Next time you’re in the jury selection process and really want out, just inform the court that you know all about jury nullification…and you aren’t afraid to use it. A little-known facet of common law dating back to Elizabethan England, jury nullification happens when a jury hands down a “not guilty” verdict—but not because they think the defendant is innocent. Instead, they’re making a statement about the validity of the law itself. The first jury nullification happened in 1670, when William Penn (of Pennsylvania fame) and William Mead (of no fame) were charged with unlawful assembly—a crime basically created to prevent unsanctioned religious groups from getting together to worship. Clearly, both men were guilty, but the jury refused to convict them on the grounds that the law was unjust. The practice continued in America. Throughout the mid-1800s, northern juries would frequently nullify prosecutions against people who violated the Fugitive Slave Laws. And, during Prohibition, juries around the country nullified numerous alcohol control violations. Prior to the 20th century, nullification was accepted as common practice, but around the late 1800s, judges started taking a harsher view of it. In 1895, the Supreme Court
even handed down a ruling saying that judges don’t have to inform juries of their right to nullify. Today, most judges take advantage of this. Many will even tell you that you legally can’t nullify a law. There’s some debate over whether that’s true or not. (At any rate, jurors can’t be punished for the verdict they return and not-guilty defendants can’t be retried—so we figure, what the heck.) Either way, most judges don’t want to deal with a juror who might pull the nullification card, so if you bring it up, you’ll likely be eliminated from the jury pool.
mental_floss Blog » How To Get Out of Jury Duty