Serving on a Grand Jury: Balancing Duty and Morality

  • Thread starter Jimmy Snyder
  • Start date
In summary, the purpose of serving on a grand jury is to determine whether or not there will be a trial based on probable cause, and not to decide guilt or innocence. However, there may be cases where the law itself is unjust and some may argue for jury nullification. While this concept is more commonly associated with petit jury cases, there is some indication that it can also be applied in grand jury cases. Ultimately, jurors are ethically obligated to judge the merits of the case, not the merits of the law, but there may be instances where acting as a mindless instrument of an unjust law is not the right course of action.
  • #36
Vanadium 50 said:
Really? Where?
It is not for us to decide the meanings of laws, but for the court. I posted a federal court decision in my post #27 and which I repeat below:

Jimmy Snyder said:
We recognize, as appellants urge, the undisputed power of the jury to acquit, even if its verdict is contrary to the law as given by the judge and contrary to the evidence. This is a power that must exist as long as we adhere to the general verdict in criminal cases, for the courts cannot search the minds of the jurors to find the basis upon which they judge. If the jury feels that the law under which the defendant is accused is unjust, or that exigent circumstances justified the actions of the accused, or for any reason which appeals to their logic or passion, the jury has the power to acquit, and the courts must abide by that decision.

I would add that the independence of the jury is tied up in the existence of the jury. The alternative to a jury would be to have the judge pass the verdict. What need is there of a dependent jury? What would be its purpose or meaning?
 
Last edited:
Physics news on Phys.org
  • #37
Jimmy Snyder said:
It is not for us to decide the meanings of laws, but for the court. I posted a federal court decision in my post #27 and which I repeat below:
And I can't find anything -- your own quote included -- that suggests the courts have ruled to protect this "power" for any deeper reason than policing it would have too much collateral damage. In fact, this was explicit in the ruling I linked. You are guilty of abusing a freedom meant to protect those who would take their duty seriously.
 
Last edited:
  • #38
Hurkyl said:
You are guilty of abusing a freedom meant to protect those who would take their duty seriously.
Using, not abusing. You are engaging in jury nullification. You admit my freedom, but won't acquit me of using or even abusing it as the law requires.
 
  • #39
Whoops! I let you trip me up, with your twisting of all the words involved!

The court puts the standard of evidence for nullification at "beyond doubt", and so protects you from dismissal for less evidence. Jury nullification is only a protected power in the same way that the U.S. Constitution protects your power to commit murder so long as you don't leave behind enough evidence to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt.
 
  • #40
If I understand correctly, the purpose of a grand jury is to agree or disagree on whether or not there is sufficient legal evidence in that case to go to trial.
A grand jury agreement(indictment) DOES NOT mean that the accused is guilty at all !
It just means that the grand jury believes that there is sufficient evidence to legally force the defendant(s) to be subjected to trial, be it judge or jury.
It has nothing at all to do with guilt or innocence. The grand jury does not have that power of disposition(deciding guilt or innocence)

Often used in cases of "circumstantial" evidence or complicated non-circumstantial evidence.
 
  • #41
If one accepts jury duty with the intent to conditionally nullify based on a personal interpretation of the law, then it seems to me upon receiving the juror's oath requiring decisions based only evidence, one must reply "No I do not so agree". Otherwise one sits in the juror's box under false pretense - whether or not the law protects the ability to do so.
 
  • #42
i think there is a time and place for it at the grand jury level. to me, it seems that the purpose of the grand jury is to provide check and balance to the executive authority's power of arrest and prosecution. if it appears to the grand jurist that the police and prosecution are using their power maliciously - in addition to the more mundane incompetence or lack of due diligence - then there is not just a right, but a duty to nullify.
 
  • #43
That's not nullification. Nullification is when a juror decides that he doesn't like the law, so will vote to acquit (or not to indict, in the case of a grand jury) irrespective of the evidence.

For example, in the past, it was thought by certain segments of the population - to be perfectly OK - indeed, praiseworthy - to lynch African-Americans who got too "uppity". So grand juries regularly refused to indict, and juries regularly refused to convict. Not based on evidence - they just didn't like the law.
 
  • #44
where was it legal to lynch ?
 
  • #45
Proton Soup said:
where was it legal to lynch ?
How many white lynchers were tried and sentenced? Considering the blacks were killed without any legal intervention...
 
  • #46
It was never legal to lynch. But because jurors felt that laws forbidding lynching were unjust - just as Jimmy feels other laws are unjust - they refused to indict or convict.
 
  • #47
I'm not sure if I'm missing something here, but from what I've read, a Grand Jury is in place to determine whether or not a law has been broken and if enough evidence exists for a trial to take place.

Now I can't see where personal opinion (Jimmy's or otherwise) comes into this. Or more specifically, jury nullification, which seems to be a device to register your disagreement with a specific law.

I fully understand that you may not agree with certain laws, and as such you would believe no one should be punished because they break those laws. However, in this situation (grand jury) you are simply in place to decide if a trial should take place on the grounds there is sufficient evidence a law has been broken. This is simply a yes or no answer, either a) yes, there is evidence a law has been broken or b) no, there is not enough evidence a law has been broken, and as such, a trial should or should not take place.

Think of it on a scientific level, you are given evidence to support / disprove a hypothesis, you read it, you make your judgement based on the facts presented (or your own experiments) as to whether or not the evidence supports / disproves the hypothesis. Your own personal opinion or feelings should not, at any time, enter the equation.

Saying yes the law has been broken, does not show support for said law any more than saying no, there is not enough evidence. You are there to decide if there is evidence the law has been broken and a trial should take place.
 

Similar threads

Replies
18
Views
3K
Replies
6
Views
3K
  • General Discussion
2
Replies
42
Views
4K
  • General Discussion
Replies
10
Views
3K
Replies
17
Views
6K
Replies
7
Views
5K
  • General Discussion
2
Replies
38
Views
6K
  • General Discussion
2
Replies
50
Views
8K
  • General Discussion
Replies
33
Views
5K
  • General Discussion
Replies
9
Views
3K
Back
Top