1

It seems to me that juries potentially have the ability to deliberately and maliciously make decisions they know are wrong. For example, a jury might happen to say, "We know he's guilty, but we're acquitting him because we hate the government." Or they might say, "We know he's innocent, but we're convicting him because he's (race)."

Yes, I know jury selection is supposed to weed out people like that. But with millions and millions of trials taking place, sooner or later, someone will probably slip through, and sometimes it only takes one or two people to incite "mob mentality."

Yes, I know that juries are sternly instructed not to make rulings like that and to rule according to the law. But just asking someone to do something is not really binding.

If a verdict like that did happen, there are some cases where it couldn't be appealed at all (like an acquittal), and even if it is possible to appeal it, many US courts seem to have a tendency to reject appeals of criminal convictions. And even if you got it overturned, this would still be a horrifying and costly ordeal.

So let's say a jury openly admitted that they made a bad decision out of malice. Could the jury be charged with anything? Would the verdict still stand?

2
  • 1
    And the flip side, concerning ideological jury nullification, has been asked already too
    – Nij
    Sep 11 at 1:31
  • The linked answer doesn't address the flip side of the question, i.e., cases where the jury convicts based on animus rather than evidence.
    – bdb484
    Sep 11 at 16:39
3

No more than any other system

Ultimately, when deciding a criminal or civil matter and forcing people to abide by the decision somebody has to make that decision.

A jury made up of members of the public can make poor, arbitrary, malicious or otherwise ‘wrong’ decisions. But so can a trained and experienced judge. Or police officer. Or surgeon.

In countries where jury trials are an embedded part of the legal system, they are seen as providing an important balance to government power, an egalitarian measure that places judgement in the hands of lay members of the public rather than a judicial elite and a defence against bias since they require unanimous or near-unanimous (10 of 12 is common) verdicts.

In countries where they are not part of legal-social culture they are often regarded as stupid.

Both positions are arguable.

At the end of the day, juries can be biased and arbitrary. So can judges. The protection against this for judges is they have to give reasons for their decision and that is subject to appeal. The protection against this for juries is that their decisions have to be unanimous or, where majority verdicts are accepted, they have to be a super-majority - usually 10 from 12. However, the decision of the jury is typically not subject to review and they are usually prohibited from discussing their reasons: what happens in the jury room stays in the jury room. There are arguments both for and against why this is a good thing.

However, in most jurisdictions, if there is clear evidence of jury misconduct (like jurors conducting a seance), a mistrial can be declared and we all start again. Similarly, if the judge reaches the opinion that the prosecution or plaintiffs has not provided enough evidence such that no reasonable jury could find that they have met their burden of proof, they can enter a directed verdict. Jurors who are corrupt or otherwise engage in criminal conduct can be prosecuted. Jurors who are just idiots are just idiots.

3

This is known as voting your conscience i.e. deciding a verdict based on your personal beliefs rather than the law. In , Bushel's case is authority that a jury cannot be punished for voting their conscience. Jury corruption (e.g. accepting a bribe) or other malpractice is illegal however.

The rule may differ in other jurisdictions.

1
  • 1
    As one data point, there is no prohibition on jury members in the US from talking about what happened in the jury room after the case is finished. Sep 11 at 15:22
1

Yes, there are many mechanisms to prevent juries from ignoring the facts or the law.

In the United States, there are several mechanisms in place to prevent this from happening, though there is not always a meaningful remedy in the cases where it does happen.

A legally unjustified acquittal is referred to as "jury nullification," and jurors are screened out based on their willingness to engage in the practice. Lawyers are prohibited from encouraging this behavior, and the court will likely instruct the jurors that they may not nullify. In the event all this is unsuccessful, though, there is little remedy available, as a criminal acquittal is unappealable.

There are more meaningful mechanisms in place to avoid an unjustified guilty verdict or a finding of liability, and they are built into the process from the very beginning of the case, up to the verdict, and into the appellate phase.

At the beginning of a case, a defendant can move to dismiss the charges if the complaint makes allegations that don't actually constitute a crime. This would happen using Criminal Rule 12 or Civil Rule 12.

In a civil case, the judge can terminate the case before it goes to trial using Rule 56 if the evidence is so clear-cut that a reasonable jury could only reach one decision. And if the evidence presented at trial is insufficient to support a particular decision (other than acquittal in a criminal case), the court can either enter a judgement of acquittal (Rule 29) or a directed verdict/judgment as a matter of law (Rule 50); in either case, the court can enter judgment at the close of the presentation of evidence, or after the jury returns its verdict.

And of course, there is always the option of an appeal for a party who believes the jury's verdict was unsupported by the evidence. One could challenge the sufficiency of the evidence, i.e., whether there was any evidence to establish a material fact; or argue that the verdict was against the manifest weight of the evidence, i.e., that the evidence in your favor was so overwhelming that the jury's decision could not have been the result of the application of the law to the evidence presented at trial.

On appeal, though, there will be limited opportunity to actually inquire into the jury's reasons for making its decision. Rule 606 generally prohibits questioning jurors about the basis for their decisions. But in criminal cases, at least, that rule has to give way to Sixth Amendment protections

The Supreme Court confronted just such a case a few years ago in Pena-Rodriguez v. Colorado, 137 S. Ct. 855, (2017). In that case, a man was convicted of sexual assault, but his attorneys learned immediately afterward that a police officer on the jury had explained "I think he did it because he's Mexican," and then offered several stereotypes of Hispanic men as reasons to convict. The trial court refused to reverse the conviction, based on its reading of Rule 606, but the Supreme Court reversed, holding that the Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial requires that the jury is not infected with racial bias:

Not every offhand comment indicating racial bias or hostility will justify setting aside the no-impeachment bar to allow further judicial inquiry. For the inquiry to proceed, there must be a showing that one or more jurors made statements exhibiting overt racial bias that cast serious doubt on the fairness and impartiality of the jury's deliberations and resulting verdict. To qualify, the statement must tend to show that racial animus was a significant motivating factor in the juror's vote to convict.

1
  • Rules on jury nullification vary from state to state. ""I think he did it because he's Mexican," and then offered several stereotypes of Hispanic men as reasons to convict." It seems to me that besides racial bias, this constitutes jury misconduct in that a juror is purporting to present evidence without it being properly presented at trial. Sep 12 at 1:36

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.