It appears that jurors are not allowed to be told that they can ignore the law and thus use their right of jury nullification.


The contrary principle contended for by Mr. Manning, that a jury may be encouraged to ignore a law it does not like, could lead to gross inequities. One accused could be convicted by a jury who supported the existing law, while another person indicted for the same offence could be acquitted by a jury who, with reformist zeal, wished to express disapproval of the same law.

But recognizing this reality is a far cry from suggesting that counsel may encourage a jury to ignore a law they do not support or to tell a jury that it has a right to do so.

Since they're apparently still allowed to use this right, only not be explicitly instructed in court that they can use it, doesn't it produce the very problem mentioned above by Mr. Manning? I.e., in any particular trial one juror may have prior knowledge of the right of nullification, in which case the jury may use it; while all other juries will carry out their obligation ignorant of it.

  • 1
    One way juries can find out is by vocal advocates providing information on the courthouse steps. Such advocates can find themselves indicted on federal jury tampering charges like this guy: cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/04/19/…
    – jqning
    May 31, 2015 at 3:41
  • There are lots of ways people can learn about it, which makes this too broad. Jun 3, 2015 at 6:21

4 Answers 4


Jurors don't have a "right" to jury nullification per-se. The "right" of jury nullification is really just a logical consequence of other rights that the jury and the defendant have

The American jury draws its power of nullification from its right to render a general verdict in criminal trials, the inability of criminal courts to direct a verdict no matter how strong the evidence, the Fifth Amendment’s Double Jeopardy Clause, which prohibits the appeal of an acquittal,[2] and the fact that jurors can never be punished for the verdict they return.

In fact, the court doesn't want juries to nullify, because that undermines the rule of law, and they might penalize lawyers tho try to argue for nullification

The 1895 decision in Sparf v. U.S.,[24] written by Justice John Marshall Harlan held that a trial judge has no responsibility to inform the jury of the right to nullify laws. It was a 5-4 decision. This decision, often cited, has led to a common practice by United States judges to penalize anyone who attempts to present legal argument to jurors and to declare a mistrial if such argument has been presented to them. In some states, jurors are likely to be struck from the panel during voir dire if they will not agree to accept as correct the rulings and instructions of the law as provided by the judge.[25]

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jury_nullification_in_the_United_States

As far as how would juror's know about jury nullification, they could have read about the process before being selected for jury duty. Some Juries might also rule contrary to their instructions without actually having heard about jury nullification because they have some sort of sympathy with the defendant.

  • Jury nullification does not undermine the rule of law. Jury nullification IS the rule of law: a guilty verdict in criminal cases can only be arrived at through the consensus of peers, per the US Constitution itself, which is the supreme law of the land. The first quotation is good, but the argument in the second quotation is fallacious. Courts have no right to constrain the conscience of the jury. All jurors must be aware that they have a right to form the verdict according to conscience and common sense, and not the law alone.
    – pygosceles
    Jan 16, 2023 at 23:11
  • IMO The last sentence is key. ("Some Juries might also rule contrary to their instructions without actually having heard about jury nullification because they have some sort of sympathy with the defendant."). This is actually good imo, it means that the law is only upheld as long as it makes sense to the average person. However, if the jury knows about nullification, it means they can 'game' the system by intentionally nullifying as a power play. So unintentional nullification is good, intentional nullification is bad. At least that's my limited view as a layperson.
    – stanri
    Jan 18, 2023 at 13:59

This is an interesting corner question that illuminates much larger and fundamental facts about law and government:

In court the law is whatever the judge says it is. (And if you are subject to the court and disagree with the judge's assertion of the law then your recourses are appeals to higher courts, attempts to have the law changed or clarified, and/or attempting to remove the judge from his seat.) It's not surprising that courts have a negative view of anything that undermines their authority and power. Just as it's unlikely that the government that creates the laws will go to any lengths to undermine them, e.g., by legally requiring juries be informed of their innate power of nullification.

Conflicts of interest like these are what motivate the study and learning of civics. Historically, at least in the United States, the necessity of having citizenry who are fully aware of their civic rights and duties has been perhaps the purest argument in favor of public education. And since some people think the education system isn't quite meeting its purpose, there are advocacy groups like the Fully Informed Jury Association, which addresses this particular issue.


"Jury nullification" is normally practiced by individual jurors, who know about it. Of course, if only one person knows, s/he could educate the whole group of 12.

Jury nullification is one of those kinds of things in life where, "if you have to ask, it means that you can't do it." It is barely allowed under U.S. common law, which is derived from English common law, but is kind of a "dirty little secret" that is normally kept from the "masses."


This is why juries traditionally consist of twelve people. The number should be large enough to assuage problems of individual or small group bias and to include sufficient knowledgeability and variety of experience, and yet be small enough to be practical.

All jurors should know that they do not have to conform their verdict to favor the law as written. This is why the Constitution expressly states that the judicial power extends "to all cases, in Law and Equity" between applicable parties and controversies. Law is a self-explanatory term, but the word "equity" refers to rightness or fairness. That is to say, a jury is empowered not only to weigh the facts of a case as they relate to the law, but are also duty-bound to consider what is fair or right. If conscience or common sense contradicts the law or a particular application of it, the jury has full power to find the defendant "not guilty", providing an irresistible check against government overreach and abuse of power.

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