Do Citizens Have a First Amendment Right Advocate Jury Nullification?

A recent New York indictment brings to a head the thorny issue of jury nullification. Jury nullification has existed since the earliest days of juries. Because a US jury’s acquittal is final, a prosecution has no way to appeal an acquittal that is granted which is contrary to the facts or the law. Attorneys dance around this issue. We cannot overtly argue for jury nullification, but know in sympathetic cases, a jury may ignore the literal elements of the offense and acquit because they sympathize with the Defendant.

Retired Pennsylvania State University chemistry professor was indicted for jury tampering for passing out leaflets on the courthouse steps urging prospective jurors to do precisely that. As this
New York Times article points out, this case will test the limits of the First Amendment. get

Berghuis v Smith Argued Today in SCOTUS

Today, the United States Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Berghuis v Smith, Supreme Court No. 08-1402. At issue is the validity of a Kent County policy which resulted in under representation of African Americans on the jury. To hear a discussion of the case by Mr. Berghuis’s counsel and the attorney for the Kent Scheidegger of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation (who filed a friend of the court brief defending the Warden), click here. The podcast is in mp3 format.

SCOTUS Hears Two Michigan Habeas Cases

The United States Supreme Court has granted certiorari to hear two Michigan habeas corpus cases. In Berghuis v. Smith, the Sixth Circuit ruled that the Michigan Supreme Court acted contrary to clearly established United States Supreme Court law when it rejected a Sixth Amendment challenged the racial composition of Mr. Smith’s jury. The Sixth Circuit held that the jury did not reperesente a fair cross-section utilizing the comparative disparity test for evaluating the difference between the number of African-Americans in the community versus in the the jury selection panel. The United States Supreme Court has agreed to hear whether this ruling is erroneous. Berghuis v Smith, Supreme Court No. 08-1402. The case is currently scheduled for oral arguments on January 20, 2010.


In Berghuis v Thompkins, the Court has granted certiorari to determine whether the Sixth Circuit improperly expanded MIranda to prevent an officer from trying to persuade a defendant to cooperate where the officer tried to persuade the defendant to cooperate. The Defendant had been read his MIranda rights and had neither invoked them nor waived them. An ineffective assistance of counsel issue was also presented in the State’s petition for certiorari, but does not appear to be part of the order granting certiorari. An oral argument does not appear to be set in this case. Since cert was granted on the same day as Berghuis v Smith, orals will probably be in late January or early February.

Should the US Supreme Court Reconsider Appodoca v Oregon?

In 1972, the United States Supreme Court stated that twelve person juries in state criminal trials could reach a non-unanimous vote, (e.g. 10-2 for conviction or acquittal). In Bowen v Oregon, the Petitioner is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to reconsider its prior ruling based on later court decisions holding the Sixth Amendment in line with the original purpose. Mr. Bowen has enlisted some powerful allies and the New York Times thinks Mr. Bowen has a chance. Stay tuned!