In the Canadian justice system, jurors can hand down a verdict of not guilty even if the facts clearly point to legal guilt. What are the implications of this tremendous yet secretive power?
This action by a jury (called jury nullification) is what all of Henry Morgentaler’s juries did. Morgentaler was tried four times for conducting abortions in the 1970s and ‘80s when providing abortions was illegal. He admitted conducting abortions, but correctly predicted “no jury would convict me.”
In the subsequent Supreme Court ruling that decriminalized abortion, the court also banned lawyers from mentioning to juries the possibility of jury nullification. Juries are still allowed to return whatever verdict they wish, but after the Supreme Court ruling no one is allowed to tell them about it, and most do not know.
Keeping this power secret from juries has a number of potentially serious consequences, such as in the case of Robert Latimer, who killed his quadriplegic daughter out of compassion. The jury was sympathetic but thought it had to find him guilty.
Dr. Gary Bauslaugh, who recently wrote The Secret Power of Juries, speaks in Nelson on Monday, October 21, 7:30 p.m. at the Old Church Hall (corner of Victoria and Kootenay) about famous examples of jury nullification, both positive and negative, and on arguments for and against jury nullification.
The event is sponsored by Nelson Centre for Inquiry. Admission is by donation.