Fighting The War On Drugs With Jury Nullification
Disclaimer: The information provided in this entry does not and is not intended to constitute legal advice. This entry is for general informational purposes only.
The War on Drugs
Drug prohibition was a mistake from the beginning. It’s a disastrous policy that has led to mass unnecessary suffering. It has endangered public health and safety, caused the prison population to explode, and led to the militarization of the police and loss of personal liberty for everyone.
Using Jury Nullification to Fight The War on Drugs
Now if you’re over eighteen, you may have been asked to serve on a jury already. I’ve been asked to. It’s common for people to come up with an excuse to get out of jury duty, but I urge you not to! You may get the opportunity to help fight against the War on Drugs.
I’m going to tell you something judges don’t want you to know about. It’s called jury nullification. In the United States and many other free countries, juries cannot be punished for having an unpopular verdict. You’re free to vote not guilty, even if you believe the defendant broke the law.
If you show up to jury duty and end up serving as a juror on a nonviolent drug offense case, you can just vote not guilty, even if the defendant is obviously guilty. You can’t be punished for jury nullification as long as you don’t indicate you’re doing it. Do avoid mentioning it to anybody though because judges frown upon it, it may prevent you from serving on the jury, and it may be a violation of your juror duties.
Objections to Jury Nullification
You might object “Sure I can nullify the jury, but the law was decided by the majority through a democratic process. Who am I to override it with my personal sense of justice? Doesn’t that create a bad precedent where everybody votes however they want regardless of the law?”. Those are two very good questions. I’ll address the first question first.
Isn’t Jury Nullification Undemocratic?
Two-thirds of Americans now support “ending the War on Drugs” and “eliminating criminal penalties for drug possession and reinvesting drug enforcement resources into treatment and addiction services”. There are powerful interests who stand to benefit from prolonging the War on Drugs, but the majority want the laws to change.
So it’s actually the laws that are undemocratic. Nullifying the drug laws in court is the more democratic thing to do since most voters don’t support prohibition.
Doesn’t Jury Nullification Set a Bad Precedent?
Now onto the second question. Does jury nullification set a bad precedent?
Just for the sake of argument, let’s entertain the slippery slope fallacy and assume the worst case. Using jury nullification against the War on Drugs leads to jurors being more likely to vote guilty for defendants they dislike, even if they believe the defendant is not guilty.
Judges can still override a guilty verdict if jury nullification is obvious. They cannot overturn an acquittal though. And even if a defendant gets convicted, they still have a chance to appeal. So jury nullification doesn’t lend itself to guilty verdicts.
The bigger concern is that jurors would vote to acquit someone who is guilty of grievous crimes. For instance, Trump supporters may vote to acquit the insurrectionists who raided the U.S. Capitol building. In the past, jurors voted to acquit lynch mobs because of underlying racist sympathies. But Trump Supporters, lynch mobs, and other extremists are so radicalized they probably vote according to their own personal sense of justice anyways. So nothing is lost.
Even if using jury nullification against the War on Drugs did lead extremists to more often acquit people they’re sympathetic towards, the main issue is not people evading conviction on grievous crimes. It’s people who don’t belong in jail getting convicted anyways.
The potential downsides to jury nullification for nonviolent drug offenses are clearly outweighed by the benefits. I most likely won’t be asked to serve on a jury again now, but if the day ever comes and I get a nonviolent drug case, well you can probably figure out how I’m going to vote.
If enough people nullify drug laws, we can get the drug laws themselves to reflect the will of the majority and jury nullification won’t be necessary.