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RFD for Jury Nullification Debate

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7/10/2016 3:26:03 AM
Posted: 1 year ago
This is an RFD for the debate between Bsh1 and MrVindication given here:

I'm relatively short on time, so I'm not going to be able to do my usual deep plunge into the arguments given by each side. Instead, I'm going to assess the chief arguments to what degree I can, and wrap that up in an explanation of the outcome.

Much of the debate focuses on what's unique to jury nullification. I think this is made pretty clear by the end: jury nullification is a tool that provides jury members with a separate means for ending a trial in the favor of the accused.

What's not as clear is what effect this has on trial outcomes as a whole. I get a lot of generalist ideas of what this would look like from both sides, but much of the impacts for these are either nebulous or never well linked to the arguments. For example, the need to ensure that the law meets a certain set of undefined principles that the community as a whole should ascribe to is pretty suspect. Pro often argues that there's a need to ensure that legislators are held to principles, and that JRNL is a means to do so. I see a few examples of such principles, but usually those fall into the historical, often distancing from the debate itself. Con actually provides a strong response to this in that different perceptions of morality (in this case, principles) can be imposed on otthers as a result, though this also falls victim to the lack of clear impacts.

Con does the same with his social order contention, which tells us that uses of jury nullification essentially disrupt the legal structure of society such that the law lacks any serious integrity, but I'm unclear on what the outcome of that loss of integrity is, and I'm even less clear on what the brink is for destroying that integrity (i.e. how many nullifications have to happen before social order goes out the window?). Jury nullification is present in status quo, so is the integrity of that system already damaged? There's too much that's unclear here.

So, what I'm looking for in this debate is something solid to stand on. I need to know exactly what juries that have the option of using JRNL are likely to do, and I want to know what the use of it means. Con tells me about emotional aspects, explaining that JRNL is yet another excuse for jurors to decide a trial emotionally, but as Pro points out, this isn't particularly unique. There's no reason why nullification is a worse outcome than acquittal, nor why someone who wouldn't employ emotion in the absence of JRNL would choose to engage in it with it present. It does affect the way certain laws are viewed, I can see that, but Con has to do more to explain how this perception shift affects outcomes. Why does it matter if juries in one particular area are deciding to nullify certain trials? At worst, I can see a linear harm coming from this, but it's not particularly well explained, nor is it's weight very clear. Without a clear an unique impact to nullifying in isolated instances, it's not a very strong point.

The uniqueness problem persists in the points on the rule of law. It's unclear why nullifying law necessarily damages any process of removing a particularly bad legal structure. If anything, Pro shows pretty clearly that JRNL has a substantial effect in bringing down terrible laws, many of which both sides appear to agree exist in status quo. It's understandable that having a small group of jurors decide policy is certainly problematic, but Con does little to explain why this is so damaging, and somewhat subverts his own point by arguing that they don't actually affect policy as a whole with their efforts.

So that leaves me with most of Pro's points. I get clear and recent examples of instances where certain laws led to extended prison sentences, which Con basically concedes. The possibility that cases like this could be set aright by the use of nullification is a solid point, and a clear reason for me to support the proposition. Buttressing these harms by explaining why those prison sentences matter (even if they're short) and how the legal system can function as a form of oppression if the government can essentially guarantee that juries will follow the law to the letter makes it quite clear that is a serious problem.

So that leaves me with a single question: is this benefit unique?

I'm led to believe it is. Pro explains how all of the alternative means available for dealing with oppressive laws are both uncertain in their success and time intensive, subjecting many more members of society to them. Con is right that these methods are preferred and they really should be pursued, but the key thing that's missing from these responses is a reason why JRNL does anything to harm these processes. There's no clear distraction, and as I mentioned earlier, JRNL seems to have a positive effect on these occurring. Pushing for changes in legislation and for judicial review seems to be simpler in a world where JRNL is putting these issues front and center for prosecutors, judges and legislators.

To me, this seems like the easiest area to pick up either of the debaters. It comes with clear examples, a solid story explaining the larger effects, and a set of impacts that I can easily weigh. Everything else in the debate seems far weaker.

As such, I vote Pro.