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Race-Based Jury Nullification Advantages and Disadvantages Essay

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Updated: Apr 30th, 2022

Introduction

The laws of natural justice assert that all people subject to the law should be treated equally and fairly. The need to seek justice after a tort or crime has been committed is sometimes inevitable. It is however unfortunate that the law sometimes does not administer the law on a fair and equitable platform. There has been ending debates regarding race based jury nullification in the USA (Dressler, 2001). Minorities are crying foul over increased discrimination and unfairness in the administration of justice. Race-based jury nullification is the process of rendering a defendant-not-guilty verdict when the jury is certain that he/she is guilty (Dressler, 2001). This paper critically examines the advantages and disadvantages of race-based jury nullification.

General Discussion

Jury nullification is experienced in situations where the criminal-trial jury challenges the application of the law. In this regard, a defendant may be guilty but may escape conviction courtesy of race-based jury nullification. The jury considers the application of the law unjust to the defendant. Several factors contribute to jury nullification. They are; unfairness of the law, unjust application of the law and racial discrimination. It should be noted that terminally ill people are usually pardoned or offered leniency by nullification (Dressler, 2001). The fact that race based jury nullification is common has witnessed endless debates within the corridors of justice and the community in large.

The race of the defendant dictates whether jury nullification will occur or not. Supporters of race-based jury nullification contend that race-based jury nullification should also involve black juries and black defendants. The trend should proceed even when the evidence of guilt is available. Studies indicate that about 4 % of all jury trials are characterized by jury nullification (Monk, 2001). Ways to avert jury nullification are non-existent. It becomes extremely difficult to compel conviction. In view of this, the nullification of the law is witnessed. The exertion of the jury’s moral judgment or political preferences is deterrence towards attaining a fair and equitable judicial system. Whereas scholars argue that the jury is involved in the perfection of positive law, others believe that race-based jury nullification acts in favor of the majority race. Consequently, the minorities are oppressed by the law (MacNamara & Burns, 2009).

Minority groups have over the past cried foul over the increased levels of racial nullification. It is usually based on personal vendettas that exist between the majority and minority groups. Letting a defendant go free by virtue of being a white is a clear attestation that the nullification does not uphold fairness. Several examples support the prevalence of jury nullification. A trial conducted in 1991 saw the freeing of Obafemi Donald; a black man by a black jury on grounds that blacks were being sidelined by the judicial system (Monk, 2001).The biggest question has been whether true justice really exists. The fact that emotions and bias play a part in the realization of true justice compromises the integrity of the subsequent sentences. Racial jury nullification has also witnessed black defendants sentenced for murder on grounds of prejudice against the blacks.

The Pros of Race-Based Jury Nullification

Jury nullification is considered a privilege, if not a right by the American people. The supporters of jury nullification argue that the judging of facts by the jurors was enough to be done by a computer. The need to challenge the existing judicial system was considered important. The fact that people have feelings, wisdom, experience and conscience renders the computerization of the judicial process impossible. It is therefore important to appreciate that jury nullification is inevitable in the justice system (Monk, 2001). The fact that laws have changed should not be ignored. The application of old laws may be inappropriate in modern times. The fact that some of these laws remain as they were before increases the probability of jury nullification. How blacks were treated in the 16th and 17th century as slaves is not the same way they are treated today. Any law that purports to apply the Jim Crow Statutes today is highly unacceptable (Free, 2003). However, racial nullification should be based on what is just. Any crime directed towards any community should be handled with fairness. The challenging of existing judicial systems should not be viewed a s a way of safeguarding the interests of either the majority and minority groups. Rather, it is a means to ensure that the old discriminative laws are replaced within modern laws that respect cultural and racial diversity (Jonakait, 2006).

The Cons of Race-Based Jury Nullification

Racial jury nullification is usually governed by prejudice, personal vendetta and emotions. The consequence of all these factors is reduced objectivity as far as sentencing is concerned (Free, 2003). It has been established that most members of the community are opposed to the practice especially when it favors the majority. Consequently, a quota barring people from challenging decisions made by minority jury is existent (Jonakait, 2006). The greatest disadvantage of racial nullification is that the minorities are easily convicted by a majority jury. The inclusion of certain number of minorities in the jury is necessary to guarantee absence of racial bias. It becomes difficult to achieve this keeping in mind the disparity that exists in the justice profession. It has been established that jury nullification is not applied to majority cases (Free, 2003). The trend has been whites escaping conviction on grounds that the jury is composed of majorities. This development has been oppressive to the Black Americans. In view of this, criminals go free because of their race. Black Americans are only favored by the jury nullification in non-violent cases such as drug crimes. It is in this regard that jury nullification should conform to set laws to ensure that true justice is administered.

Contemporary Examples

Several contemporary examples exist to support that fact that racial nullification exists. A case in October 2007 involving eight guards in the murder of Malcolm Karenga, a teenage African American, indicated that the judicial system was unfair (MacNamara & Burns, 2009). The guards defended themselves on grounds that their action was in accordance to the proper procedures that required all the boot camps be closed. The defense attorneys argued that the African American was killed by a medical condition. The guards were acquitted of the charges. Another case in 2005 involving a white Texas police officer, Tom Coleman, affirmed that racial nullification is rampant. The police officer arrested 44 suspects on grounds of drug trade. Black Suspects represented about 37 suspects (MacNamara & Burns, 2009). The police officer presented no evidence against the suspects. It was unfortunate to note that the black suspects were sent to prison. This happened yet no evidence was presented before the court. Another case in September 2007 involving six black young men was also interesting. The men were accused of murder charges against a white man in Louisiana. No evidence was presented to incriminate the six men. It is clear that racial differences greatly impact the judicial system. Consequently, tensions, conflict, inequalities and violence are experienced. The fact that racial identity is important in pursuit of justice makes the justice system unfair. Racial identity is therefore a recipe for racial jury nullification.

Several Task Forces have been formed in various states such as New York, New Jersey and Michigan. The outcomes realized from the sessions conducted by the Task Forces indicate that most people, both minorities and majorities are dissatisfied with the prevailing justice conditions (Free, 2003). Most respondents argued that indeed, the representation of the judicial staff favored the majority. In addition, the court systems were insensitive to gender balance. Racial discrimination was rampant in the administration of justice. It is for this reason that most people preferred not reporting some crimes. Fear of bias and jury nullification was limiting to true justice. In this view, it is clear that racial nullification is undesirable for whatever reasons. The law should be applied equally regardless of the political, economic and racial affiliations (Jonakait, 2006). The supporters of this practice do not only impair the criminal justice system. Rather, the social fabric is exposed to unwarranted hate crimes, prejudices and violence between the majority and minority groups. The realization of true justice is based on fair law enforcement, arrests, conviction and sentencing. Presentation of crime evidence should be a must before a person is sentenced. Lack of evidence renders the crime unworthy for further court action. The police, prosecutors and the judges should be consistent with the existing laws to minimize instances of nullifications. In my view therefore, racial jury nullification is unacceptable because it negates the principles of true justice.

Conclusion

The fact that racial jury nullification is debatable is true. Whereas some argue that the practice is acceptable, others regard it as undesirable in the pursuit of justice. The supporters of the practice consider jury nullification as appropriate because it challenges the existing judicial ‘facts’. The fact that the jurors apply their conscience to challenge existing facts makes the practice desirable. On the contrary, those opposed to the practice regard it as unfair. In their view, it favors the majority. Several cases are available to prove that racial jury nullification exists. All the cases have disadvantaged the blacks but favored the whites. It is in this regard that the practice should be discouraged.

References

Dressler, J. (2001). Understanding criminal law. New York: Lexis Pub.

Free, M. (2003). Racial issues in criminal justice: the case of African Americans. Westport, Conn.: Praege.

Jonakait, R. (2006). American jury system. New Haven: Yale University Press.

MacNamara, R. & Burns, R. (2009). Multiculturalism in the criminal justice system. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Monk, R. C. (ed.) (2001). Taking sides: Clashing views on controversial issues in crime and criminology (6th ed.). Guilford, CT: Dushkin/McGraw-Hill.

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