How is a jury in a federal trial affected by binding precedent such as that of a SCOTUS decision?

If the jury is selected from ordinary people, they obviously are likely to have no familiarity with legal matters. How is their ability to render a verdict influenced by binding precedent? Can a jury render a verdict that contravenes with binding precedent?

2 Answers 2


Can a jury render a verdict that contravenes with binding precedent?

Yes, but (if it is a guilty verdict) it will be overturned on appeal. The appeal court will say that the jury's verdict was not one which any reasonable jury could have made on the basis of the evidence and the instructions in the case.

As explained in Dave D's answer, the trial judge will have explained the law, including the binding precedent, to the jury. So if we get to this stage then the jury is disregarding instructions. The above process is the remedy. You may notice a 'gap' where the jury can unlawfully acquit a person and there's nothing anyone can do about it, because of the rule against double jeopardy (that is, you can't appeal against an acquittal). This is called jury nullification, because the jury has nullified the relevant criminal law by acquitting an offender.


Here is an article at the American Bar Association web site that helps explain the instructions to a jury. From that article:

The judge will point out that his or her instructions contain the interpretation of the relevant laws that govern the case, and that jurors are required to adhere to these laws in making their decision, regardless of what the jurors believe the law is or ought to be. In short, the jurors determine the facts and reach a verdict, within the guidelines of the law as determined by the judge.

It is not necessary that jurors be aware of the law or legal precedent. The judge will explain the legal framework within which the jury will weigh the evidence and testimony.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .