Jury Nullification And Its Effects On Black America

3566 words - 14 pages

Jury Nullification and Its Effects on Black America

     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
     The first step in analyzing Butler's conception of jury...

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