The First Freedoms
The Privacy Amendments
The 5th Amendment
The 6th Amendment
Civil Trials
The Interpretive Rules

Speedy and Public Trial, Impartial Jury, and Being Informed of the Accusation

The Role of Juries and Jury Nullification

The function and role of the jury has also been narrowed somewhat since America’s earliest days. Previously, it was not uncommon for American juries to decide questions of law as well as of fact. Indeed, some colonial juries not only interpreted law, but they even refused to convict when they disagreed with a law, a practice called “jury nullification.” Judges have always advised juries on questions of law, but earlier juries were free to disregard a judge’s advice. As laws have become more complex, however, and the legal profession has become more specialized, it is increasingly rare for juries to determine questions of law. In Sparf and Hansen v. United States (1895), the Supreme Court ruled definitively that federal juries may not decide questions of law. But a few states still allow this privilege to juries in state courts. The most important role of the jury has always been, and remains, to determine the facts of the case.