On This Day in Jury History…


Today is the 9th anniversary of what has been dubbed the Montana Jury Mutiny, the Pot Shot Heard ‘Round the World, and more!

On this day in 2010, so many prospective jurors in Missoula County refused even to consider convicting Touray Cornell over victimless violations involving 1/16 ounce of pot that a jury could not even be seated. They effectively nullified in his case without ever being seated!

Read About Touray Cornell’s Hero Jurors

This is not the only time such a situation has transpired. In October of this year, prospective jurors in New Orleans also scuttled a felony trial over a victimless charge regarding 1 ounce of marijuana.

These hero jurors remind us that even if the government chooses to harm someone who is harming nobody, we as jurors can help protect them by exercising out right of conscientious acquittal!

This is known as jury nullification

Jury nullification occurs when a jury returns a verdict of “Not Guilty” despite its belief that the defendant is guilty of the violation charged. The jury in effect nullifies a law that it believes is either immoral or wrongly applied to the defendant whose fate they are charged with deciding.

So, if jurors have the power to nullify, shouldn’t they be told so?

That’s a good question. As it stands now, jurors must learn of their power to nullify from extra-legal sources such as televised legal dramas, novels, or articles about juries that they might have come across. Some juries will understand that they do have the power to nullify, while other juries may be misled by judges into thinking that they must apply the law exactly as it is given. Many commentators have suggested that it is unfair to have a defendant’s fate depend upon whether he is lucky enough to have a jury that knows it has the power to nullify.

Jury nullification prevents our criminal justice system from becoming too rigid–it provides some play in the joints for justice if jurors use their power wisely.

Will you use it wisely?

Are you awake yet?

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