This preview shows pages 1–3. Sign up to view the full content.
This preview has intentionally blurred sections. Sign up to view the full version.View Full Document
Unformatted text preview: TOPIC OVERVIEW Michael Mangus Resolved: In the United States, jury nullification is a legitimate check on government. I. BACKGROUND Though long established in the English common law tradition, the history of jury nullification within the United States is usually traced to the trial of John Peter Zenger. Throughout 1733-34, the New York Weekly Journal – published by Zenger – ran several articles criticizing the governor of New York. In late 1734, Zenger was charged with seditious libel. Sedition was illegal at the time and the question before the jury, according to the prosecution, was simply whether or not Zenger had published seditious statements. If the law was broken, they argued, Zenger ought to be convicted and punished. However, the defense admitted that such statements had been published but argued that the jury should instead decide whether or not the prohibition of sedition was itself just. Even if Zenger was guilty of violating the law, they claimed, the jury should not punish him for violating an unjust law. This resolution poses the same question to the debaters: the affirmative argues that the jury has the power to nullify a law that it considers unjust, while the negative holds that juries must enforce the law even if they disagree with it. In Zenger’s case, the jury acquitted despite his admitted violation of the law (establishing the precedent that true statements are not libelous); however, the issue has remained contentious throughout the centuries. The resolutional conflict draws on some of the most fundamental issues in American jurisprudence – majority rule vs. minority rights, procedural justice, the role of the jury system, and the ethical foundations of law. Although it is a controversial practice, jury nullification is widely seen as a de facto power of juries. Since jury deliberations are secret and jurors are not compelled to explain the motivations for their decision, preventing jurors from nullifying would be impractical. Double-jeopardy protection usually prevents a retrial after a defendant has been acquitted, so a jury’s ability to nullify is in large part a natural result of the structure of the jury system itself. Having the power to nullify, however, does not make nullification a positive right of jurors. Perhaps the most significant issue in modern nullification debates is the question of notification: should the judge notify the jury of their power to nullify? In Sparf vs. United States 1 , the Supreme Court ruled that federal judges are not required to notify juries of their power to nullify. Most states do not require that juries be notified of their power to nullify: only Maryland and Indiana call for judges to include nullification as an option when instructing the jury....
View Full Document