I almost had jury duty this week. I called in the day before and I was told my pool wasn't yet needed. I called in again and eleven in the morning and found out that I was excused from jury duty. This was convenient, but also a little disappointing. I've never had jury duty before and I was hoping that I'd either see what it takes to get out of jury duty or get on a jury and be able to apply jury nullification.
For those who don't know, jury nullification is the simple concept that if you are sitting on a jury and think that someone might be punished by a stupid law that you don't have to find them guilty. It can also mitigate harm to people who broke the law for a good reason. Maybe Jack Bauer shouldn't be guilty of torture if he stopped that nuclear weapon from detonating. Maybe the man who plots the murder of his daughter's killer should be found guilty of a lesser charge than first degree murder. Or perhaps that patent troll isn't entitled to millions of dollars from a popular company because the patent office screwed up and granted someone an obvious patent*. In these cases the jurors don't have to tell the judge why they are deciding as they do (infact they probably shouldn't if they don't want a mistrial declared), they just have to find the defendant innocent of the relevant charges.
There are downsides to jury nullification. Jurors can prevent the implementation of just laws through the same mechanism that jurors use to prevent unjust laws. One negative example is how jury nullification can perpetuate institutionalized bigotry. A jury of racist white people might not convict someone obviously guilty of murdering a minority or vice versa. But as long as the jury system is used according to the US Constitution each juror has the option to apply the principles of jury nullification. It's better if it is applied deliberately by principled citizens. Because in the right hands, jury nullification is one of the final vetoes that citizens have on the actions of an out of control or overly rigid government.
Recent protests against police behavior have added another way for jurors to make a dent in bad governance. Historically, juries have often trusted police testimony more than that of accused criminals. Giving officers of the law the benefit of the doubt has been historically necessary to allow them to do their jobs.
But today's environment has a very important difference. Body cameras are cheap, ubiquitous and are becoming more widely available to police officers. More importantly, police officers have significant control over when their cameras are turned on or off. So body cameras were somehow not turned on when police officers raided the wrong house and shot a dog. When the Baton Rouge police shot and killed a DVD seller, their body cameras supposedly accidentally fell off. If police officers are acting properly, they should want the cameras on. If police officers would be harmed by what is shown on the camera, then they have an incentive to prevent the emergence of any body camera footage.
Jurors everywhere need to push back against these incentives and create new ones. Jurors should assume that a police officer's testimony of events that occurred while they were in the field is worthless if their body camera footage is not also available. I'll call this "Camera Credibility" for lack of a better term and because alliteration is fun.
If enough people view cop testimony under the lens of camera credibility then there will be no way prosecutors to keep people with these beliefs off of juries. Police officers will be incentivized to make sure their cameras are operational and will be more likely to release footage that shows shades of grey in order to preserve their overall credibility.
While the proposed policy is implemented by jurors not trusting police officer testimony under certain conditions, this isn't an anti-cop idea. Body cameras are a way for cops to maximize their credibility and protect themselves against false accusations. The word of a police officer backed up by body camera footage will be held with the highest respect. The proposed camera credibility juror strategy would only really impact the small percentage of officers who need to be reigned in as other cops will have a good reason to make sure their unadulterated footage makes it to the courtroom.
Jury nullification applies everywhere that citizens serve on juries, though a juror discussing this idea openly in California will result in the judge removing them from the jury pool. Before jurors are selected, they are questioned in a process known as voir dire. Those who want to actively apply jury nullification need to somehow get through this process and onto a jury while those who want to get out jury duty can enthusiastically discuss their beliefs on the benefits of jury nullification. Either way, it's a good thing to remember.
*Commercial law decisions by juries who disagree with the law have a greater chance of being reversed in a process commonly known as Judgement Notwithstanding the Verdict