Session 02: Jury Nullification and the Legal System
Session 2: Dr. Jo Ann Scott - Jury Nullification and the Legal System
Date: October 6, 2010
Location: Hakes-Pierstorf 122
Summary: Dr. Scott spoke to a good crowd that included teachers and several students from Lima Senior High School. She began by outlining the importance of the jury system in American jurisprudence. There is a long history stretching back to before the Magna Carta in Britain, flowing through the colonial period, and continuing through the centuries since the American Revolution. Juries are integral to our system of justice, despite some critics who claim judges could make more equitable decisions. Scott told the audience that over the course of that history, we as a nation have determined that whenever a defendent is threatened with incarceration, they have the right to a trial by jury of their peers.
The bulk of her talk concerned the fairly rare circumstances when juries have ignored the evidence and returned a not guilty verdict, or jury nullification. The first instance of this was in England when two Quakers were charged with violating laws against proselytizing their religion. Even though they admitted to the acts, the jury found that the law was unjust and returned a verdict of not guilty. The trial judge overturned their decision, but on appeal, both the king and judge were told that the jury had the last word in the matter. Since then, jury nullification has occurred in several high profile cases, including the the Zenger case, the OJ Simpson Murder Trial, and in the Lorena Bobbit case, among others.
Dr. Scott told the audience that juries return not guilty verdicts despite the evidence for several reasons. In some cases, the Simpson trial, for instance, the jury seemed to think that the police and prosecution acted wrongly. In other cases, the jury may believe that the laws are wrong, as in the case of Catholic priests arrested for protesting the Vietnam War. in yet other cases, juries may consider the punishment too extreme, or might believe that the circumstances of the case left the defendent no other options.
After her prepared remarks, Scott answered several audience questions, and solicited audience participation throughout her talk. To see Dr. Scotts presentation, please click here.