Jury Nullification Definition and Legal Meaning

On this page, you'll find the legal definition and meaning of Jury Nullification, written in plain English, along with examples of how it is used.

What is Jury Nullification?

Jury’s decision to acquit a defendant despite explicitly violating the law because the jury felt that the law was unjust or not applicable to the case.

History and Meaning of Jury Nullification

Jury nullification refers to a legal concept that allows a jury to acquit an accused individual who they believe has committed the crime of the offense they are charged with, even if the prosecution has proven its case beyond a reasonable doubt. It is an act of the jury to invalidate a law which they believe does not constitutionally apply to the defendant on trial. Historians trace the concept of jury nullification to the 1600s, when jurors could return verdicts that went against the law if they believed that the law was either unjust or not applicable to the case.

Examples of Jury Nullification

An example of jury nullification is when a jury acquits a protester who was arrested for protesting on public property, despite the law requiring protesters to apply for a permit. The jury may decide that the law is unconstitutional and that the individual's right to freedom of speech trumps the law requiring a permit.

Another example is when a jury acquits a defendant charged with drug possession due to sympathy. The jury may believe that the drugs were used for medicinal purposes, and that the prosecution was overly harsh in their pursuit of the case.

Legal Terms Similar to Jury Nullification

  • Voir Dire: the process of questioning potential jurors to select impartial jurors without bias or prejudice.
  • Due Process: the right to a fair and impartial trial under the law.
  • Mistrial: a trial rendered invalid due to an error or prejudice on the part of the court, jurors or counsel.
  • Jury Tampering: the illegal act of influencing or attempting to influence a juror's decision during a trial by bribery, threats or other forms of coercion.