Jury Nullification And Its Effects On Black America

3856 words - 15 pages

It is obvious that significant improvements have been made in the way that the criminal justice system deals with Blacks during the history of the United States. Blacks have not always been afforded a right to trial, not to mention a fair one. Additionally, for years, Blacks were unable to serve on juries, clearly affecting the way both Blacks and whites were tried. Much of this improvement has been achieved through various court decisions, and other improvements have been made through federal and state legislatures. Despite these facts, the development of the legal system with regard to race seems to have become stagnant.Few in this country would argue with the fact that the United States criminal justice system possesses discrepancies which adversely affect Blacks in this country. Numerous studies and articles have been composed on the many facets in which discrimination, or at least disparity, is obvious. Even whites are forced to admit that statistics indicate that the Black community is disproportionately affected by the American legal system. Controversy arises when the issue of possible causes of, and also solutions to, these variations are discussed.Although numerous articles and books have been published devising means by which to reduce variance within the system, the most recent, and probably most contentious, is that of Paul Butler, Associate Professor of Law, George Washington University Law School, and former Special Assistant United States Attorney in the District of Columbia. Butler's thesis, published in an article in the Yale Law Journal, is that 'for pragmatic and political reasons, the black community is better off when some nonviolent lawbreakers remain in the community rather than go to prison. The decision as to what kind of conduct by African-Americans ought to be punished is better made by African-Americans themselves.'1 The means by which Butler proposes for Blacks to implement these decisions is termed jury nullification. By placing the race of the defendant above the facts of the case, and thus producing either an acquittal or a hung jury, Butler hopes that Blacks will be able to keep a large portion of Black males out of prison.Although several commentators have voiced criticisms with the ideas of Professor Butler, most of these criticisms focus on what is best for the American legal system, what legal precedents dictate, or as is most often the case, on what is 'right.' It is, however, negligent to simply focus on these issues when examining the proposal of Professor Butler. Instead criticism and analysis must be based upon what is best for the Black community in this country. From this perspective it becomes clear that although race-based jury nullification has many attractive features, it must be modified to be truly beneficial.The first step in analyzing Butler's conception of jury nullification is to examine problems which Butler claims cause a need for a solution. These problems are flaws in the criminal justice...

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