State v. Ragland
Supreme Court of
105 N.J. 189, 519 A.2d 1361.
Facts: Ragland was convicted of several offenses. He appealed on the basis that the use of the phrase “must find him guilty” in the jury instructions inappropriately precluded the jury from its power of nullification, and that the jury’s power of nullification was an essential aspect of his constitutional right to a jury trial.
Issue: Must a jury be informed of its nullification power in order for a verdict it returns to be valid?
Rule: There is no rule, which is why the court must make its decision on the basis of policy.
Analysis: The court makes clear its view that jury nullification is undesirable but unavoidable. It says that the jury should only be informed of its nullification power if such information would have a positive result in terms of policy. The court reasons that “advertising” jury nullification will result in confusion, arbitrariness, and a slippery slope of consequences involving the way attorneys and judges can and should address the jury at trial.
Conclusion: Juries ought not to be advised of their nullification power. The verdict was reversed on other grounds and a new trial was ordered.
Notes and Questions
1. Wiseman seems to base his reasoning on a different idea about juries than most people have. He believes that the primary purpose of the jury is “to prevent oppression by the Government”. In a way, Wiseman and Wilentz are really talking about two totally different things. Wilentz says that it’s primarily not appropriate for the jury to overrule the wisdom of the legislature, while Wiseman says it’s important for the jury to act to control a potentially corrupt judiciary as well as the legislature. Wiseman focuses on the effects of jury nullification on particular unfair cases, whereas Wilentz talks about juries nullifying whole statutes.
2. I think the juries were right to acquit, but it does not prove that jury nullification should be encouraged. Cabranes points out that it can cut both ways.
3. I would guess there is some rule that says the judge cannot lie. Would the case be overturned on appeal if the judge said they did not have the power to nullify? Would the case be overturned on appeal if the judge declined to answer the question? If the answer is yes to both questions, the judge seemingly must say yes.
would have been the result of this initiative in
5. This goes to show that there are certainly non-evidentiary and even non-objective factors that go into a jury’s decisions.
think Leipold argues effectively against