The Instigator
Con (against)
14 Points
The Contender
Pro (for)
21 Points

Jury Nullification (full resolution in R1)

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Voting Style: Open with Elo Restrictions Point System: Select Winner
Started: 6/15/2016 Category: Society
Updated: 2 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 3,893 times Debate No: 92715
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (82)
Votes (5)




I'd like to thank bsh1 for agreeing to debate me on this, it should prove to be valuable practice.

Resolution: Resolved: In the United States criminal justice system, jury nullification ought to be used in the face of perceived injustice.


Jury Nullification: occurs when a jury returns a verdict of "Not Guilty" despite its belief that the defendant is guilty of the violation charged. The jury in effect nullifies a law that it believes is either immoral, wrongly applied to the defendant whose fate they are charged with deciding, or unconstitutional.

Perceived Justice: What an individual interprets as justice.


1. No forfeits.
2. No semantics.
3. No kritiks.
4. BOP is shared.
5. All citations or footnotes must be included in the debate.
6. My opponent accepts all definitions and waives the right to add resolution affecting definitions of their own.
7. Violation of these rules should be taken into account by the voter.


R1: Pro Opens.

R2: Con Opens, Pro rebuts.

R3: Con Rebuts, Pro Defends

R4: Con Defends, Pro waives.



Thanks to Con for the debate.

Inaction in the face of injustice makes us complicit in the injustice. Because we must intercede where injustice is observed, I affirm the topic.

I. The Law as Integrity

To first place jury nullification (JRNL) into context, we ought to consider what we mean when we talk about "the law." After all, it is "the law" that the jury is tasked with upholding.

Suppose that a government passes a law which bans abortions for women born on even-numbered days, but not for women born on odd-numbered days. Suppose it passes other, similarly quizzical laws, for instance: that blacks have to use separate restrooms from whites, that mango but not orange ice cream is prohibited, that women should be denied the vote, or that watermelon shall be called "waterpumpkin" on Thursdays.

I am sure that if I were a legislator voting for those laws, I would get more than a few confused or nasty phone calls, and I think we all would understand why. These laws lack any rhyme or reason. Why ban only half of women (selected seemingly at random) from getting abortions? Why ban blacks from using the same restrooms as women, or ban women from voting, when they can reason just as well as their counterparts? Why ban mango but not orange, or rename watermelons just on Thursdays? It is completely nonsensical.

When people make laws in reality, they have reasons for the laws they make. For instance, we mandate the wearing of seat belts to save lives. The principle of respect for life informs and justifies that law. It is the presence of reasons rooted in commonly held principles that distinguishes legitimate law from unacceptable gobbledygook. In this sense, these principles form the foundation of a house, and the individual statutes form the walls. Insofar as the house is held up not just by the laws themselves, but so too by the principles, the principles form part of the governing/legal structure and are just as integral, if not more so, to the legitimacy of the system as the laws themselves.

"If people accept that they are governed not only by explicit rules laid down in past political decisions but by whatever other standards flow from the principles these decisions assume, then the set of recognized public standards can expand and contract organically, as people become more sophisticated in sensing and exploring what these principles require in new circumstances, without the need for detailed legislation or adjudication on each possible point of conflict." [1]

The notion that law is constructed not just by the written rules, but by the conventions and principles that undergird those written statues, is the notion of law as integrity--i.e. lawmakers and citizens insist that the government use a coherent set of principles to craft legislation, and that these principles are integral parts of the legislation themselves. SCOTUS often makes a nod to this kind of a view when it seeks out the intent of the lawmakers in determining what the law means and requires; there is undeniable truth in the fact that principles and reasoning mean a great deal in comprehending our legal system.

II. Nullification

A. Examples

Here I just want to provide some examples of cases where the lack of nullification led to unjust results. I will be referencing these as I go.

A man received life imprisonment for failing to refund $120.75 in A/C repair fees due to 3-strikes laws; his prior two offenses were credit card fraud and cashing a forged check--together, these offenses came to $108.36. So, for $209.11, he will spend his life behind bars. [2] Mandatory minimum drug laws saw Atiba Parker sentenced to 42 years in prison for selling less than 3 grams of crack. [3] Todd Hannigan got 15 years in prison for trying to kill himself with a handful of Vicotin, again due to mandatory minimums. [3] James Taylor also got 15 years for possessing an amount of crack so small that police termed it "unweighable." [4] People have received life imprisonment for possessing 32 grams of marijuana, passing out a few grams of LSD at a concert, siphoning gasoline from a truck, stealing an abusive stepfather's firearm, and making a drunken threat to a police officer. [5]

We can also point to more historic examples. Northern juries failed to convicted escaping slaves of violating the fugitive slave act. In the case of John Peter Zenger, charged with seditious libel, the truthfulness of what was published was not considered a valid defense against the charge, merely publishing the material (even if it was true) was sufficient to be guilty. [6]

B. Making Exceptions

Written laws are inflexible documents. Lawmakers, once the pass a version of a text, set the codified law in stone for the duration of its existence. Exceptions beyond those mentioned in the text simply don't count. Yet, lawmakers are hampered by a frustrating reality: they cannot envision every circumstance in which the law might be misapplied, and therefore cannot create a law that could never be applied against the principles which gave rise to it. You cannot make enough exceptions and caveats to exempt all possible unjust applications of the law. JRNL is a defendant's last line of defense against the inevitable truth that laws can be contorted in ways never imagined by their makers to unduly harm those that don't deserve it.

Eliminating JRNL as a tool would, in effect, inhibit the legal system from recognizing and adapting to these exceptional cases not addressed in the legislation itself. Doing away with it would be like saying, "let's obliterate a key tool we have of stopping the malfunctions in the system."

I doubt that 3-strikes laws were designed to imprison people on the basis of a $120 check. I doubt that laws against theft were designed to prevent people from keeping themselves safe from abusive spouses. I doubt that mandatory minimums were designed to give people life for 32 grams of pot. These laws were designed to make it easier to incarcerate the most dangerous or prolific offenders and to prevent theft; yet, Con would have us say that it was totally fine to produce these verdicts. He would have us pretend that applications of the law are always good.

C. Check on Oppression

JRNL allows for juries to void oppressive laws or misapplications of law. Consider the cases of the fugitive slaves and Zenger; in both cases, the freedoms (of person and of speech) of the defendants were at stake. When government overreaches and attempts to apply the law in a way that undermines our democratic society, JRNL is often the most direct and immediate bulwark against that overreach.

Moreover, the presence of a jury here is itself a check on power. If the jury's only job were to ascertain the facts and apply the letter of the law to those facts, their job could be better performed by a commission of trained legal experts and investigators. Yet, the Constitution vests the power of conviction not in a commission of this sort, but in a group of common citizens. The fact that we impanel our peers to judge us implies strongly that we want people rendering verdicts who are capable of judging the circumstances of the law's application, not just the letter of the law itself. Juries themselves were thus not intended simply to act as stooges of the government, but to challenge the government when necessary.

"Providing an accused with the right to be tried by a jury of his peers gave him an inestimable safeguard against the corrupt or overzealous prosecutor and against the compliant, biased, or eccentric judge...[J]ury trial provisions in the Federal and State Constitutions reflect a fundamental decision about the exercise of official power--a reluctance to entrust plenary powers over the life and liberty of the citizen to one judge or to a group of judges. Fear of unchecked power, so typical of our State and Federal Governments in other respects, found expression in the criminal law in this insistence upon community participation in the determination of guilt or innocence." [1]

JRNL may also help reduce racial biases in application of law (e.g. drug laws), where minorities are confronted with overly harsh applications of the law in court.

III. Conclusion

Law as integrity suggests that law is not merely the collection of written statutes created by legislators, but also that law is the collection of principles on which law rests and is legitimated. Any attempt to de-link the written law from the principles would delegitimize the laws themselves; they are inseparable concepts. In situations were law violates these essential principles, the law divorces itself from its own reason for being, at least in the circumstance in which the violation occurs. In that moment, the law becomes no less absurd and unworthy of being upheld then a law requiring us to call watermelons "waterpumpkins" on Thursdays.

The law as integrity, because it places importance not just on the words, but on the logic behind them, also permits juries the leeway to reject applications of the law which violate commonly held values, which produces positive end-results for justice, democracy, and equality. It also enables juries in their verdict-rendering process to account for the practical limitations lawmakers face.

Only by permitting JRNL can we protect the importance of principle in the construct of law, because this tool is essential to prevent literal, unthinking application of written statutes even when that would compromise justice. Thus, if we value the integrity of the legal system, and if we value justice, fairness, and due process, we ought to affirm the topic.

IV. Sources

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Thank you! Please Vote Pro. Over to Con...
Debate Round No. 1



Thank you to my opponent for agreeing to debate this with me.

Jury Nullification (JRNL) allows jurors to intervene when they perceive injustice. However, the impact of returning a verdict that is against passed law, and therefore granting the defendant's innocence, undermines the law abiding principles of our society. Therefore, I negate the resolution.

Perception of Morality

This debate revolves around the idea of the perception of the jury and the decision that is reached based upon the interpretation of a given law by the jury members. JRNL wrongly gives powers to the jury, like being able to decide the morality of a law themselves and return a verdict reflecting that decision.

There are plenty of outside factors that can shift the emotions of a juror or an entire jury, and cloud normally logical decisions (based upon passed law) with emotion. Examine this quote from Aristotle (1), “The Law is reason, free from passion.” This quote is spot on because it perfectly highlights how jurors should return verdicts, but everyone knows that humans are not perfect, which brings me to my second point. All the prosecutors or the defense attorneys have to do is use emotion to sway jurors onto their side.

“Research suggests individuals frequently make decisions that are congruent with their mood-state… Forgas and Bower (1988) posited that judgments are more likely to be affected by mood-congruent information when the target is complex, ambiguous, and there is no pre-existing evaluation of the target. Typically, this is the context in which a juror must make a decision about a defendant.”

As this evidence shows, from my first source, emotions play a huge role in how the jury returns a verdict in most cases. Therefore it is not too out of place to say that a jury could nullify a law if one side did a good enough job of lacing their arguments with emotion, a good enough job to convince the jury that the law in question is immoral. There is a huge problem with this process. First, it is essentially removing the ability to enforce a passed law based upon the perception of a jury, which I will elaborate more on later. Second, jury nullification serves little purpose in cases where a law was legitimately broken but the jury found that they disagree with it, because a district attorney could easily appeal the case and then the judge would be obligated to rule in favor of the prosecuting side strictly because a law was most definitely broken (2).

The oath of a federal jury reads as follows, “Do each of you solemnly swear (or affirm) that you will well and truly try, and true deliverance make, in the case now on trial and render a true verdict according to the law and the evidence, so help you God?Of course the juror has the inherent right to return a verdict of their choosing, based upon careful consideration. However, to nullify a law based upon a perception of morality is completely in violation of this oath. Therefore, I stand by my claim that JRNL wrongly gives jurors the power to nullify laws based upon a perception of morality.




Integrity of the Law and Protecting the Judicial System

Our nation is founded upon principles, such as republicanism and the democratic process. Laws are written and passed by legislators who are chosen through the democratic process. Laws passed in national and state Congress generally reflect the opinions of the majority, given that it took a majority of the general population to elect the lawmakers. If anyone has a problem with the constitutionality of a law or just does not feel that it is right, they are free to challenge the law in court or appeal a ruling. These mechanisms are in place so that injustices do not occur in our legal system, so that no unjust law is left unchallenged. Jury nullification attempts to bypass all of the safeguards against injustices that we have in place by allowing a jury to nullify laws based upon a previously defined perception of constitutionality or morality. However, I will make the case that JRNL as a practice is detrimental to the social order that comes from abiding by our written law, and there are already mechanisms in place to serve the purpose of jury nullification.

In the criminal justice system, laws that a jury could potentially nullify are almost always enforceable. The penalty for breaking them is a sentence. When juries decide that they perceive injustice from a specific law, they are essentially removing the government’s ability to enforce that law within that jurisdiction, by expressing their discontent with the law itself and acquitting the defendant. This leads to an unequal application of the law, given that in most cases the law would not be nullified by the jury and the defendant would receive their due sentence, which is due if a law is broken. If laws are enforced unequally by JRNL, this is detrimental to the social order that comes from having a carefully constructed and enforceable set of laws.

“We must hold firmly to the doctrine that in the courts of the United States it is the duty of juries in criminal cases to take the law from the court and apply that law to the facts as they find them to be from the evidence. Upon the court rests the responsibility of declaring the law; upon the jury, the responsibility of applying the law so declared to the facts as they, upon their conscience, believe them to be. Under any other system, the courts, although established in order to declare the law, would for every practical purpose be eliminated from our system of government as instrumentalities devised for the protection equally of society and of individuals in their essential rights. When that occurs our government will cease to be a government of laws, and become a government of men. Liberty regulated by law is the underlying principle of our institutions.”

This quote from the Supreme Court (4) adds to my point that when jury nullification is used, it is detrimental to our founding principles and shifts our society away from being one that is focused on the collective good to one that will opine written law as null without using the safeguards against injustice in the law that have been established for hundreds of years. Giving juries the unchecked power to declare what laws are null, based on their perception, and then shifting the outcome of the judicial process accordingly, is something that we, as a law abiding society, cannot stand for. Once the power to nullify laws on a whim is given to juries, we no longer have the abilities to enforce our own laws.

Mechanisms are already in place to protect the general populace against injustices within the judicial system and in our written law. Reform movements have been one of the most effective tools throughout history at changing laws that were unjust and detrimental to the public. The ability to challenge a law in court is shared by all Americans, and this is also an often utilized method in repealing or striking down certain laws we as Americans feel are unjust. All of these methods are effective and efficient at serving their purpose: changing laws that the public feels are unjust or unfair. JRNL gives juries the power to instantaneously declare a law immoral or unconstitutional and the verdict is delivered in accordance with that perception. By allowing this in our courts, we are going against the basic principles of the judicial process and preventing it from doing its job.



I have successfully fulfilled my burden by showing why Jury Nullification is harmful, outlining factors that contribute to a feeling of perceived injustice by the jurors, and showing that the judicial process is the representative of a law abiding society that will use the proper methods to challenge a law that they feel is unjust. Emotions play a huge role in the trial process, and if a jury is led to believe that a law is unjust or does not belong in our society, they will nullify under the assumption of perceived injustice. However, this is detrimental to the critical value of this debate, social order. Laws are written and passed by elected representatives, and if those laws are deemed unjust, it is the job of society to use the proper methods to challenge it. JRNL prevents us from enforcing our laws, and by doing so, counteracts the social order generated by having a codified set of laws.



Thanks, Con!

I. Perception

A. Uniqueness

According to Con, the ability of a jury to clouded by emotion is an inherent problem with juries. This is an attack on juries in general, and not on jury nullification specifically. If juries make decisions based on their "mood-state," then even if they're not permitted to nullify, emotionally swayed juries may still vote to acquit a sympathetic defendant.

Con says, "a jury could nullify a law if one side did a good enough job of lacing their arguments with emotion." But then it must also be true that a jury could acquit a defendant if one side did a good enough job of lacing their arguments with emotion. How is the former unacceptable, while the latter permissible? In both cases, someone who should have been convicted under the letter of the law is set free; the only difference seems to be that in the former case the jury is rejecting an unsympathetic law, and in the latter it is embracing a sympathetic defendant.

Moreover, the kinds of cases in which nullification is likely to occur are the same kinds of cases where defendants are likely to be sympathetic. Where juries feel a criminal does not deserve punishment, or that the criminal is being unjustly or unfairly treated, they are likely to empathize with the defendant, putting them in a "mood-state" conducive to acquittal. Therefore, even if juries in these situations did not vote with the intent of rejecting the law or its application, they may be inclined to more easily manufacture doubt within themselves as to the criminal's guilt. We are all less likely to believe someone guilty if we don't want them to be guilty.

It is likely then, that in both of our worlds, juries will be equally persuaded by emotion, and act in equally capricious manners. Con has thus failed to illustrate that any of these harms are unique to my world.

B. Appeals

Con says that it JRNL serves "little purpose" because a "district attorny could easily appeal the case." This is false. In Fong Foo v. United States, the US Supreme Court held that an acquittal cannot be appealed, per the double jeopardy clause of the Constitution. [1] Thus, Con's suggestion that JRNL somehow is useless because it can be overturned on appeal is completely false.

C. Emotion

Con has yet to prove that emotion in decision-making is always bad. Think, for instance, about the ability of jurors to use their "gut" or their "instincts." These feelings have a surprising capacity to inform us, and to do so accurately. Decisions based on instinct alone have been show in some studies to be right 90% of the time. [2] Other data confirms the utility of instinct. [3] In another example, "101 stock investors rated their feelings on an Internet Web site while making investment decisions each day for 20 consecutive business days. Contrary to the popular belief that feelings are generally bad for decision making, we found that individuals who experienced more intense feelings achieved higher decision-making performance." [4] Importantly, emotion is helpful in determining what is/is not oppressive. Our love of freedom and disgust at its removal, for instance, informs our society's values in this regard.

II. Integrity

A. Alternatives

Challenges to an unjust law or conviction could take years to work through the legal system to reach resolution, and even then there is no guarantee that the legal system will back the side of justice. Look, for example, at the Dread Scott decision, which held that black people could not be American citizens and which indirectly contributed to the onset of the civil war. [5] Consider also that not all unjust laws (e.g. slavery) were unconstitutional at the time they existed. Moreover, even legislative options are insufficient, as unjust laws are not always unpopular laws, legislators may simply be unwilling to change the laws, and even reversing an unjust law does not free those people convicted under it previously.

When an escaped slave was charged under the fugitive slave law, they had little recourse. It was constitutional and there was little hope of successful appeal. Their only hope of not being convicted for seeking their basic right of freedom was to urge the jury to nullify. Sometimes JRNL is the only way to protect people from injustices. Other times, it is the only way to provide immediate relief for victims. Rather than forcing people to stay in jail or live with a conviction on their record as they pursue a lengthy appeals process, JRNL can resolve the issue.

Consider that for every year of prison served, one's lifespan decreases 2 years. [6] In other words, unjust convictions are not only denying people basic freedoms, but they're hastening their deaths. This is not acceptable, and merely compounds the injustice defendants face; we should embrace JRNL as a necessary tool among many to combat that injustice.

Nullification is also the only one of these avenues that citizens can effect directly. Jurors are everyday citizens, not elected elites, bureaucrats, or appointed judicial officials. In this way, JRNL is a key way for citizens to exercise direct power against the government, particularly in electoral off-years. The Founders saw this citizen participation as essential to guard against the potential for these government elites to take control of the judicial process. [11]

B. Rule of Law

Per my case, the law is a construct of not only the written statues, but also, importantly, the principles and values which underpin and legitimate those statutes. This is important because upholding the law is just as much about upholding these principles (which are part of the law) as it is about upholding the written text. To suggest that jurors are not upholding the law when they act on these principles is thus misguided and incorrect; in fact, jurors are upholding and protecting the law when they do this. This has several impacts, including that the rule of law is not undermined, that there is no violation of the juror's oath, and that injustice is averted.

"African Americans were denied the ability to vote and thus denied representation in the governmental bodies that enacted that law and carried out its administration...[W]e might identify such a statute as 'internally compromised' and condemn it as unprincipled and inconsistent with the 'underlying commitment to [a]...more fundamental public conception of justice.'" [7] Such a piece of legislation would lack any internal legitimacy, so it cannot be somehow illegitimate to not enforce it or use it as a basis for conviction. After all, as St. Augustine said, an unjust law is no law at all.

In fact, juries, by upholding these core values and principles through nullification, may reinforce their importance in the legal system. By nullifying fugitive slave laws, juries made powerful statements about the importance of personal freedom in American society, making powerful moral condemnations against slavery. In this way, JRNL can actually promote social order and rule of law by reminding lawmakers of the core principles which order and justify our legal system.

C. Uniqueness

I see no reason why the harms Con describes are unique to my advocacy. If juries act emotionally irrespective of the presence of JRNL, and if juries each interpret data different and have different group dynamics which produce different results, then two juries hearing identical cases or similar cases under the same law may still render wildly different verdicts. There seems to be absolutely no reason to believe that my advocacy will produce more unequal applications of the law than his advocacy would.

D. Founding Principles

John Jay, our first Chief Justice, who was far closer to the Founders personally and temporally than John Harlan, who penned the opinion Con cited, wrote in Georgia v. Brailsford, "you [juries] have a right to take it upon yourselves to judge both [the facts and the law], and to determine the law as well as the fact in controversy." [8] Moreover, even the case Con quotes upheld a jury's right to ignore the instructions on the law given to them by a judge. [9]

John Adams, himself a Founding Father, wrote: "It is not only [the juror's] right, but his find the verdict according to his own best understanding, judgment, and conscience, though in direct opposition to the direction of the court." [10] Thomas Jefferson supported JRNL and the concept of JRNL was enshrined in various state constitutions, including my own state's. [10]

"To the men writing and contemplating the ratification of the Constitution, the jury was a forum where justice emerged because citizens could decide the meaning of the law (as opposed to having the meaning dictated to them by a judge or some other formalized body such as a legislative or executive branch). In this vision, the law was not a static text but a moving one that depended on citizen interpretation, debate, and even dissention in order to survive. It was a true common law." [11] This kind of view was also upheld by the Supreme Court in Duncan v. Louisiana. [12]

It is therefore clear that the Framers of our Constitution clearly did support JRNL and its vital role in our legal system. JRNL is a proper method of redress. Additionally, the fact that the Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld the legality of JRNL implies that it is not a violation of the juror's legal responsibilities to nullify.

III. Sources

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11 - Source 1, Round 1
12 - Alan W. Scheflin, "Jury Nullification: The Right to Say No," 45 S. Cal. L. Rev. (1972)

Thank you! Please Vote Pro! Over to Con...
Debate Round No. 2



Thanks to my opponent for providing a fast response. For the first time in a while, I am having fun with a debate because there are such good arguments for each side and I believe that it is a truly balanced topic. On to the rebuttals!

re: The Law as Integrity

The opening statement in this contention is crucial: “it is the “law” that the jury is tasked with upholding.” Nullification only attacks the codified set of laws that promises social order throughout the nation.

Nonsensical laws and those without reason do not belong in society but simply nullifying is not the way to go about changing this. I agree with my opponent’s observation that the principles of the laws passed are just as important as the statutes themselves. Standards can change and shift over time, as per the purpose of our Constitution. However, to say that Jury Nullification is a step towards these ideals is like saying that picking a weed will rid your garden of them forever. To attack, repeal, and change laws that are nonsensical, without reasoning, or unjust, we need to use the age old methods like petitioning our courts, petitioning our lawmakers, and in some cases, using the strength of a reform movement to achieve change. Principles of governing and acceptable reasoning are needed in most all of our laws, and when the opposite is achieved, nullification by a jury will not solve this problem, only change the verdict of one case. This is why the established mechanisms are still useable and can/will result in change when the public feels that a law is unjust or unfairly applied.

As my opponent correctly points out, it is the law that the jury is tasked with upholding. To nullify written law only hurts the social order established by codified laws and generates a problem of unenforceability.

re: Nullification

My opponent brings up a few cases that are seen around the nation constantly. Mandatory minimums and three strike laws are arguably unjust, yes. However, to acquit defendants based on the personal opinion that these laws are unjust or unfairly applied in specific cases is detrimental to society. If a jury can acquit someone who undoubtedly broke a law based on a perception of unjustness, sympathizers around the country feel that they can do the same if they are so inclined. These laws were written to be enforced around our nation, and when a jury nullifies, they are removing the duty of the government to enforce, which negates the purpose of having laws in the first place. Sponsoring jury nullification in our courts is, in effect, arguing against the place of laws in our government.

Written law can always be amended, repealed, or challenged in court. To achieve any of these three, there are mechanisms in place that have been established for hundreds of years as safeguards against unjust or misapplied law. Of course lawmakers are never going to know the extent of their law and how it might affect every constituent as time goes on. That is why our government is flexible in this respect, as people can challenge the constitutionality of the law, repeal the law, or amend it to fix problems that may arise. JRNL is not and should not be the last line of defense for a defendant. Nullification is not a means to an end, and should not be used to right the wrongs of perceived injustice when safeguards are in place to prevent the types of injustices or unfairness a jury may perceive in any given case.

Eliminating JRNL would not inhibit the legal system, it would enable it to do its job. Problems that arise within passed legislation is not for jurors to perceive an act in accordance with, it is for the people and legislators to determine, and follow the best course of action based upon that conclusion. “Let’s obliterate a key tool we have of stopping the malfunctions in the system.” This statement, in its entirety, is a complete misunderstanding of jury nullification. It is not a key tool we have in stopping malfunctions, that is what our established mechanisms are for, such as challenges in court or amending/repealing the law itself. Also, my opponent displays JRNL as a means to an end. This is not the case. JRNL will not instantaneously change the law, it will only acquit a defendant in one case, leaving perceivably unjust laws around the country to be enforced by juries who will uphold the actual integrity of the law. Only when our existing mechanisms are utilized will we be able to bring about actual change in our legal system.

The final part of Making Exceptions is interesting. Three strike laws have a purpose, mandatory minimums have a purpose, and laws against theft have a purpose. Three strike laws and mandatory minimums were implemented to combat rampant drug use, now they are widely regarded as racist, based on a study from the American Civil Liberties Union [1]. One could see how these verdicts are unfair, but one case of nullification that results in acquitting a defendant will not solve injustice in our legal system. I am not arguing that verdicts upholding laws that are perceived as unjust are favorable, but perceived injustice does not warrant inhibiting the government from enforcing its own laws. All applications of law are not good, and therefore we need to utilize our avenues of change to remove injustices and misapplications in our codified set of laws.

Jury nullification does not allow juries to “void” oppressive laws or misapplications of law, it removes the government’s ability to enforce their law upon people who are guilty of the crime that is charged. In the case of Zenger, the jury did nullify because they perceived the law at hand as unjust. This however did not provide an immediate remedy or solution to the unjust judicial proceedings at the time, it only created one instance in which a defendant was acquitted. To truly rid our system of these injustices, we have to use our established mechanisms of amending, repealing, and challenging to bring about change.

The presence of a jury is not a “check on power”, it is to look at the case and return a verdict accordingly; whether or not the defendant is: a. Guilty beyond reasonable doubt in criminal trials, and b. Balance the probability of guilt or innocence in a civil trial [2]. Their sole job is to analyze the facts of the case and return a verdict accordingly. It is not the place of the jurors to interpret written law. In fact, Citizens Information [2] defines the role of the jury as, “Decide the facts of the case only, take directions from the trial judge whether or not you disagree with him/her, and remain impartial and independent.” Our peers judge us because our founders meant for our trials to be fair and free from bias. Juries were not meant to challenge the government but to rule on cases, which is the default purpose of juries around the world. JRNL occurs when juries overstep their intended purpose, to the detriment of the integrity of the law. To say that juries are the stooges of government is incorrect, for they weigh the facts of the case and return a verdict that reflects that decision making process.

My opponent’s quote suggests that juries are the ultimate safeguard against government tyranny in the legal system. Yes, this is why we have juries made up of our peers. Juries are not to be used against the government in nullification, but to weigh in on the crime that the defendant is charged of. As for racial biases, JRNL is NOT a means to an end. To address the issue of systemic racism one must change the law itself, not declare it null in the court of law while serving on a jury.

re: Conclusion

While the laws passed may be tied to the principles that went into writing them, the nullification of them by the jury removes the purpose of laws in the first place. If it is just up to the juries to nullify a law when they perceive injustice or immorality, how is the government supposed to maintain and enforce a set of laws? This would negate the purpose of having laws in the first place, therefore abolishing the principle of social order. If a law is unworthy of being upheld, safeguards such as petitioning courts, lawmakers, and the government should be used to bring about change. These methods are preferable to jury nullification because they do not void the need for laws in the first place, they are fair challenges of them, and will succeed if enough of the public is backing them. I trust the general public to make decisions about injustice or immorality more so than a few jurors.

My opponent arguing for the law’s integrity is contradictory, given that what he would propose would bring an end to the enforcing of our set of laws if we gave the jurors the power to nullify in court. Lawmakers may face limitations, and therefore we should trust our elected representatives to amend or repeal said law if there is substantial enough outcry from the general populous.


Only by prohibiting JRNL can we uphold the set of laws that gives our nation social order. If we remove the ability to enforce them through nullification, we ought not to have laws at all. It is for the general public to sponsor amendments, changes, or challenges to law, either through petition or elected lawmakers, not a select few jurors. In a society where social order stems from an enforceable set of laws, JRNL cannot exist, and existing mechanisms must be utilized. On to you Pro!





Thanks, Con!

I. Law as Integrity

Con does not rebut my central claim that the principles are just as much part of "the law" as the written statutes. As I said in my case, "the law" is composed of both principles and written legislation; we therefore cannot say that the former is not the law, while the latter is, as to do so would be to divorce the written rules from their own reason for being, effectively rendering them incoherent. Con does not rebut this, so he cannot respond to it in his final speech (new argument).

Since the principles are "the law," a jury is not violating the law when it upholds these principles, but affirming the importance of these critical laws. There are 3 impacts: (1) juries promote rule of law by holding principles via JRNL, (2) there is no degradation to rule of law in JRNL because the principles are "the law," and (3) jurors uphold their oaths and their obligations when they protect these critical principles.

Even if you don't buy that, Con concedes that "the principles of the laws passed are just as important as the statutes themselves." I would argue that the principles are likely more important, since the laws themselves lack any internal legitimacy without the principles. If the principles matter more, than juries should prioritize those principles above the written law when the two are in conflict. If the principles matter equally, then there is no reason to necessarily prefer the written statutes to the principles; a jury would not be acting in a net-negative way if it prioritized the principles.

Finally, Con himself writes: "Nonsensical not belong in society." When Con says they don't belong in society, the implication is that they don't belong in society because they are illegitimate. Yet, he still argues that juries should convict under these laws. In other words, Con has just admitted that he wants juries to enforce obviously illegitimate laws. So, if the government passed a law banning criticism of the government, Con would still assert that juries should enforce that statute. Con would have us put "social order," a very Orwellian concept, above essential freedom of speech, even though he agrees that the laws banning freedom of speech "do not belong in society."

Put another way, Con is fine with us drilling holes in the foundation of our house (our core values), just so long as the walls (the written laws) are untouched. Such a house will soon collapse.

II. Alternatives

A. Proposed Alternatives Insufficient

Seeking to change laws through the legal system takes time--sometimes years; during the appeals process, a defendant may remain in prison under an unjust law, waiting for the law to be struck down. This time spent in prison quite literally hastens the death of the unjustly convicted individual and deprives them of their freedom for however long the process takes. Even at the end of the process, they may not be successful in their legal challenge, leaving them to continue to unjustly rot in prison for perhaps their entire life.

Re: legislative action, unjust laws may not always be unpopular, disincentivizing political leaders to act justly. Even unpopular unjust laws may be blocked by legislators who are beholden to interest groups or who represent constituencies that support the law. The Senate, for instance, is not a majoritarian institution--the vote of someone from Wyoming has the same force as one from California. In this way, small populations who vociferously back unjust laws may be successful in stymieing efforts to overturn those laws. Legislative action also takes time, leaving the convicts to languish without relief in dangerous prison environments. This solution incurs one additional harm: "U.S. law generally applies to an offender the penalty in force at the time the offense was committed." [1] So, even if an unjust law is repealed by a legislature, people who were previously convicted under that law continue to suffer in jail; their convictions do not disappear. This option can thus only prevent future injustices; it cannot stop ongoing ones.

Reform movements can take inordinate amounts of time to produce results. MLK, for instance, began campaigning in 1955, yet the Civil Rights Act did not come about until nine years later. [2, 3] Activists had been working toward the goal since long before MLK. Reform movements themselves may also never come to fruition. Suppose it took 9 years to overturn mandatory minimums on pot, or some other unjust statute. Are we seriously going to leave people convicted under these laws in prison for nine years, potentially cutting their lives short by up to 18 years, and denying them almost a decade of their freedom, when there is no guarantee that the reform effort will succeed?

B. JRNL Useful

The benefits of JRNL are clear: (1) it provides immediate relief to people threatened by unjust convictions, (2) it is a tool to force changes in the law, and (3) it reinforces the underlying principles which legitimate the law. JRNL adds to the checks we have to increase protection for people.

When any person is confronted by the possibility of conviction under an unjust law, they can either be convicted and appeal, or be acquitted via JRNL. In the former case, they may be trapped in prison during the appeals process, where the environment is rough, their freedom is gone, and their lifespan is declining; they may even lose their appeal, like Dread Scott lost his. In the former case, the victim of the unjust law never is forced to endure any of those harms: they are protected from unsafe prison environments, loss of freedom, and early death. There is also no fear of being trapped in jail due to a failed appeal. In other words, JRNL provides immediate relief to people--protecting them from the very real harms they would be exposed to in Con's world. JRNL prevents the injustice from occurring in the first place.

Next, if enough juries nullify a particular law, prosecutors may be less willing to attempt to pursue convictions under it, or legislators may be forced to fix it to make the law less odious. Thus, JRNL can be a coercive tool in forcing government action or dissuading unjust prosecutions.

Finally, JRNL reinforces the basic legitimizing principles which underpin our written laws. Everytime a jury makes a statement on the importance of freedom, on equality, or on any other such value, it promotes rule of law by reminding lawmakers of the core principles which ground our legal system.

III. Nullification

Re: perceptions of justness, keep in mind that all decisions of a jury are going to be made on perception, including perception of guilt. Jurors cannot possibly be objective fact-finders, per Con's own data, and so clearly they are going to make choices based on their perceptions all the time. This is a non-unique issue.

Con concedes that "[a]ll applications of law are not good." So,why should jurors blindly endorse all applications of the law? In fact, it may well do harm to the legal system's credibility when jurors do not reject bad applications of the written law. When jurors and prosecutors ignore the text's legitimating principles, then their actions cease to be justified by those principles. This makes the legal system appear nonsensical, oppressive, and capricious, which undermines its credibility. Only by upholding our core principles can we ensure respect for the law.

Con also writes that, "one case of nullification that results in acquitting a defendant will not solve injustice in our legal system." Even if that is true, at least one case of JRNL can prevent a defendant from being unjustly harmed. Saving that one person from unjust penalty increases the overall amount of justice in the system; that has to be a good thing. This is true in Zenger's case; JRNL in that moment prevented the government from acting oppressively. And again, if enough juries nullify a law, prosecutors may simply stop bringing cases under the law.

I said: "If the jury's only job were to ascertain the facts and apply the letter of the law...their job could be better performed by a commission of trained legal experts." Instead, the founders specifically vested this power in lay people to make sure the government wasn't deciding who was/was not in jail. In fact, Con never directly refutes this point. If juries ONLY applied the law as the government told them they would be nothing but government stooges. Juries were meant as a check on government, not merely as fact-finders. Plus, I already showed that the founders did not object to JRNL.

IV. Voting Issues

1. Law as Integrity

JRNL promotes rule of law by (a) upholding the principles which are part of the law + (b) preventing damage to the legal system's credibility by not upholding its legitimizing forces. There is no loss of rule of law on Pro's side per (a), but also as principles are more important (or at least as important) as written law.

2. Alternatives Fail

JRNL prevents the wrong of unjust penalty from occurring and increase the net amount of justice in the system. All of Con's alternatives fail for various reasons.

3. Checks

JRNL is a check against oppression, placing the power of conviction in the hands of lay people, not professional fact-finders.

4. Uniqueness

Even if JRNL leads to just slightly more acquittals in my world (which is likely), the difference between worlds is small. Con hasn't shown his world to be meaningfully better.

5. Oaths

Con says jurors ought to fulfill their oath. Because upholding the law means not just upholding the written law, but also the principles, jurors can only truly fulfill their oath to uphold the law (in its entirety) in Pro's world, esp. the most important aspect of the law (principles).

V. Sources

1 -
2 -
3 -

Thank you! Because inaction in the face of injustice makes us complicit in the injustice, I urge you to Please VOTE PRO!
Debate Round No. 3



1. Uniqueness

Bsh says that in my arguments I am attacking all juries for their emotional flaw, as they are human beings. This is not the case, and my opponent is making assumptions here. There is no doubt that emotions are a huge factor in the verdicts that jurors return, but to nullify a law based on an emotionally swayed perception of immorality or injustice is not what our society needs. We cannot let emotions in a courtroom dictate how the government enforces its laws, or worse, damage the integrity of our codified set of laws. This is detrimental to our nation because without a clear set of rules and guidelines, there is no such thing as social order or justice, only an anarchical society without rules and enforceable penalties.

It is true that a jury could acquit a defendant who was guilty based upon emotionally charged arguments, but that is not what I am arguing in this debate, and my opponent yet again makes assumptions about the content of my arguments. The point is: juries can rule guilty or not guilty in the courtroom when presented with emotionally charged arguments, they are free to do so. But to let emotions play a part in dictating how our government enforces its laws and maintains a fair society is absurd.

Essentially, bsh states in this contention that even if the juries do not want to nullify the law itself, they might acquit a defendant if they feel as if the circumstances are not fair on the defendant. This is completely true, but we are arguing about the role of emotion in nullification. If an argument on the defendant’s behalf can convince a jury that they do not want the defendant to be guilty, then they will probably be inclined to vote not guilty. JRNL is defined as [1]: “Jury nullification occurs when a jury returns a verdict of "Not Guilty" despite its belief that the defendant is guilty of the violation charged. The jury in effect nullifies a law that it believes is either immoral or wrongly applied to the defendant whose fate they are charged with deciding.” What bsh is arguing in this contention is contradictory to what JRNL actually is. We are trying to argue about whether or not a jury should nullify a law, not return a verdict of not guilty.

There is a difference between the two “worlds” that my opponent describes. In mine, there is a stable society in which a government can enforce its laws throughout the nation and the public is free to challenge a law in court, petition democratically elected lawmakers, and start movements to reform/repeal laws if they feel that they are unjust. In my opponent’s world, there exists a society in which the need for laws is negated because the jury can remove the government’s ability to enforce them based upon perceptions of injustice or immorality. I ask the voters, whose world would you want to live in?


I agree with mbsh on this contention but it does not contribute to any of our cases.


Why am I supposed to prove that all emotionally based decision making is bad? I have only argued that emotions should not play a role in dictating how our government is able to enforce laws in society and maintain order. The point about the juror’s gut feeling or instincts is a bit weak. Are we really supposed to leave the decision of whether or not to damage the integrity of our codified set of laws up to a juror’s gut feeling or instincts? I sincerely hope not. The jury should not be the tool to bring about change in our government, and it is impossible for the jury to do so anyways. Emotions building up in the public about a specific unfair or unjust law will convince them that said law needs challenging in court or change by lawmakers. Whether or not to have social order should not be left up to jurors but to the public, and through their will, the government.


2. Integrity


Challenges to specific laws in the legal system may take time, but is one of the correct methods to repeal or amend a law. This method does not remove the government’s ability to enforce its laws within our nation, unlike JRNL. One example of challenging a law in court, and producing results, is the Supreme Court Case Obergefell v. Hodges [2]. In this case, a widely contested issue, the right to same sex marriage, was brought to court and ruled upon. The general public was in a state of constant protest over this issue, and they utilized the proper mechanisms to get the law changed. This is a great example of the benefits of having these mechanisms set up, the public can challenge unjust applications of law by the government, and the results are real ones. Also, my opponent’s assertions that a legislator will just not want to change a law is absurd, given the fact that it is the people who elect the legislator and it is the people who will join together to fight against unjust laws.

To say that JRNL is the only way to protect people from injustice is ignorant. Like I have said in previous rounds, laws widely perceived as unjust and unfair will be attacked in court or repealed/amended at the state/federal level. JRNL only achieves a case-by-case result of acquittal. My alternatives carry more weight than bsh’s because while my opponent may lead you to believe that JRNL is a key tool in the fight against government oppression, it does not produce real results and result in a beneficial change, only the methods I have outlined can. I cannot emphasize enough how laws have to be enforced by the government, or there is no need for laws in the first place. In fact, reform movements have proved to be one of the most useful methods of bringing about change. Without them, comprehensive [3] labor reform would not have been achieved, women's voting rights would not have been expanded, and civil rights would not have been as widely recognized.

Guilty verdicts on laws that are perceived by the jury as unjust and immoral are unfavorable, but must occur if the government is to continue enforcing its laws and maintaining a set of laws in our society. Reform has to be achieved through the established means of challenging a law or repealing/amending through legislation or the social order which our society is built upon does not exist. Citizens can affect all of my avenues of change directly, and I see no reason why my opponent would assert otherwise. The people elect legislators, it is not a dictatorship or an oligarchy. The claim that the Founders supported JRNL, and so should we, is logically fallacious and I will explain more in the next contention.

Rule of Law

Bsh makes the assertion that the jury is upholding the law by nullifying it. This not the case. When committing JRNL, the jurors are not bound by some sense of principle but by perceptions of morality or injustice. To say that jurors are protecting the integrity of the law by nullifying it is contradictory because it, as I have said many times before, negates the purpose of having laws and rules in our society by removing the government’s ability to enforce them. The rule of law is very much so undermined because JRNL is negating its purpose, and that is the crux of my case.

Next, bsh brings up a quote about the lack of voting rights for African Americans. This was a principle supported by the founders [4], as well as many other racist ones. My opponent never ceases to quote the founding fathers to try and use their judgement as justification for jury nullification. If their ideas on obvious social principles in modern times are completely ignorant and racist, how can we trust their opinion on JRNL?

Nullification hundreds of years ago has little impact on the resolution. Reform movements and amendments on the legislative level were the major tools of change during this era, and it shows in our Constitution where reform movements and public outrage led to the abolishment of slavery and expanded voting rights. My opponent is making my argument for me; these established mechanisms of change produce more actual results in society than JRNL does.


How can bsh say that the harms I have outlined are not unique to his advocacy, when I am arguing and have proven with logical reasoning that JRNL will directly negate the need for laws in the first place and will remove the government’s ability to enforce their own laws. Going back to the “worlds” contention, it seems like a society with clear rules and guidelines with room for improvement in the legislation sounds like a better world to live in.

Founding Principles

This whole contention is logically fallacious; it is a clear appeal to authority without giving any real justification as to why anyone should put their eggs in bsh’s basket. The Founding fathers supported principles such as slavery, unequal gender rights, and unequal racial rights. Looking back on the legacy of the Founders, we see these principles and how they applied them in our governing document. The Constitution has changed from the founder’s first writing many times, and I make the argument that so must their ideas. A clear appeal to authority without justification for his side: this argument is successfully rebutted.





Social order means having a fair society in which a government is able to enforce its laws and lock up offenders. This is immeasurably important to the citizens of the nation because without a specific set of laws, there cannot be order, and there cannot be a fair society. JRNL removes the ability of the government to enforce its laws, and is therefore detrimental to the integrity of the law. I have completely fulfilled my burden as Con in this debate, his harms outweigh mine, and some of his contentions were logically fallacious. Weigh the arguments, consider the harms, and Vote Con!


Thanks for an excellent debate, Con. Thanks also to all the readers and voters.

Please, Vote Pro! Thank you.
Debate Round No. 4
82 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by bsh1 2 years ago
Famous, no. It's not worth it...Suffice it to say I find your vote to be very poor quality, but we can just leave it there. I don't think any progress on anything will be made in the discussion.
Posted by famousdebater 2 years ago
Sorry for not responding Bsh. I've had a lot of stuff going on irl. I'll try to respond within the next couple of days if you'd still like to discuss this.
Posted by tajshar2k 2 years ago
How do you "barely" notice? You either notice or you don't lol.
Posted by fire_wings 2 years ago
That's what I thought too.
Posted by tejretics 2 years ago
I barely even notice who's debating when I vote on a debate. So, I don't think I was influenced in any way by who the debaters are.
Posted by whiteflame 2 years ago
You're welcome to view it that way. Honestly, I've argued MrVindication's side on this resolution. I'm far more amenable to his position in this case, and I think I was harsher on Bsh1's as a result of that background as well. For me, this had nothing to do with usernames and personal histories.
Posted by bballcrook21 2 years ago
I'm seeing some favoritism here. It seems that all the people that like Bsh1 voted for him, while all the people that like Vindi, such as Taj, Midnight, and Famous, all voted for him.
Posted by whiteflame 2 years ago
>Reported vote: tajshar2k// Mod action: Removed<

7 points to Con. Reasons for voting decision: Con win.

[*Reason for removal*] The voter is required to do one of two things. They are either required to specifically assess arguments made by both sides, or they are required to assess BoP alongside the arguments of the side that they think carried it. The voter didn't assess Con's arguments specifically, nor did they assess BoP, since they only stated that they didn't view Pro's arguments as justifying a Pro vote. Merely keeping to abstract views of what Con argued and why he gets the vote is not sufficient.
Posted by tejretics 2 years ago
I misinterpreted Proph's comment--apologies.
Posted by tejretics 2 years ago
RFD extension (Pt. 1):

Posting my thoughts here since I was requested for clarification, but I think my short RFD encapsulates the problems with Con's case and why Pro won, namely that jury nullification can ensure terrible laws aren't applied, the alternatives involved carry no certainty that unjust laws will be removed at all (and no proof of efficacy), and there's no quantifiable harm from jury nullification. So let's get right into it.

Con concedes that unjust laws are in existence, and agrees with Pro's standard for justice being one of "arbitrariness". Con also appears to concede that JRNL solves for unjust laws, leaving me only with an impact calculus of the harms of JRNL and under-explained alternatives to strike down unjust laws. Let's first look toward the issue of harms to jury nullification. Con's offense relies on two primary issues, namely 1) jury nullification compromises social order and poses a structural harm, by giving a few people the power to decide the application of the law, and 2) that jury nullification allows people to decide a trial emotionally/subjectively. Let's look at these contentions.

There's no clear impact from the contention on social order. So what if "integrity" is lost? The SQ allows for jury nullification, which means the issue of integrity is moot because there's no clear harm in the current system. Which leads onto the next impact, that jury nullification effectively creates an oligarchy by allowing a small number of people decide the law, and by not allowing diversity of jurors... but there's no quantifiable harm given from not allowing "diversity" of location, or making a small number of people evaluate the application of the law in a case-by-case scenario. With regard to emotional decisions, Pro shows that that's non-unique, and the alternative (read: judges) run into the same problems. Pro also points out that nullification has basis only in the principles behind the law -so there is an objective standard.
5 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 5 records.
Vote Placed by tejretics 2 years ago
Who won the debate:-Vote Checkmark
Reasons for voting decision: I don't get a lot of clear argumentation in this debate. Con talks about how jury nullification undermines social order by destroying integrity in the law, but there's no clear impact: so what if integrity is lost? The same problem arises in Pro's argument from unjust laws being repealed. But Con more or less concedes that the laws in question are "unjust" to the extent that they are arbitrary, and that jury nullification will prevent those laws. Con doesn't explain how a small group of jurors deciding what is law is harmful in any way, and Pro sufficiently shows that nullification usually reflects on the values of society, and the justice that lies therein. Pro demonstrates that jury nullification works with the example of John Peter Zenger. Con doesn't offer any alternative to stop unjust laws. So basically, Con concedes that there are unjust laws and that JRNL prevents those, and has no alternative to strike down such laws. There's no quantifiable harm from JRNL, so I vote Pro.
Vote Placed by whiteflame 2 years ago
Who won the debate:-Vote Checkmark
Reasons for voting decision: RFD given here:
Vote Placed by famousdebater 2 years ago
Who won the debate:Vote Checkmark-
Reasons for voting decision:
Vote Placed by Midnight1131 2 years ago
Who won the debate:Vote Checkmark-
Reasons for voting decision: RFD:
Vote Placed by Lexus 2 years ago
Who won the debate:-Vote Checkmark
Reasons for voting decision: disclosure: I was asked to vote by MV. In the end, bsh has offense generated from the AC not being refuted deeply enough, and a direct turn or two, while MV doesn't really have offense generated, just vague answers. Also, it didn't influence my decision, just a comment in that thread that should be written here: bsh, you should have permed the institutional change, give a direct perm.