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Michigan Criminal Law Blog

What is Jury Nullification?

If you’re in the midst of criminal proceedings, you’re likely to hear a lot of terms you’ve never heard before. And even if they are familiar, chances are you haven’t taken the time to understand them. After all, they didn’t affect you until now.

The best thing you can do as terms come up and you wonder how they are going to affect you is to speak to your attorney. He or she should take the time to explain your situation and how certain scenarios can affect the outcome of your criminal charges. Understanding what’s going on around you can make you feel more comfortable and alleviate some of the stress associated with your situation.

One of the concepts that might arise in the midst of your legal situation is jury nullification. What is jury nullification?

First, it’s important to understand the role of the jury. If your case should make it to trial, you have a right to have your circumstances heard by a jury. These people listen to both sides and determine whether or not you are guilty of what’s you’ve been accused of doing. Having the right to a jury trial ensures that not just one person will be making such an important decision.

To learn more about the role of a jury, check out this information from Citizens Information.

Now that you understand the role a jury plays, let’s look at jury nullification.

What Does It Mean to Nullify?

Simply put, juries have the power to “nullify” instead of finding you guilty. Nullify means to void or do away with.

What this means for you is that even if a jury thinks you committed the crime, if they disagree with the law, they can vote not to punish you.

Nullification isn’t something your attorney can present to the jury as an option. In most cases, judge’s (and of course, the prosecution) prefer juries stick to the usual procedure. Jurors won’t even be told they have the option of nullification. It’s an option for all juries, but it’s not allowed to be discussed in the courtroom. There have even been instances in which people were accused of tampering with a jury when they’ve tried to educate jurors about nullification.

Why a Jury Might Choose Nullification

So why might a jury choose nullification?

Let’s say you’re accused of a drug crime and the jury believes the law pertaining to whatever you did was ridiculous. A good example might be a harsh law related to marijuana use by a sick defendant that remains in place despite many states legalizing medical marijuana.

They might also use nullification if they believe the defendant is guilty, but they know the minimum punishment associated with the crime is far too severe. Or they might use nullification in cases where they believe a crime was committed for a justifiable reason.

The overriding purpose of nullification is to ensure that citizens, via their role in a jury, have the ability to right perceived wrongs in the justice system.

But this isn’t to say that jury nullification is always a saving grace. Like many things, it’s been abused by juries. But when used properly, it can be a powerful way for jurors to send the message they might think a defendant guilty of a crime, but the punishment is far too harsh or the “crime” shouldn’t be classified as such, or that specific circumstances in the case justified the committing of that crime.

If you are wondering how jury nullification could affect your case, it’s important to speak to your attorney. While he or she can’t use it to argue in your favor, it could play a role in a jury’s ultimate decision.

For more information, contact Andrew W. Kowalkowski, PLLC at (248) 974-9594.

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