Of course, the concept of Jury Nullification (choosing to find a defendant not-guilty because of your disagreement with the law) is a time-honored Constitutional power of the jury. After all, the jury of peers is the highest judge of the law in our system, and cannot be held to account as to their reason for making a finding.
However, the judiciary has been openly antagonistic toward the concept, even to the point of excluding jurors who believed in the concept, instructing juries that they’re not allowed to think that way, and even attempting to jail activities who are merely trying to inform the population of their rights as jurors.
So this is significant:
This week Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor had some kind words for jury nullification, which empowers jurors to judge the law as well as the facts of a case and may involve disregarding the law when the law is unjust. During a discussion about juries at NYU Law School on Monday, Sotomayor, who used to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, was asked about a 1997 decision in which that court “categorically reject[ed]” nullification. “As we govern in the system, and watching it, I’m not so sure that’s right,” she said, according to Law360. “There is a place, I think, for jury nullificationâ€”finding the balance in that and the role judges should play.”
A small, but important step.
And, of course, jury nullification has been used to free some people brought to trial on drug charges. It has the potential, as more of the public becomes disenchanted with the drug war, to become even more heavily utilized, even to the point of making it difficult for prosecutors to bring certain kinds of charges forward.