The Jury, an 1861 painting by John Morgan.

In a short, three-page opinion the Appeals Court rejected a criminal defendant’s claim that a trial judge erred when he instructed jurors “that they should not concern themselves with the issue of punishment.”

According to the opinion,

On appeal, the defendant argues that by divesting the jury of their power of nullification, the instructions constituted reversible error.

The Appeals Court rejected this argument, citing case law which confirmed that jurors were to rely solely on the judge’s interpretation of the law. Additionally, jurors are not to consider the possible sentence that a defendant may face if found guilty.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the decision is the Appeals Court’s footnote discussing jury nullification. It reads,

To be sure, as the defendant contends, a jury retains the practical ability to nullify the law in light of the fact that a not guilty verdict is essentially unreviewable. However, this is different from a recognized right to nullify the law (about which the jury must be instructed). See Commonwealth v. Kirwan, 448 Mass. 304, 319 (2007) (“Jury nullification is inconsistent with a jury’s duty to return a guilty verdict of the highest crime proved beyond a reasonable doubt”). Failure to instruct a jury on nullification does not deprive jurors of the opportunity to vote their consciences. See Commonwealth v. Carleton, 36 Mass. App. Ct. 137, 145 (1994), S.C., 418 Mass. 773 (1994).

To read the case in its entirety, click here.