In the United States, is belief in jury nullification generally a valid reason to challenge a jury for cause?

3 Answers 3


Based on these two sources:

  1. http://www.americanbar.org/groups/public_education/resources/law_related_education_network/how_courts_work/juryselect.html
  2. http://criminal.lawyers.com/criminal-law-basics/reasons-for-rejecting-potential-jurors.html

my understanding is that in an official sense there's nothing that's considered an invalid reason to challenge a juror for cause. In other words, whatever it is that the attorney feels makes the juror unsuitable, he can take it to the judge, and the judge will rule based on what he thinks.

  • I believe there are a few explicitly defined invalid reasons. For instance you can't (explicitly) exclude a juror because of their race or sexuality if I recall correctly.
    – dsollen
    Commented Dec 24, 2020 at 15:16

Yes; in fact, these challenges are made, and happen, routinely.

The phrase "jury nullification" is most often used by the extreme political right or extreme libertarians. But in fact all it means is a juror refusing to apply a law based on considerations other than the law he's instructed in by the judge.

In those jurisdictions that still have capital punishment, jurors are routinely asked whether their attitudes towards capital punishment would prevent them from applying it if it was justified under the law. If the juror says no, the juror is excluded for cause. The resulting jury is known as a "death-qualified jury."

In other words: a juror who honestly answers that he or she is unwilling to put aside personal, nonlegal considerations, but will instead vote his or her conscience, based on his or her belief that the law is unjust, is excluded from the jury. That's pretty much the definition of jury nullification, and the Supreme Court has said on multiple occasions that it's a good enough reason to keep someone off a jury.

  • 3
    You mean “if the juror says yes” I assume.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Jul 10, 2019 at 10:55

This amusing site on the subject of jury nullification notes that, during voir dire, lawyers

will ask about nullification, usually in the slightly roundabout way: "Do you have any beliefs that might prevent you from making a decision based strictly on the law?"

  • Of course, one could argue that a juror in the U.S. who regards the conduct of a police officer during a search as patently unreasonable would be required by the Supreme Law of the Land to regard the search as having been illegitimate; a juror who acquits on such a basis would be making a decision based strictly on the law, any judicial claims to the contrary notwithstanding.
    – supercat
    Commented Jul 6, 2015 at 22:42
  • And on top of what supercat says, the US Constitution does say that the trial for all crimes shall be by jury and that the US Constitution is the supreme law of the land. Which tells me that as a juror, it is every bit as much my power to nullify unconstitutional laws as it is the judge's.
    – EvilSnack
    Commented Jul 9, 2019 at 4:03
  • @EvilSnack It's not your power, and it's not even something you can do. You can make the law not be applied in a particular instance, but it remains perfectly valid and in force afterwards. And nullification in the US is not an enshrined right of the jury but rather an ability that is derived from other rights: no double jeopardy for the defendant combined with the inability to punish a jury, most notably. It's much more of a loophole than it is a right. Commented Jul 10, 2019 at 3:12

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