Brief Fact Summary. Defendant Ragland was convicted by jury of, among other things, armed robbery and possession of a weapon by a convicted felon. The trial judge instructed the jury that it “must” convict of the possession charge if it found that the Defendant possessed a weapon during the robbery.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. The jury’s right to acquit despite overwhelming evidence of guilt is not a right of the accused but rather a power of the jury.
Issue. Did the trial court improperly instruct the jury that it must convict of possession of a weapon by a convicted felon if it finds that the defendant possessed a weapon during the robbery?
Held. No, but the conviction for possession was reversed and a new trial ordered on other grounds not recounted in the opinion. A jury may acquit a defendant despite overwhelming proof of guilt. This practice, commonly referred to as jury nullification, is certainly a power the jury has. However, jury nullification is not desirable. The legislature has defined criminal conduct, and while twelve people picked as jurors may see a law as unjust or a particular application of a law as unfair, they are not in the best position to revise the law. The legislature is elected to perform such a duty. Therefore, the New Jersey Supreme Court concluded that jury nullification is not, as the defendant argues, a constitutionally protected attribute of the right to trial by jury. A jury simply has the power to nullify the law by acquitting a person believed to be guilty. Hence, it was not error for the judge to instruct the jury as he did.
This is indicative of a belief that the jury in a criminal prosecution serves as the conscience of the community and the embodiment of the common sense and feelings reflective of society as a whole.View Full Point of Law