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Know your rights and responsibilities: Jury Nullification

Make sure you read Radley Balko’s latest at Fox: Justice Often Served by Jury Nullification

The doctrine of jury nullification (search) rests on two truths about the American criminal justice system: (1) Jurors can never be punished for the verdict they return, and (2) Defendants cannot be retried once a jury has found them not guilty, regardless of the jury’s reasoning. So the juries in both the Rosenthal and Paey cases could have returned a “not guilty” verdict, even though Paey and Rosenthal were undoubtedly guilty of the charges against them.

This may sound radical, perhaps even subversive, but jury nullification serves as an important safeguard against unjust laws, as well as against the unfair application of well-intended laws. It’s also steeped in American and British legal tradition.

As the legislature continues to act in ways that are far outside the wishes of those they represent (particularly in terms of the drug war), and the courts seem willing to defer to the legislature, and the executive is eager to go after doctors, sick people and pot smokers, then it may fall upon the individual to correct the government perpetrated injustices, by refusing to convict based on bad law.

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