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LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Jury nullification is about law, not defendant
Once again, jury nullification has been discussed in a newspaper editorial, and once again it is clear the writer does not understand jury nullification (“Nullification by jury,” Comment & Analysis, Nov. 8).
What is does not mean is finding an accused person not guilty, or disregarding a judge’s instructions. A jury can find that the state has not proven its case for any reason or no reason. A finding that a person is legally not guilty means just that, not that the person has or has not actually committed the offense with which he or she was charged. In other words, the O.J. Simpson verdict had nothing at all to do with jury nullification.
Under jury nullification, a jury does not find that the state has not proven its case, it finds that the accused is not guilty because the law itself is void. The O.J. Simpson jury found the accused not guilty; it did not find that the California law against murder was null and void.
We are used to reading that an appellate court has “struck down” (i.e., nullified) this or that law as unconstitutional. Jury nullification says that a trial jury has the same right as a higher court to strike down a law it finds to be vague, improperly enacted or unconstitutional. Like the nullification of a law by any court below the Supreme Court, the jury’s decision would be subject to appeal.
The concern by legal authorities is justified. Unlike appellate judges, jurors are rarely trained in the law, and the power to strike down, say, the law against murder, could present serious problems if jury nullification were to become an accepted part of the legal process.
JAMES E. KEENAN
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