Is jury nullification being used in Chicago gun cases? In strict parlance, jury nullification refers to the right of jurors to judge both the facts and the law. If a juror believes that justice will not be served by following the law, they always have the right to vote not guilty.
It has always been the right of American jurors to do so, but about 1900, judges stopped telling jurors that they had that right, and gradually that decision morphed into an assumption by judges that it was wrong for jurors to assert their rights. In spite of the antipathy of the court system to juror's rights to nullify bad law, they still have the right to do so.
In Chicago, the police are having a harder time getting convictions on gun possession cases. From chicago.suntimes.com:
But even though they’re winning seven of every 10 gun cases, Cook County prosecutors acknowledge they’re having a tougher time getting convictions.
In part, that’s because of the public’s concern over police tactics in the wake of high-profile shootings of African-Americans by police officers around the country, according to both prosecutors and defense attorneys. They say that’s caused growing skepticism among jurors about the credibility of police officers.Strictly speaking, that is not jury nullification. That is just jurors being diligent at their job. If the police account seems unreasonable, jurors should be cautious about convicting.
“It is probably more difficult to prove these gun possession cases than it has been in the past,” said Fabio Valentini, chief of the criminal prosecutions bureau for the Cook County state’s attorney’s office. “I think it makes sense that the events of the last couple of years have affected the way that jurors look at police narratives.”
Numbers from the article are interesting. The article says that police collected about 7,000 illegal guns in 2014, and about 5,500 in the first nine months of 2015. In 2013, Chicago seized 6,800 guns. That is a total of 19,300 guns for 2013, 2014 and the first nine months of 20 15. In the same period, there were 5,700 illegal gun possession cases decided in the Cook County court system in the same period, about 3.4 guns per case.
I suspect that quite a few of the guns collected do not come from criminal activity, but simply from someone inheriting a gun that they have no interest in, and which they have difficulty legally disposing of. There are no gun stores in Chicago proper, so a person unfamiliar with guns could be uncertain about how to dispose of a firearm. Turning it in to police might seem the safest option.
4,100 of the 5,700 cases ended in convictions, the vast majority from plea bargains. In the other 1,600 cases, the defendants were not convicted. In about 600 cases, the prosecutor dropped the charges. It is not clear how many of the remaining 1,000 cases were cleared by a judge, and how many ended in jury trials.
As part of the passage of the shall issue law in Illinois in 2013, Chicago dropped its requirement for registration of handguns in the City. People still must have a Firearms Owners Identification Card to merely possess, let alone carry, a firearm.
We are not seeing a wholesale application of jury nullification in Chicago, but skeptical jurors are making sure that the police follow the rules more carefully.
©2015 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice is included.
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