Jury Nullification on Victimless Crimes

When a jury returns a Not Guilty verdict although jurors accept beyond a reasonable doubt that the law has been broken by the defendant, it is referred to as Jury Nullification. The law is referred to as nullified when the Not Guilty verdict can’t be overridden, and the jurors, therefore, can not be penalized for their verdict. Learn more about jury nullifications here.

A trial jury should only act as a “fact-finder”, which means to assess the honesty and sincerity of the witness and the influence of proof provided at trial, then apply the law to that proof to get to the decision. The jury doesn’t choose what the law is, or what it should be. Disagreeing a law, feelings about a specific crime, being sympathetic for a victim, or disdain for the defendant should not stop the jury from following the law and creating a dispassionate judgment of the guilt and innocence of the defendant.

However, the jury nullification happens when a trial jury gets to a decision that is contrasting to the law’s letter because the jurors either:

  • Deny the law under which the defendant is prosecuted
  • Accept that the law shouldn’t be applied in the current case.

How does Jury Nullification Work?

Jury nullification occurs when jurors absolve a defendant who is proven guilty since they are disagreeing with the written law. For instance, during the period of Prohibition, juries who denied the alcohol control laws mostly absolved defendants who were caught red-handed when smuggling alcohol.

Jury Nullification also happens when a defendant is convicted by the jury because it criticizes the defendant or the actions of the defendant, even though the proves show that he hasn’t broken any law. Today, jury nullification is common in drug cases, where a few jurors deny convicting on the drug possession charges either because they accept the legalization or think that drug laws discriminate against a few groups.

Why do jurors nullify?

Jurors nullify for a variety of reasons that may include a thought that the law is unjust or is unjustly applied, the punishment for breaking the law is too harsh, or the crime is victimless but the penalty is too violating. However, we can consider the following reasons where jury nullification is considered a good thing:

It has been estimated that in the United States today, there are approximately 750,000 people incarcerated for victimless crimes, as well as 3 million on parole or probation. Approximately 4 million are arrested each year for victimless crimes.

1. The law applied is unjust

The most common reason for jury nullification is that the juror might think the law applied to the crime is unjust or that the law is unjust. The educators of jury nullification mostly discuss victimless crimes and believe that if there is no victim, the event shouldn’t be marked as a crime. A crime in which no one’s rights are violated is termed as a victimless crime, but is, however, referred to as a crime in a legal way, mostly because it may offend someone’s sensibilities. Some examples of these victimless crimes include:

  • Various marijuana or several other drug offenses use possession, or sale of such substances.
  • Peaceful belongings of several weapons that run afoul of complex laws and regulations
  • Expressive activities that should be protected constitutionally, but are eroded through bureaucratic regulation.
  • Collecting rainwater, building, gardening, or using one’s property without causing any damage, but not according to the government rules intended to engineer some particular types of communities.

Most people believe that if someone is not providing harm to the other person, then he, himself, should also not be harmed. This basic point can not be changed simply since some busybodies feel the urge to control other’s lives and passed a law to duress others to comply with their preferences and tastes. Many jurors nullify in these cases and if not, they later regret failing to nullify, feeling the guilt of punishing someone who does not deserve it.

2. The penalty is too harsh for the crime

Victimless crimes always are the main reason for jury nullification, however, another reason we see jurors nullify or wish to nullify is that they think that the penalty for violating the law is unjustly harsh for the crime committed.

In the modern era, most prosecutors and judges try their best to keep jurors in the dark about the possible punishment that might be imposed. Judges continually instruct jurors to stay away from the punishment being imposed on a verdict of Guilty or Not Guilty. However, many people believe that in any aspect of their lives, what jurors are asked to do is to outright ignore the outcomes of their actions before acting would be anything from irresponsible to unconscionable.

Since the jurors are very serious about their duties, and they will have to live with the information on the outcomes of their decisions, many of them nullify some or all charges to make sure that the defendant is not punished unjustly harshly. Jurors being removed from the punishing process in almost all noncapital, criminal cases, jurors today may utilize their Not Guilty vote to affect the punishment indirectly, either by disagreeing to convict on some charges or by voting Not Guilty on all charges.

3. Making the law a poor fit in the current case by mitigating situations

Jurors might think that the law and its punishment are just, but that in a specific case before them there are mitigating circumstances that applying the law in this specific case would be unjust. It’s difficult to explain these cases in general terminologies because they are exceptions to the rule. Consider the following example:

In 2013, a California man was acquitted by a jury for punching the priest, although the defendant admitted the guilt.

The defendant in the above-mentioned example explained that the priest he punched has molested him as a child. He further added that he had sought the priest out to get him to sign a confession of what he did, but the situation got heated when he judged that the priest was once again leering at him similar to the way he did to him when he was a child. The man testified that the results of this sexual abuse included divorce, two suicide attempts, and alcohol consumption.

Because of this unusual situation, the jury refused to convict him of felony assault and elder abuse.


Jury Nullification is considered a good thing when it comes to disagreeing to punish a victimless crime. Many laws and judges impose penalties that are way too harsh for the crime committed. Jurors, therefore, refuse to convict such harsh penalties to people who don’t deserve them and therefore nullify or wish to nullify.

661190cookie-checkJury Nullification on Victimless Crimes

Jury Nullification on Victimless Crimes

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2 Responses

  1. Welcome to Mike South, Jon. I look forward to more legal articles from you. I pretty much already knew the content of this article but many do not. Can you discuss Michigan’s ridiculous fornication law next?

  2. The entire Judicial system needs an enema and be over hauled from top to bottom. Hopefully Joe Biden will see this trough although I doubt it. Its up to a movement which is already excitable about doing just that

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