What is Jury Nullification? Attorney-Instructor Answers Questions

Posted by on April 8, 2013

A college is fortunate to have an instructor that is respected in the community and invited by other colleges and universities to be a keynote speaker. For Minnesota School of Business-Rochester, this instructor is attorney Allan Witz of Witz Law P.A., who is also president of the Third District Bar Association. 

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Allan was recently invited by the University of Minnesota-Rochester campus to discuss the topic of “Exploring Ethical Dilemmas in National and International Law.” Allan’s students in his Fraud Examination class from MSB rounded out the attendance in the full lecture hall.

The timing was perfect for hosting the discussion and inviting MSB-Rochester paralegal students to attend.

At Minnesota School of Business-Rochester, students earning a paralegal degree learn that a judge decides questions of what law applies, and then a jury decides the facts of what happened in a case. Jury nullification occurs when facts of a criminal case favor a conviction, yet the jury decides to ignore the law of the land and find the defendant not guilty.

Allan posed the question for discussion of is it unethical for a jury (or even one juror) to choose when not to enforce a particular law in a specific criminal case, and in so doing to acquit a defendant who is guilty in law and in fact?

Jury nullification is a relevant topic of discussion because of the state-to-state ambiguity associated with the law.

Minnesota is not a state that recognizes jury nullification, but Allan explained that it can still take place in Minnesota. In Hennepin County, a milk farmer was charged with selling unpasteurized milk. Despite the charges brought forth by the prosecution, the jury found the defendant not guilty on all counts. 

paralegal programsAllan asked the audience if they knew of any other examples of jury nullification. The audience responded with some nationally renowned cases of O.J. Simpson and Casey Anthony. Allan also examined the case of Marion Barry, former mayor of the District of Columbia, who was found not guilty of charges stemming from a drug sting operation. These are merely a few cases amongst the thousands that have been argued.

A trend can be noted with jury nullification. When a defendant is acquitted of a crime despite the overwhelming evidence and laws of the land, the jurors feel a connection. Many factors can be a reason for jury nullification to occur, such as race, popularity, likeability, and type of crime. No legal expert can be certain that jury nullification happened in any particular case because it is impossible to know each juror’s rationale for a verdict. However, jury nullification can be examined in cases when the evidence seems to prove the defendant committed a crime yet the jury acquits the defendant of the criminal charge.

The audience was so engaged in the dynamic discussion of jury nullification that there was no time remaining to discuss the other topics on the agenda for the evening.

Kelly Derby, paralegal degree student at MSB, stated, “The forum at UMR was very interesting. The audience provided so much discussion that Allan only had time for one topic. Allan has a unique way of making complex topics so easy to understand. His wealth of knowledge is incredible. He is an excellent resource for business or law and we are so fortunate to be his students.”

Learn more about this interesting topic and the paralegal programs at MSB-Rochester by calling 507-536-9500.

Thank you for your Interest in Minnesota School of Business.