Race-Based Jury Nullification

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Race-based Jury Nullification

Cultural Diversity in Criminal Justice

Race-based Jury Nullification

Racial differences within the court system of the United States can create various interpretations of laws and the impartiality of such laws. Minorities within this country may believe that the criminal justice system has prejudices and may dismiss the legality of certain laws. Jury nullification is a process in which members of the jury exonerate a person of a guilty verdict although the evidence presented in the case overwhelmingly proves the person’s guilt. People within the jury may believe the laws are not fair, do not apply to the particular case, or they may empathize with the defendant (McNamara & Burns, 2009). Some advocates of race-based jury nullification believe that using this technique helps to defend their rights and to dispute unfair government practices. Some people believe that the justice system benefits White people while oppressing the rights of minority people. This process allows these people to stand up for their rights and to voice their concerns through precise and expressive means. Members of a jury cannot receive punishment for their decisions in a case, and a person cannot experience double jeopardy for the same or similar charges once acquitted. The proponents of this process believe this is their approach to protesting governmental authority or bias. Opponents of race-based jury nullification believe that a jury should defend the laws of the country and base their decisions on the facts of the case. These people believe juries should not consider a person’s race or express opposition of laws in this manner. Some of these people believe that this process may allow dangerous criminals back into society with no repercussions for their actions. People who oppose race-based jury nullification believe that a person’s sentiments should not become a factor when making a decision about a case. New York v. Bernard Goetz

On Saturday, December 22, 1984, a passenger on a New York subway later identified as Bernard Goetz shot and critically wounded four African American male passengers. He claimed the four youth conducted themselves in a way that convinced him the youth were planning to rob him on the subway. Bernard Goetz was charged with four counts of attempted murder, first-degree assault, criminal possession of a weapon, and carrying a loaded and unlicensed weapon in a public place.

The defense for Bernard Goetz argued that his actions were in accordance with the self-defense laws of New York. The law states an individual may use deadly force if he reasonably believes another person is committing or attempting to commit one of certain enumerated offenses, including robbery (New York Times, 1987). The jury consisted of mainly White, Manhattan citizens, six of whom had been victims of a street crime. Bernard Goetz received acquittals on the attempted murder and assault charges. However, he received convictions with the remaining offenses.

Following the shooting, victim, Darrell Cabey filed a civil lawsuit against Bernard Goetz. This jury consisted of four African Americans and two Hispanics. Attorneys for Darrell Cabey asked the jurors if they had any experiences involving discrimination because Bernard Goetz had a connection with a discriminatory act in the past. The jurors found the defendant reacted in a reckless manner, and deliberately inflicted emotional distress on Darrell Cabey.

Jury nullification is a process that permits juries to “acquit even when the facts of the case suggest they convict, and thus enables citizens to play a more active role in determining justice and what/whom should be punished” (McNamara & Burns, 2009, p. 265). The criminal and civil trials in this case demonstrate jury nullification. The white majority jury nullified the testimony and evidence presented at the criminal trial. The jury of minorities nullified the testimony at the...
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