SHOULD THE JURY HAVE BEEN INFORMED OF THEIR
AUTHORITY TO NULLIFY THE LAW?
UNITED STATES V. DOUGHERTY
473 F.2d 1113 (D.C. Cir. 1972).
Seven of the so-called "D.C. Nine" bring this joint appeal from convictions arising out of their unconsented entry into the Washington offices of the Dow Chemical Company, and their destruction of certain property therein. Appellants, along with two other defendants 2who subsequently entered pleas of nolo contendere, were tried before District Judge
John H. Pratt and a jury on a three count indictment alleging, as to each defendant, one count of second degree burglary, and two counts of malicious destruction of property valued in excess of $100. On February 11, 1970, after a six-day trial, the seven were each convicted of two counts of malicious destruction. The jury acquitted on the burglary charges but convicted on the lesser-included offense of unlawful entry. The sentences imposed are set forth in the margin. Appellants urge that the judge erroneously refused to instruct the jury of its right to acquit appellants without regard to the law and the evidence, and refused to permit appellants to argue that issue to the jury; and that The instructions actually given by the court coerced the jury into delivering a verdict of guilty.
The undisputed evidence showed that on Saturday, March 22, 1969, appellants broke into the locked fourth floor Dow offices at 1030-15th Street, N.W., Washington, D.C., threw papers and documents about the office and into the street below, vandalized office furniture and equipment, and defaced the premises by spilling about a bloodlike substance. The prosecution proved its case through Dow employees who testified as to the lack of permission and extent of damage, members of the news media who had been summoned to the scene by the appellants and who witnessed the destruction while recording it photographically, and police officers who arrested appellants on the scene.
There has evolved in the Anglo-American system an undoubted jury prerogative-in-fact, derived from its power to bring in a general verdict of not guilty in a criminal case, that is not reversible by the court. The power of the courts to punish jurors for corrupt or incorrect verdicts, which persisted after the medieval system of attaint by another jury became obsolete, was repudiated in 1670 when Bushell's Case, 124 Eng.Rep. 1006 (C.P. 1670) discharged the jurors who had acquitted William Penn of unlawful assembly. Juries in civil cases became subject to the control of ordering a new trial; no comparable control evolved for acquittals in criminal cases. The pages of history shine on instances of the jury's exercise of its prerogative to disregard uncontradicted evidence and
instructions of the judge. Most often commended are the 18th century acquittal of Peter Zenger of seditious libel, on the plea of Andrew Hamilton, and the 19th century acquittals in prosecutions under the fugitive slave law. The values involved drop a notch when the liberty vindicated by the verdict relates to the defendant's shooting of his wife's paramour, or purchase during Prohibition of alcoholic beverages. Even the notable Dean Pound commented in 1910 on positive aspects of "such jury lawlessness." These observations of history and philosophy are underscored and illuminated, in terms of the current place of the jury in the American system of justice, by the empirical information and critical insights and analyses blended so felicitously in H. Kalven and H. Zeisel, The American Jury. Reflective opinions upholding the necessity for the jury as a protection against arbitrary action, such as prosecutorial abuse of power, stress fundamental features like the jury "common sense judgment" and assurance of "community participation in the determination of guilt or innocene." Human fraility being what it is, a prosecutor disposed by unworthy motives could likely establish some basis in fact for bringing charges against anyone he wants to book, but the jury system operates in fact, (see note 33) so that the jury will not convict when they empathize with the defendant, as when the offense is one they see themselves as likely to commit, or consider generally acceptable or condonable under the mores of the community.
The existence of an unreviewable and unreversible power in the jury, to acquit in disregard of the instructions on the law given by the trial judge, has for many years co-existed with legal practice and precedent upholding instructions to the jury that they are required to follow the instructions of the court on all matters of law. There were different soundings in colonial days and the early days of our Republic. We are aware of the number and variety of expressions at that time from respected sources-John Adams; Alexander Hamilton; prominent judges-that jurors had a duty to find a verdict according to their own conscience, though in opposition to the direction of the court; that their power signified a right; that they were judges both of law and of fact in a criminal case, and not bound by the opinion of the court. The rulings did not run all one way, but rather precipitated "a number of classic exchanges on the freedom and obligations of the criminal jury." This was, indeed, one of the points of clash between the contending forces staking out the direction of the government of the newly established Republic, a direction resolved in political terms by reforming but sustaining the status of the courts, without radical change. As the distrust of judges appointed and removable by the king receded, there came increasing acceptance that under a republic the protection of citizens lay not in recognizing the right of each jury to make its own law, but in following democratic processes for changing the law. The crucial legal ruling came in United States v. Battiste, 2 Sum. 240, Fed.Cas. No. 14,545 (C.C.D.Mass. 1835). Justice Story's strong opinion supported the conception that the jury's function lay in accepting the law given to it by the court and applying that law to the facts. This considered ruling of an influential jurist won increasing acceptance in the nation. The youthful passion for independence accommodated itself to the reality that the former rebels were now in control of their own destiny, that the practical needs of stability and sound growth outweighed the abstraction of centrifugal philosophy, and that the judges in the courts, were not the colonial appointees projecting royalist patronage and influence but were themselves part and parcel of the nation's intellectual mainstream, subject to the checks of the common law
tradition and professional opinion, and capable, in Roscoe Pound's words, of providing "true judicial justice" standing in contrast with the colonial experience.
The tide was turned by Battiste, but there were cross-currents. At midcentury the country was still influenced by the precepts of Jacksonian democracy, which spurred demands for direct selection of judges by the people through elections, and distrust of the judge-made common law which enhanced the movement for codification reform. But by the end of the century, even the most prominent state landmarks had been toppled; and the Supreme Court settled the matter for the Federal courts in Sparf v. United States, after exhaustive review in both majority and dissenting opinions. The jury's role was respected as significant and wholesome, but it was not to be given instructions that articulated a right to do whatever it willed. The old rule survives today only as a singular relic.
This so-called right of jury nullification is put forward in the name of liberty and democracy, but its explicit avowal risks the ultimate logic of anarchy. This is the concern voiced by Judge Sobeloff in United States v. Moylan,
To encourage individuals to make their own determinations as to which laws they will obey and which they will permit themselves as a matter of conscience to disobey is to invite chaos. No legal system could long survive if it gave every individual the option of disregarding with impunity any law which by his personal standard was judged morally untenable. Toleration of such conduct would not be democratic, as appellants claim, but inevitably anarchic.
The statement that avowal of the jury's prerogative runs the risk of anarchy, represents, in all likelihood, the habit of thought of philosophy and logic, rather than the prediction of the social scientist. But if the statement contains an element of hyperbole, the existence of risk and danger, of significant magnitude, cannot be gainsaid. In contrast, the advocates of jury "nullification" apparently assume that the articulation of the jury's power will not extend its use or extent, or will not do so significantly or obnoxiously. Can this assumption fairly be made? We know that a posted limit of 60 m.p.h. produces factual speeds 10 or even 15 miles greater, with an understanding all around that some "tolerance" is acceptable to the authorities, assuming conditions warrant. But can it be supposed that the speeds would stay substantially the same if the speed limit were put: Drive as fast as you think appropriate, without the posted limit as an anchor, a point of departure?
The way the jury operates may be radically altered if there is alteration in the way it is told to operate. The jury knows well enough that its prerogative is not limited to the choices articulated in the formal instructions of the court. The jury gets its understanding as to the arrangements in the legal system from more than one voice. There is the formal communication from the judge. There is the informal communication from the total culture-literature (novel, drama, film, and television); current comment (newspapers, magazines and television); conversation; and, of course, history and tradition. The totality of input generally convey adequately enough the idea of prerogative, of freedom in an occasional case to depart from what the judge says. Even indicators that would on their
face seem too weak to notice-like the fact that the judge tells the jury it must acquit (in case of reasonable doubt) but never tells the jury in so many words that it must convict-are a meaningful part of the jury's total input. Law is a system, and it is also a language, with secondary meanings that may be unrecorded yet are part of its life.
When the legal system relegates the information of the jury's prerogative to an essentially informal input, it is not being duplicitous, chargeable with chicane and intent to deceive. The limitation to informal input is, rather a governor to avoid excess: the prerogative is reserved for the exceptional case, and the judge's instruction is retained as a generally effective constraint. We "recognize a constraint as obligatory upon us when we require not merely reason to defend our rule departures, but damn good reason." The practicalities of men, machinery and rules point up the danger of articulating discretion to depart from a rule, that the breach will be more often and casually invoked. We cannot gainsay that occasionally jurors uninstructed as to the prerogative may feel themselves compelled to the point of rigidity. The danger of the excess rigidity that may now occasionally exist is not as great as the danger of removing the boundaries of constraint provided by the announced rules. Moreover, to compel a juror involuntarily assigned to jury duty to assume the burdens of mini-legislator or judge, as is implicit in the doctrine of nullification, is to put untoward strains on the jury system. It is one thing for a juror to know that the law condemns, but he has a factual power of lenity. To tell him expressly of a nullification prerogative, however, is to inform him, in effect, that it is he who fashions the rule that condemns. That is an overwhelming responsibility, an extreme burden for the jurors' psyche. And it is not inappropriate to add that a juror called upon for an involuntary public service is entitled to the protection, when he takes action that he knows is right, but also knows is unpopular, either in the community at large or in his own particular grouping, that he can fairly put it to friends and neighbors that he was merely following the instructions of the court. In the last analysis, our rejection of the request for jury nullification doctrine is a recognition that there are times when logic is not the only or even best guide to sound conduct of government. For machines, one can indulge the person who likes to tinker in pursuit of fine tuning. When men and judicial machinery are involved, one must attend to the many and complex mechanisms and reasons that lead men to change their conduct-when they know they are being studied; when they are told of the consequences of their conduct; and when conduct exercised with restraint as an unwritten exception is expressly presented as a legitimate option. Holding
What makes for health as an occasional medicine would be disastrous as a daily diet. The fact that there is widespread existence of the jury's prerogative, and approval of its existence as a "necessary counter to casehardened judges and arbitrary prosecutors," does not establish as an imperative that the jury must be informed by the judge of that power. On the contrary, it is pragmatically useful to structure instructions in such wise that the jury must feel strongly about the values involved in the case, so strongly that it must itself identify the case as establishing a call of high conscience, and must independently initiate and undertake an act in contravention of the established instructions. This requirement of independent jury conception confines the happening of the lawless jury to the occasional instance that does not violate, and viewed as an exception may even enhance, the over-all
normative effect of the rule of law. An explicit instruction to a jury conveys an implied approval that runs the risk of degrading the legal structure requisite for true freedom, for an ordered liberty that protects against anarchy as well as tyranny.
For the most part, defendants' real complaint seems to be that the court stated the law applicable to the case. There is no contention-apart from the jury nullification claim, which we have rejected-that the charge was inaccurate as a statement of the applicable law. If a judge is to instruct the jury on the ultimate facts that are material under the law, he may properly advise the jury of what matters brought forward by defendants are not material under the applicable rule of law-as surely as he may charge that voluntary intoxication is no defense to a charge of second degree murder. Since it is the essence of the judicial function to declare the applicable law, it follows that the mere declaration of the law cannot be held outside the judicial function. …The jury were not told they must bring in a guilty verdict nor was there the kind of language or conduct, going beyond a declaration of the applicable law, that has in other cases been held coercive, and an improper departure from the role of the judge.
Bazelon, J. dissenting
My disagreement with the Court concerns the issue of jury nullification. As the Court's opinion clearly acknowledges, there can be no doubt that the jury has "an unreviewable and unreversible power … to acquit in disregard of the instructions on the law given by the trial judge …” More important, the Court apparently concedes-although in somewhat
grudging terms-that the power of nullification is a "necessary counter to case-hardened judges and arbitrary prosecutors," and that exercise of the power may, in at least some instances, "enhance, the over-all normative effect of the rule of law." We could not withhold that concession without scoffing at the rationale that underlies the right to jury trial in criminal cases, and belittling some of the most legendary episodes in our political and jurisprudential history. The sticking point, however, is whether or not the jury should be told of its power to nullify the law in a particular case. Here, the trial judge not only denied a requested instruction on nullification, but also barred defense counsel from raising the issue in argument before the jury. The majority affirms that ruling. I see no justification for, and considerable harm in, this deliberate lack of candor.
At trial, the defendants made no effort to deny that they had committed the acts charged. Their defense was designed to persuade the jury that it would be unconscionable to convict them of violating a statute whose general validity and applicability they did not challenge. An instruction on nullification-or at least some argument to the jury on that issue-was, therefore, the linchpin of the defense. At the outset it is important to recognize that the trial judge was not simply neutral on the question of nullification. His instruction, emphatically denied the existence of a "legal defense" based on "sincere religious motives" or a belief that action was justified by "some higher law." That charge was not directly inconsistent with the theory of jury nullification. Nullification is not a "defense" recognized by law, but rather a mechanism that permits a jury, as community conscience, to disregard the strict requirements of law where it finds that those requirements cannot
justly be applied in a particular case. Yet the impact of the judge's instruction, whatever his intention, was almost surely to discourage the jury from measuring the defendants' action against community concepts of blameworthiness.
Thus, we are left with a doctrine that may "enhance the over-all normative effect of the rule of law," but, at the same time, one that must not only be concealed from the jury, but also effectively condemned in the jury's presence. Plainly, the justification for this sleight-of-hand lies in a fear that an occasionally noble doctrine will, if acknowledged, often be put to ignoble and abusive purposes-or, to borrow the Court's phrase, will "run the risk of anarchy." A breakdown of the legal order is not a result I would knowingly encourage or enjoy. But the question cannot be resolved, at least at this stage of the argument, by asking if we are for or against anarchy, or if we are willing to tolerate a little less law and order so that we can permit a little more jury nullification. No matter how horrible the effect feared by the Court, the validity of its reasoning depends on the existence of a demonstrable connection between the alleged cause (a jury nullification instruction or argument to the jury on that issue) and that effect. I am unable to see a connection.
My own view rests on the premise that nullification can and should serve an important function in the criminal process. I do not see it as a doctrine that exists only because we lack the power to punish jurors who refuse to enforce the law or to re-prosecute a defendant whose acquittal cannot be justified in the strict terms of law. The doctrine permits the jury to bring to bear on the criminal process a sense of fairness and particularized justice. The drafters of legal rules cannot anticipate and take account of every case where a defendant's conduct is "unlawful" but not blameworthy, any more than they can draw a bold line to mark the boundary between an accident and negligence. It is the jury-as spokesman for the community's sense of values-that must explore that subtle and elusive boundary. …The very essence of the jury's function is its role as spokesman for the community conscience in determining whether or not blame can be imposed.
I do not see any reason to assume that jurors will make rampantly abusive use of their power. Trust in the jury is, after all, one of the cornerstones of our entire criminal jurisprudence, and if that trust is without foundation we must re-examine a great deal more than just the nullification doctrine. Nevertheless, some abuse can be anticipated. If a jury refuses to apply strictly the controlling principles of law, it may-in conflict with values shared by the larger community -convict a defendant because of prejudice against him, or acquit a defendant because of sympathy for him and prejudice against his victim. Our fear of unjust conviction is plainly understandable. But it is hard for me to see how a nullification instruction could enhance the likelihood of that result. The instruction would speak in terms of acquittal, not conviction, and it would provide no comfort to a juror determined to convict a defendant in defiance of the law or the facts of the case. Indeed, unless the jurors ignored the nullification instruction they could not convict on the grounds of prejudice alone. Does the judge's recitation of the instruction increase the likelihood that the jury will ignore the limitation that lies at its heart? I hardly think so. . The reluctance of juries to hold defendants responsible for unmistakable violations of the
prohibition laws told us much about the morality of those laws and about the "criminality" of the conduct they proscribed. And the same can be said of the acquittals returned under the fugitive slave law as well as contemporary gaming and liquor laws. A doctrine that can provide us with such critical insights should not be driven underground.
Questions for Discussion
1. Summarize the arguments for and against informing jurors of the right of jury
2. Do you believe that jurors should be told that they are required to follow the law
and that there is no right of jury nullification?
3. As a juror are there some types of cases in which you would feel compelled to
exercise the right to jury nullification?