According to Siegel (2013) “jury nullification refers to a jury’s refusal to render a verdict according to the law and facts regardless of the evidence presented” (p. 476). Cornell University Law School (2014) further concurs in noting that jury nullification often occurs when jury members are trying to make a statement. From this perspective, jury nullification tends to occur when there is sufficient evidence to convict an individual, but the jury does not want to apply this evidence for other reasons.
The role of race is a highly debated topic when discussing jury nullification. In further demonstrating this Keneally (2010) argues that multiple allegations of jury nullification attributed to race have emerged over the past few decades. Specifically, in high profile cases including the O.J. Simpson trial, and the trial involving police officers in the Rodney King incident, jury nullification was alleged. In these cases, it was alleged that the jury’s decision to acquit the defendants was attributed to their race. From this standpoint, race was the sole variable that led to these individuals being found not guilty. However, if these allegations against either defendant are correct, than jury nullification is a major problem in the criminal justice system. The prospect of having individuals commit violent crimes and not be held accountable directly taints the validity of the criminal justice system and impedes upon this system’s ability to maintain safety in society.
Although jury nullification attributed to race is a problem, whether or not jury nullification is always bad is debatable. In cases involving violent crimes, jury nullification is always wrong, as this process has the ability to compromise the safety of others (Keneally, 2010). Too an extent, jury nullification can be based on the norms present in society. Linder (2001) further exemplifies this in noting that many individuals accused to violating anti-alcohol laws during prohibition were acquitted through the practice of jury nullification. Although this is just one example, it helps to demonstrate that the role of societal values can in some cases contrast legal principles. In determining whether or not these actions were wrong, the United States government repealed Prohibition a few years later. In applying these historical events to the present, it could be argued that in some cases, an individual can be tried for a crime that will not be constituted as a criminal act in a few years. Even though this perspective helps to demonstrate that jury nullification is not always a bad thing, it also highlights the need for the laws to be reflective of the peoples’ beliefs.