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Resolved: In the United States criminal justice system, jury nullification ought to be used in the face of perceived injustice.
I think I like this topic. I say think because I’m not entirely sure. This one could either be really good and offer debaters a great playground to carry out some wonderful debates, but I worry that modern debate has become so bogged down with nonsense that such a thing may not happen. Alas, we forge ahead regardless.
Jury Nullification – This is when a jury intentionally returns a verdict of “not guilty” despite the defendant actually being guilty of breaking the law. In doing so, the jury effectively nullifies the law.
Perceived Injustice – Literally, this is saying that some moral wrong has been perceived. In the context of the resolution, this means that the jury perceives an injustice has taken place. This can include, but is not limited to, an unjust law, evidence planting, legal technicalities, etc…
1. Legal Positivism – There are two possible extensions to the positivist theory. This is the first, and the second is mentioned below in the affirmative case position. Positivism, if accepted as true, allows for the law to be fallible, meaning that it can work against the morals of the people. This realization lends credence to the normative claim that we ought not to obey every law, especially if it is unjust. It allows morality to supersede law as it does not inform that law.
2. Instrumentalism – The law is an instrument to achieve particular ends. Those ends are not morality or some concept of justice, but rather social order. To allow jury nullification would be to deny these ends, and therefore, damage social order.
3. Coherence Theory – Coherence theory holds that the truth of any proposition is determined by its coherence with a set of other propositions. This set derives from what the largest number of people currently hold to be true. It is therefore inappropriate for a small jury to arbitrarily decide truths, moral or otherwise, that do not cohere with the established law.
1. Legal Positivism and Moral Fallibility – This is a more philosophically dense affirmative position. Positivism contends that the existence of law depends upon the fact of its existence, not from the extension of its morality. Basically, whether or not a law is moral or immoral, just or unjust, does not change the fact that it is a law, and by extension, ought to be obeyed. To nullify the law would essentially be to take it out of existence.
2. The Categorical Imperative – Kant’s categorical imperative provides an excellent framework for assessing this issue. The three maxims can be used to argue that jury nullification is the preferred policy.
3. Governmental Legitimacy – A government exists to protect the rights of its people. If it does not meet that end, such as by enacting unjust laws, then it is no longer legitimate, and the people have the right to act against it. Jury nullification is one such method to act against the government.
I hope this helps. Good luck!