I've heard that there is a legal principle in US.

The law is interpreted the way the jury thinks is true, and not necessarily the way the framers of the law want.

For example, if the law says you shall not commit adultery, and the jury think watching porn is adultery, then anyone watching porn is sent to jail. I am taking a sample from a religious law here that obviously doesn't apply.

What is the name of the legal principle, and how does it work?

Any samples, on how it works?

Does this work only on countries with common laws and jury or all laws?

Are there samples where the laws intent is vastly difference than the actual laws?

One thing I consider is the no fault divorce law. It's encoded with terms like "irreconcible difference". A normal jury would think that some actual "irreconsible difference" will have to be there instead of it to mean no fault divorce.

Another thing that's strange is what about the judge? I thought the judge instruct the jury all the time what the laws mean.

Is the principle even true.


The only thing which has a name and sounds somewhat like what you're talking about is "jury nullification". This generally refers to the situation where a jury deliberately sets aside the judges instructions about the law and supplies their own interpretation. For example, Peter Zenger was technically guilty of seditious libel because as a matter of law the material was sedition libel and the only legal question was whether he had published it. The jury found him not guilty, on the grounds that the statements were true, but truth was not an element of the crime.

It is the general pattern in the US that the judge is the only person empowered to say to the jury what the law is. By selecting specific instructions (phrased as "If you conclude X, you must find the defendant guilt", that is, stating the "finding-to-verdict" equation), the jury is given a formula for figuring out what the law says. Trial judges are not the ones who decide what the "framers" of the law intended, that comes from higher appeals courts who may study the legislative history. It can happen that a law uses an unclear phrase like "irreconcilable differences" and the jury doesn't know exactly what that means: then the judge may tell them to decide on their own, or give them a dictionary (however, there probably is an instruction for divorce law, and it's unlikely that a jury would be involved in a simple marital dissolution).

It is entirely possible that jurors will end up misinterpreting what the law says in some instance, but I doubt that it happens very often. It is more likely that jurors will deviate somewhat, compared to judges in a bench trial, in matters of judgment such as whether an action is "reasonable".

  • It turns out that there are, I think, two states in the US whose constitutions still specifically mention that juries are the judges of both fact and law in criminal cases. One of which is Indiana, the other I forget. I believe, after a long history of oscillations and generally being unclear, the Indiana State Supreme Court finally held that the "jury is the judge of the law" basically only means that the power of jury nullification exists, and Judges can still give instructions on the law, and a conviction based on faulty interpretation of the law can be reversed by the trial judge. – zibadawa timmy Oct 29 '20 at 12:57
  • "Trial judges are not the ones who decide what the "framers" of the law intended": trial judges do indeed have to decide what a law means, just as much as appellate judges do. The intentions of a statute's drafter may in fact be relevant to that determination, especially if the statute has never before been at issue in a trial. – phoog Oct 29 '20 at 22:53
  • I think I read in law.stackexchange that jury misinterpretation of the laws succeeds. However, I cannot find it anywhere. – user4951 Nov 7 '20 at 11:34

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