The jury had begun deliberations in a federal criminal drug trial when the judge was sent this note:
One juror is asking: Where – if two-thirds of both houses of congress voted in 1919 that it was necessary to amend the constitution to give congress the power to ban mere possession of a substance (prohibition of alcohol in that case) – is the constitutional grant of authority to ban mere possession of cocaine today?”
The judge decided that he (and the US Attorney) had a problem. After some inquiries back and forth with the jury, the judge brought the jurors before him and interrogated them. He quickly identified the juror who had questioned the law.
He informed the attorneys that this juror “engaged in juror nullification and [the Court believed] it was within [its] power to dismiss him.” The judge kicked the juror off the jury and replaced him with an alternate juror. The defense objected. The reformed jury came back with the guilty verdict.
The judge handed down a 40 page memo explaining his order. (read it here)
Among other things, the judge seemed to connect such juror conduct with gradual elimination of the jury trial.
He lamented: “Without juries, judges become glorified hearing officers whose contributions to society could not possibly justify grand courthouses, courtrooms, or judicial staff.”
I look forward to reading the appellate decision on “jury nullification” that will follow this decision.
Here are some prior posts on jury nullification:
- Juries don’t always do as they are told. Is that bad?
- Juries don’t always do as they are told. Part 2
- Juries don’t always do as they are told. Part 3
Here a comment on this case from www.cato-at-liberty.org:
Juror Becomes Fly in the Ointment