Is O.J. Simpson Verdict an Example of Jury Nullification? Jury Verdicts, Legal Concepts, and Jury Performance in a Racially Sensitive Criminal Case
International Journal of Applied and Comparative Criminal Justice, 1998, 22:185-210
26 Pages Posted: 25 Mar 2015
Date Written: March 23, 1998
In criminal cases involving minority defendants, some minority legal scholars argue that despite the overwhelming evidence of guilt, racial minority jurors should possess the moral obligation to acquit "guilty" defendants as a protest against racial discrimination in the criminal justice and court systems. While the rate of racial acquittals is on the rise in criminal courts in large metropolitan jurisdictions, the present analysis shows that in the O.J Simpson trial involving a number of racial and ethnic minorities, minority jurors are more likely to adhere to the strict application of criminal legal standards- presumed innocence, burden of proof, and reasonable doubt- in their deliberative process. Our empirical analysis reveals that while the presence of biases in law enforcement raised the "reasonable doubt" and "proof beyond a reasonable doubt" standards among white jurors, none of the three legal standards had statistically significant relations with their determination of the trial outcome. For racial minorities, however, all three legal concepts and racial biases in the criminal justice system show statistically significant impacts on their determination of the Simpson verdict. While there is the greater scrutiny of both presumed innocence and reasonable doubt among racial minority jurors, the concept of the government's burden of proof negatively affected minorities' views in the Simpson acquittal. This suggests that the government's superior positions and prosecutorial resources may be too much to overcome in order to win an acquittal. Thus the burden of proof standard may measure racial minorities' sense of powerlessness in obtaining a fair trial and securing an acquittal. Similarly our findings show that racial minorities who believe there are racial biases and prejudices held and used by law enforcement authorities also feel that O.J. Simpson would be adjudicated guilty of murder, suggesting that the government which relies on evidence collected by discriminatory Jaw enforcement agencies might still be too powerful to enable Simpson to win an acquittal verdict. While advocates for racially based jury nullification reinforce the image of lawlessness of minority jurors in America's criminal courts, the present analysis show that, at least in a highly publicized criminal trial involving a prominent minority defendant, minority jurors show the opposite, suggesting that racial minority jurors are indeed law abiding participants in the administration of justice.
Keywords: Jury trial, O.J. Simpson, Trial fairness
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation