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Jury Nullification

By Tyler Bauer

Laurens County, Georgia

In 2003, Javonnie Mondrea McCoy was severely beaten. As a result of his beating, he was in a coma for two weeks. While McCoy was luckily able to recover and come out of his coma, he has suffered from all sorts of pain – particularly severe headaches – ever since.

To manage the pain he endures every day, McCoy became a medical marijuana patient. Marijuana helped him manage his pain, but there was only one problem – marijuana plants are illegal in the state of Georgia, and McCoy grew his own marijuana plants. Since McCoy was in violation of Georgia state law, he was charged with possession and manufacturing of marijuana.

McCoy did what most “criminals” don’t do – he admitted to growing and using marijuana. Rather than trying to discredit the evidence against him, he admitted to his crimes and argued that the laws he broke were wrong.

McCoy’s strategy easily won over the jury, who saw a hard-working man who wasn’t hurting anyone. McCoy was just trying to treat his pain and carry on with as normal of a life as possible, and there’s nothing wrong with that. So, despite the fact that McCoy admitted to the crimes and the evidence against him was overwhelming, the jury acquitted him. How? With jury nullification.

What is jury nullification?

Jury nullification is the act of a jury either rejecting the evidence in a case or refusing to apply the law(s) involved in a case. As a juror, members of the jury are able to judge the facts of the case and the validity of the relevant laws. If a jury thinks a law is unjust, immoral, or unfair – or the result of a guilty verdict would be unjust, immoral, or unfair – it can acquit the defendant.

Why does jury nullification matter?

Jury nullification gives average citizens like you and I the power to directly influence laws and law enforcement. Usually, this kind of power is reserved for politicians and interest groups. However, jury nullification presents an even playing field. If you find yourself on a jury where the defendant is facing charges you think are unjust – such as charges for marijuana possession – you can (and should) acquit the defendant.

Victimless crimes (which aren’t really crimes – a crime requires a victim whose life, liberty, or property was violated) are becoming increasingly unpopular nowadays. Crimes like marijuana possession or prostitution, for example, are victimless crimes and you can treat them as such if you choose to do so.

Judges and prosecutors usually try to keep the option of jury nullification from the jury. So, if you or someone you know is being called for jury duty, I encourage you to read up on jury nullification and mention it to other members of the jury if you think a law is unjust.

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