Race-Based Jury Nullification

Essay by ryanjayUniversity, Master'sA+, November 2004

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Race-Based Jury Nullification


Internet research clearly showed a long history for jury nullification in the US. An explanation of jury nullification, and in particular race based jury nullification, is that it is a method whereby juries nullify unfair laws by declaring guilty defendants not guilty. Race based nullification is where a jury acquits and individual based on their race. This is commonly found in homogenous juries where there is little jury diversity. Past cases such as runaway slave laws and current cases such as police shootings show that race-based nullification is still an issue in modern courtrooms. The conclusion being that jury nullification is an important power necessary for the checks and balances of the judicial system

Jury nullification is a right enjoyed, but not understood, by all jurors in the US. This right gives jurors the ability to interpret laws for themselves and return not-guilty verdicts for guilty defendants allowing them to nullify laws.

(Emal, 1995) The most common admonishment by judges is that jurors must decide the case based on facts, and that they are not in fact interpreting the fairness of laws. The fear is that if jurors knew or understood this power, it could undermine the authority of the US judicial system. Allowing juries to interpret laws is in fact a right given as a foil against a too powerful central government.

Historically there is a tremendous precedent for jury nullification much of it involving race. In the North pre-civil war era juries commonly refused to convict runaway slaves because they felt that the law was unfair. This was an example of jury nullification, where the jury was aware that the defendant was guilty, but refused to return a guilty verdict, in effect nullifying the law. (Emal, 1995) More recently in the 1930's...