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Conscientious Acquittals

The First, Fourth, and Eleventh Circuits have already so concluded that it is improper to ask jurors to acquit a defendant on the grounds that he is charged under an unfair law. Now, a petition for a writ of mandamus currently pending before the Second Circuit has reignited the debate over “jury nullification” —specifically, whether a jury may ever be informed of its power to nullify. In United States v. Manzano, the government has asked the Court of Appeals to command District of Connecticut Judge Stefan Underhill to: (1) bar defense counsel from arguing for jury nullification; and (2) preclude any mention of the applicable mandatory minimum sentences, which mention might itself prompt the jury to nullify.

The defendant in Manzano is charged with producing and transporting child pornography. The charges carry mandatory minimum prison terms of 15 years and 5 years, respectively, and arise from a year-long sexual relationship between the defendant and a 15-year-old. Originally prosecuted as statutory rape in state court, the defendant was indicted on the child pornography charges after authorities discovered a deleted video of the two having sex in defendant’s phone’s back-up Google cloud account. The government appealed after the federal judge in that case opined that the case seemed like an appropriate one for nullification. Read more about the case HERE

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