” occurs when the jury believes beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant has, indeed, committed the crime for which they are being charged, but chooses not to return a guilty verdict. A jury may nullify for the following reasons:

An unjust, or unjustly applied, law.

This situation tends to occur regarding laws that don’t otherwise hurt other people or seem to have been enacted for specific political preferences rather than the greater good. Often, jury nullification occurs in cases involving illegal substances that are widely felt should not be penalized to the extent that they are, such as marijuana, raw milk, and other banned goods, or cases of requested physician-assisted suicide. Throughout American history, jury nullification has occurred on this basis in cases involving alcohol offenses during the Prohibition and slave apprehension during the height of the abolitionist movement.

An unfairly harsh penalty.

Similar to laws that juries feel are unjust, or unjustly applied, jury nullification may occur if the jury feels the punishment is unduly harsh for the crime at hand, such as punishments resulting from marijuana crimes, civil disobedience, or crimes in which a conviction would result in the death penalty.

Mitigating circumstances.

This situation exemplifies instances where the jury feels the defendant should not be held responsible due to outside factors that mitigate the crime itself. This may be an instance of an abuse victim killing their abuser or a parent punching a person who sexually assaulted their daughter.

Cons of Jury Nullification

Jury nullification, when used indiscriminately, can serve to undermine the law. It can also cause inconsistency in the pursuit of justice, with defendants in similar crime cases receiving wildly different outcomes.

Pros of Jury Nullification

When applied appropriately, jury nullification may actually protect defendants from convictions for breaking laws that are no longer relevant to the current times. In well-publicized cases, it may also serve to ignite a spark of change within the criminal justice system for similar laws and cases going forward.

Is Jury Nullification Ethical?

The concept of jury nullification is one open for debate. While juries are protected regardless of the verdict entered, promoting jury nullification ahead of a trial or during jury selection may cause an individual to be punished for tampering or excused from serving as a juror. In some cases, jury nullification is seen as a blatant disregard for applying the laws. On the other hand, jury nullification can also serve to send a public message regarding the fairness of certain laws, prompting the start of a change in policy.



With offices in Lake Havasu City and Scottsdale, our firm serves the entire state of Arizona, with a particular focus on criminal defense, family law, and juvenile cases.

Our goal is for the best outcome for your criminal case, which can include:

  • charges that are reduced or dropped.
  • top experts reviewing your case.
  • aggressive negotiations with the prosecution for plea bargains.
  • fines or probation in lieu of jail time.

At Rideout Law Group, our attorneys are able to expertly examine the evidence in your case to provide a strong strategy for argument that leads to an outcome that is most favorable to you. We have experience in all types of criminal cases for both adults and juveniles, with positive outcomes both in plea negotiations as well as jury trial settings.

Call us today for a free consultation at 480-584-3328.

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