'Jury Nullification' Can Help the Fight for Legal Pot

Jurors can acquit guilty people under obscure principle: law professor

By John Johnson,  Newser Staff

Posted Dec 21, 2011 12:48 PM CST

(Newser) – Proponents of legal marijuana should tuck this one away: A law professor argues that jurors should acquit people accused of possessing or selling pot even if the evidence against them is clear. The principle is called jury nullification, writes Paul Butler in the New York Times. Essentially, jurors have the legal right to acquit guilty people if they think the law is unfair. Juries have used the tool over the years to help end alcohol prohibition and to get rid of laws that made gay sex a crime, writes Butler.

It also can be misused—think racist juries in the South protecting those who attacked civil-rights activists, for example—but that just means it's like any other "democratic power," writes Butler. "Some people may try to misuse it, but that does not mean it should be taken away from everyone else." The principle is now facing a legal test in New York: Prosecutors have charged a man who was distributing leaflets about it outside a court with jury tampering. They should drop the case, writes Butler, and prove "they are as committed to justice, and to free speech, as they are to locking people up."

Jury nullification is a little-known but potentially powerful tool for juries.
Jury nullification is a little-known but potentially powerful tool for juries.   (Shutterstock)
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