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How powerful is the jury?

Norwich, NY |

Is a juror's oath enforceable? As in, can a juror be punished for his/her decision?

A juror can vote "not-guilty" if they believe the law in itself to be unconstitutional, correct? Didn't nullification have a pretty big impact during prohibition?

Judges do not inform jurors of their right to nullify in NY, is that right?

Also, is it correct to say the potential juror must not allude at all during voir dire that they know anything about the power of nullification?

Thanks for any help you can provide.

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Attorney answers 6

Best Answer

A juror cannot be punished for a verdict.
A judge will not instruct on nullification.
A judge tells them they must follow the law even if they don't agree with it. If they say they can't/won't, they can't sit as a juror.
Nullification should not be mentioned at any stage during the trial.

Joseph A. Lo Piccolo, Esq.
Past President, Criminal Courts Bar Association
Hession Bekoff & Lo Piccolo
1103 Stewart Ave, Suite 200
Garden City, NY 11530
516-408-3666 (o) / 516-408-3833 (f)

I am a criminal defense attorney practicing in Nassau, Suffolk and New York City. The above information is not a substitution for a meeting whereas all potential legal issues can be discussed.


I am not a NY lawyer but as a FL lawyer, and interpreting your question in regard to FL law, I'd have to tell you that you are way off the reservation.

Jury nullification is a term of art to used describe what happens where a jury disregards the law and does what it feels is right irrespective of what it knows to be lawful. It is a slap in the face to the law (specifically to the Legislature / Congress) and an affront to the judicial system. It is also a "necessary evil" as sometimes the law is the law but it is not "right".

Judges do not instruct on jury nullification, except to advise jurors that they are not lawfully entitled to do so (here in FL a standard jury instruction advises the jurors that the judge instructs them on the law, that they are to follow the law and that they are not to be guided by anything other than the law when they interpret, discuss and deliberate over the evidence). Maybe there is some quirky requirement in NY that Judges inform jurors of a "right to nullify" but I suspect not (for the reasons that I just stated).

Jurors enjoy privilege and protection when they serve. They can be held in contempt, even prosecuted, if they stray too far (for instance if they are caught lying during vior dire / questioning or if they accept a bribe or are caught researching or discussing the case when admonished not to do so), but as for nullification, no... that is their prerogative and, if done correctly the court would have no idea whether a jury had ignored the law or simply determined that the evidence was insufficient.

I suspect that NY follows FL (and most jurisdictions) in this regard. Below is a link to an article on jury nullification. I think I've covered it pretty well but maybe this will give you a little more information.

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A jury verdict is the most powerful aspect of a criminal law prosecution in this country. Prosecutors and defense attorneys have a role in the criminal justice system; the judge as presider of the law and trial process; but jurors are the finders of fact and vote in secret to return a verdict of Guilty or Not Guilty on each offense presented based on the evidence they heard and the governing law by a unanimous vote of 6/6 or 12/12, if they believe the evidence as to guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Jurors are to follow the law given to them by the judge.

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Jurors are usually charged must must.... if the prosecutor proves the case beyond a reasonable doubt they must convict. If the prosecutor failed to meet the burden of proof they must find not guilty. If they choose to nullify nothing can be done.

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You should use traditional means of research for your school projects.

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As it is Labor Day weekend, I was unable to get in touch with a local attorney. I am a journalist; merely seeking the opinion of attorneys on the ideas and power of nullification. If more potential jurors knew about nullification and how to make it through voir dire without divulging they knew their power as a juror, I'd think it would be a benefit to the defense - especially with regard to charges that stem from non-violent crimes lacking a victim (drug possession, for example).


Jurors are instructed to follow the law but can decide a case however they like and sometimes do.