Jury Nullification: The Evolution of a Doctrine

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Central to the history of trial by jury is the right of jurors to vote "not guilty" if the law is unjust or unjustly applied. When jurors acquit a factually guilty defendant, we say that the jury "nullified" the law. The Founding Fathers believed that juries in criminal trials had a role to play as the "conscience of the community," and relied on juries' "nullifying" to hold the government to the principles of the Constitution. Yet over the last century and a half, this power of jurors has been derided and ignored by American courts, to the point that today few jurors are aware that an important part of their role is, in the words of the Supreme Court, to "prevent oppression by the government." Published by Carolina Academic Press.