Jury nullification rests on the provision present in the English Civil and Common Law that “a provision that allows a jury to acquit an individual it believes to be guilty as a protest of the way the case was handled” (National Public Radio, 1996). Race-based jury nullification occurs when jurors, quite often African-American, refuse to convict a person of their race despite obvious proof of guilt. The practice while legal is harmful to society at large as it creates disrespect for law and perpetuates inequality by giving unequal treatment to different population groups based on racial characteristics.
Law is not perfect in any country. Every day, hundreds and perhaps thousands of cases are decided with outcomes that are questionable based on common sense. Inherent imperfection of the law that lies in the lag with which the development of law follows changing social realities as law has to adapt constantly to the ever evolving society. However, what will happen if individuals ignore the law because they find it imperfect, that is, unjust in many cases? Lawlessness will prevail, generating turmoil and disorder. If juror members choose to acquit the accused based on the thesis that he or she belongs to the oppressed race, the emerging conclusion is that representatives of this race are free from punishment if they commit crimes similar to other races. This will generate a feeling among this population group that everything is allowed, further leading them to commit more crimes in the hope of avoiding conviction if members of their own race are jurors. This is exactly the opposite of what the system of criminal law is intended for – increase in crime as opposed to prevention. In this case, it is doubtful that jury trials are useful at all.
In addition, this practice will further polarize relations between races. Representatives of the majority are likely to be offended by special treatment of minorities under trial. In principle, the practice affirms the idea that one should make decisions to protect one’s race in the first place rather than society at large. Most racial problems in society stem exactly from this attitude. Even those supporting race-based jury nullification in general in favor of African-American defendants, for example, agree that “it can be and has been used by white juries to free whites who have illegally harmed blacks simply because they where white” (Jemal, 1998). Supporting decisions based solely on race and not on broader criteria, race-based jury nullification perpetuates racial tensions in society and prevents effective socialization of minority groups. This is a perfect recipe for inequality – the vice that this society has been trying to fight for so long.
Based on the above arguments, the practice of race-based jury nullification is highly dangerous. While it deceptively looks like the right thing to do to correct injustice, it will in effect result in more harmful consequences. Supporting the notion that law is different for people of different colors and some crimes can remain without punishment if one belongs to a special group, one sets the stage for tribal politics and further marginalization of minorities in society, as well as acts again everyone’s safety.
Jemal. (1998). Race Based Jury Nullification: A Path To Equality! Retrieved June 1, 2009, from http://www.geocities.com/athens/olympus/1320/nullification.htm
National Public Radio. (1996). Race-based Jury Nullification. Retrieved June 1, 2009, from http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=1011684