By Saxon Bryant
Saxon Bryant is a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania and Associate Editor of the Penn Undergraduate Law Journal.
When it comes to due process, we have a flawed assumption as to how a trial by jury can proceed. As commonly understood, the two options presented before the jury are guilty or not guilty. The jury is meant to deliberate on the evidence presented during the trial, and based on that reach one of the two aforementioned verdicts. While simple, this choice does not tell the full story. Jurors have another option they can use. This third option is known as jury nullification. But what exactly jury nullification is and whether or not it’s legitimate has been a subject of debate for hundreds of years.
Jury nullification is a jury's knowing and deliberate rejection of the evidence or refusal to apply the law.  It occurs when juries render a verdict that is contrary to the evidence and has been a staple of the American judicial and constitutional system for centuries now. The Declaration of Independence gives nullification credence in saying that a government only has legitimate power with “the consent of the governed.”  A law which lacks that consent is arguably an improper law. Juries also have a constitutional basis, such as the Sixth Amendment, which grants the accused an inviolable right to a jury determination of his guilt or innocence in all criminal prosecutions. Because of this right, a trial judge absolutely cannot direct a verdict in favor of the State or set aside a jury's verdict of not guilty, "no matter how overwhelming the evidence," as was reaffirmed in Sullivan v. Louisiana (1993).  This rule is designed to safeguard what United States v. Spock (1969) defined the jury's power as: intended "to arrive at a general verdict without having to support it by reasons or by a report of its deliberations" and to protect its historic power to nullify or temper rules of law.