Support for Jury Nullification on Display in D.C.

By:  Joe Wolverton, II, J.D.
Support for Jury Nullification on Display in D.C.

Americans advocating for jury nullification have erected billboards outside a Washington, D.C. courthouse.

Drivers traveling around the Washington, D.C. Superior Court may have noticed lit signs encouraging jury members to “nullify” laws they disagree with.

The Montana-based Fully Informed Jury Association is behind the displays, which read: “Good jurors nullify bad laws” and “You have the right to ‘hang’ the jury with your vote if you cannot agree with other jurors.”

The Washington Times reports:

The signs are strategically placed so prospective jurors arriving at the city’s downtown Judiciary Square and Archives Metro stops pass right by them as they report for duty, and that has prosecutors and judges worried about their possible impact on jury deliberations.

While the subject of nullification has popped up even in mainstream media discussions in recent years, jury nullification is something that is rarely heard of, even among constitutionalists and supporters of the right of the states to oppose federal overreaching.

Again, this introduction to the topic from the Washington Times story:

Jury nullification occurs when a jury acquits a defendant they believe to be guilty by nullifying one or more laws that they believe should not apply to the defendant. Jurors often exercise nullification when they either personally disagree with a law or feel that the punishment mandated by a law is too harsh. In general, jurors are not reminded by judges of their nullification powers.

Before one is able to understand why jury nullification is a good idea, one must understand the importance of a trial by jury. Our Founding Fathers universally considered it to be a powerful weapon in the war against tyranny.

Thomas Jefferson wrote, “I consider trial by jury as the only anchor yet imagined by man, by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution.”

In the Federalist Papers, Alexander Hamilton wrote that trial by jury was the “very palladium of free government” and a “valuable check upon corruption.”

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