It is commonly understood that the jury is the finder of fact while the judge is the finder of law. However, there are circumstances in which the jury has the power to “judge the law as well as the fact[s].” This means that when the jury believes that the judge is not issuing a ruling according to the law, such as the jury believes he he has a political stake in the outcome of the case or has been bribed or the jury agrees that the law in which they are to decide the case is unjust, they may decide the facts surrounding the case as well as “assume the judge’s role in the proceeding.”
This important right held by the jury has rarely been used throughout history; this may be due to the fact that judges are not required to inform the jury of their right to nullify. Most juries do not know that they have the right to “invalidate the law as it applies to the specific case over which it is presiding and find a defendant not guilty even if he has committed the infraction for which he is standing trial.”
Judges might choose not to inform the jury of their right to nullify in fear that the jury may actually invoke their right to nullify during the trial. As nullification has been used historically for humane purposes, it has also been used for destructive purposes. It has been argued that if juries abuse their power to nullify, it can undermine the system of democracy and has the potential to weaken the American justice system.
Although this fear may be a valid one, it should not be a reason to conceal this right from the jury. The jury has the right to know what exactly they can do and decide during a case. If the jury is not informed that they have the right to nullify, then they may reach an erroneous decision. If the jury reaches an erroneous decision based on ignorance of the justice system, this in turn also does not help our democracy or society as a whole. This in fact may actually be more dangerous to society than simply informing the jury of their right to nullify.
As a general complaint, potential jurors complain they are uncomfortable serving on a jury because they are unfamiliar with the process. If the court system were to be more transparent and fully explain to jurors all of their rights and duties during jury duty, then this may ease jurors’ minds and make them feel more comfortable with the process and serving in general. Of course, there is always the chance that a jury may take advantage of the right to nullify, but it has been found that juries tend to take their job very seriously and try to follow the law to the best of their ability. It can be argued that by informing the jury of their right to nullify will only enhance the system so that the jury can more accurately preform their duty.