A jury defies all logic and common sense and comes back with a verdict contrary to the evidence. It's not a Joker Jury, a Jury of the Damned, or a Kangaroo Court — a group of regular citizens has come back with the wrong decision.
Usually, a not guilty verdict is intended to demonstrate the jury's outright gullibility (or intimidation), whereas an unfair guilty verdict indicates they were unable to see past some fear or prejudice against the defendant.
In real life (principally in the USA), the "voir dire" process is meant to ensure that juries are made up of fair and impartial members who will treat the case seriously. In the UK and Commonwealth, it can include testing the competency of potential jurors. However, in most US jurisdictions, lawyers are allowed to weed out potential jurors for any reason at all (other than race), granting plenty of latitude for less ethical lawyers who prefer juries that are easily swayed by emotional appeals and courtroom theatrics.
Occasionally, a surprise acquittal can be due to a phenomenon known as "jury nullification", in which the jurors return a "not guilty" verdict even though the prosecution has in fact proven their case. This is usually because the jury feels that extenuating circumstances justify the crime, or occasionally because they feel the law is unfairly applied or simply wrong. There are two sides to this: A) the US legal system says that it is not the jury's place to decide what the law should be, but to come to a conclusion as to whether the law as it is currently written has or has not been broken. B) Nevertheless, jury nullification is legal in the US. A criminal court can't insist on a guilty verdict, an acquittal can't be appealed, and jurors can't be punished for a verdict. note
- Gotham City, being the poster child and home to the Trope Namer of Joker Immunity, means any criminal regardless of whether or not they have a legally-mitigating mental disorder can manipulate their way into Arkham Asylum.
- The Great White Shark was dumb enough to have his case transferred to Gotham City to skate on an Insanity Defense for embezzling millions from the life savings of his company's clients; dumb, because he winds up getting sent to Arkham Asylum. The presiding judge lampshades the jury's idiocy for falling for his obvious lies, but takes comfort in knowing the white-collar "Shark" will be a mere guppy amongst the myriad of maniacs and psychopaths that Arkham houses.
- Liar Liar has Fletcher's secretary relate a friend's story of the "burglar sues the homeowner after B&E goes bad and wins" predicament to point out how he and other Amoral Attorneys are all alike. Fletcher insists he's not: if he were the burglar's attorney, he would've gotten him twice for twice that amount of money. All this implies they must have a very compliant jury (also judge).
- Mystery Alaska has an incident where a local store owner is acquitted in the shooting of the representative of a Walmart expy who wanted to buy his store. Since he's local and the best hockey player in town, the jury finds him not guilty so he can participate in the Big Game against the NY Rangers. They also attempt to award him damages, but the judge rightly points out you can't do that in a criminal trial. He also lambasts the jury for putting the game above what's right. No one really cares.
- This was discussed, if not necessarily demonstrated, in Runaway Jury.
Finch: You think your average juror is King Solomon? No! He's a roofer with a mortgage. He wants to go home and sit in his Barcalounger and let the cable TV wash over him. And this man doesn't give a single, solitary droplet of shit about truth, justice or your American way.
Rohr: They're people, Fitch.
Finch: My point, exactly.
- In To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch demonstrates the accuser Mayella's injuries were caused by a left-handed individual while the defendant, Tom Robinson paralyzed his left arm in an accident. The jury of that time in the Deep South still convicted him, but the fact that they spent hours deliberating instead of immediately returning with a guilty verdict is taken as unofficial confirmation that at least some of them recognized the truth (even if they quickly acquiesced to the unjust and racist expectations of their community that a black man accused of such a crime could not be allowed to go free).
- During the court-martial of Pavel Young in Field of Dishonor, the six-member officer panel is split between political ideologies. Three of the court's members refuse to convict on the charges regardless of the evidence due to the politics of the situation, though they initially claim it is because they do not believe the charges to be valid. Eventually, Admiral Sonja Hemphill admits that the facts of the case are irrelevant, she simply will not agree to the conviction,note but because she is not completely amoral, she agrees to a compromise verdict that spares him from a death sentence. The fallout of the trial leads the the remaining plot of the novel.
- A frequent occurrence on the Law & Order franchise:
- One of the most infuriating was in the SVU episode "Screwed", where Darius Parker, Fin's brother-in-law/stepson, a sociopath with a vengeance gets off scot-free on raping and murdering a woman and her baby because of his mommy issues. He gets a corrupt ex-cop for a defense who's feeding him dirt on the SVU detective's pasts provided to him by a police lieutenant with a grudge against their captain. His confession is thrown out because he keeps it a secret from the detectives that he has an outstanding warrant, so when they finally do get a confession, he's made it so it's inadmissible. He causes Elliot's daughter to be arrested for an old DUI, Fin's reputation to be tarnished, Captain Cragen to be in danger of losing his badge, and Olivia to be thrown in front of IAB. All because his mother, Teresa, was raped by her father and couldn't bear to raise him, so she posed as his aunt; she's convinced to testify and finally admit who raped her and in turn Darius batters and abuses her on the stand, accusing her of lying because she didn't file a report (nobody believed her). He rapes and murders a woman, buries her 14 month-old baby alive (the jury wasn't actually told about the baby), and takes the whole unit down because of chickenshit personal issues that could have been solved by any half-decent therapist. And he's acquitted. The assistant district attorney Casey Novak damn near looks like she's holding back tears when the delusional jury lets him off.
- The SVU episode "Obscene" had a Moral Guardian crusader shoot an offensive shock jock. They had evidence that it was a premeditated publicity stunt and her defense was that the shock jock was a bad influence on her son. It worked.
- The Practice:
- A drug dealer claimed self-defense in stabbing (7 times) an addict he'd threatened to murder over his mounting drug debts. His long criminal record and the complete lack of any supporting evidence prompt him to try and strangle the DA in open court in an unsuccessful bid to provoke a mistrial and delay the inevitable (the judge even refuses to grant it because he knows the guy's going down for murder). The not guilty verdict prompts the DA to break down into a tirade about juror stupidity.
- Another episode features the judge berating the jury for their decision to award a ridiculous amount of money to the plaintiff in a dubious fraud lawsuit, before exercising his power to reduce the amount.
- Jimmy once defended a woman who stabbed a drug lord to death and the judge wouldn't allow them to plead self-defense or defense of others. He managed to convince the jury to acquit.
- The jury for Clay Davis's trial in The Wire, who are seemingly under the impression that massive campaign finance fraud ceases to be illegal if you give away all the money. Davis actually wasn't giving the money away, and was just as massively corrupt as the prosecution claimed; it's just that the jury were too dumb to see through his fairly wild — if articulate — lies of apparently handing it out by the pocketful to passing people in need.
- Blackadder Goes Forth, while we don't know the details of the case, presents us with a nice example:
Blackadder: "I remember Massingbird's most famous case: the Case of the Bloody Knife. A man was found next to a murdered body. He had the knife in his hand, 13 witnesses had seen him stab the victim, and when the police arrived, he said "I'm glad I killed the bastard." Massingbird not only got him off; he got him knighted in the New Year's Honours List and the relatives of the victim had to pay to have the blood washed out of his jacket!".
- The second episode of Harry's Law featured a woman on trial for committing armed robbery, with eyewitness testimony and video evidence. The defense Harry presented basically amounted to "Yeah, she did it, and she wasn't insane or senile, but she's an old woman". It worked.
- In the Sherlock episode "The Reichenbach Fall" Moriarty stands trial for attempting to steal the Crown Jewels. He was caught red-handed at the scene, there are plenty of witnesses and good quality security camera footage. At trial he offers no defense and the judge tells the jury that they have no choice but to convict. They return a unanimous verdict of 'not guilty'. Moriarty threatened to kill the jurors' families unless they acquitted him.
- JAG: Basically the plot of the season ten episode "The Sixth Juror" when Petty Officer Jennifer Coates is brought in as juror and starts asking pertinent questions which no one had thought about.
- An episode of How I Met Your Mother involves environmental lawyer Marshall Erikson in court against a corrupt Mega-Corp for illegal dumping which resulted in an ecological nightmare in a particular lake. In a variation of this trope, he actually convinces the jury and they find the corporation guilty; but then the judge decides to all but waive the fines and any other consequences (from $25 million and jail time for the executives who knowingly polluted the lake down to a measly fine of $25 thousand) because the company is big and powerful and it was just some stupid lake. This causes Marshall to realize the judges are the ones with the power to enact real change and punishment and he decides to become one.
- Rumpole of the Bailey presents us with "Rumpole a la Carte," in which the chef at a posh French restaurant in London is on trial for a health violation — namely having a live mouse presented upon a customer's plate. Like most things in the health code, this is a strict-liability offense: it doesn't matter why you did it, it only matters that the code was violated. However, Rumpole does his best to laugh the case out of court, and produces evidence that the mouse was planted as a complex plot by the cashier.note The jury acquits.
- The first television series of Dragnet featured an episode in which a jury acquitted a (guilty) man because a witness could not identify the man himself but only describe what he was wearing. They did this despite expert testimony that the probability of two people wearing identical outfits was very low. The 'not guilty' verdict prompts the Judge to lecture the jury on what idiots they are for a good five minutes. (The rest of the episode involved the police arresting him for a new crime with definite proof it was him.)
- A few verdicts on For the People are clearly driven by prejudice. There was also the time Allison aimed for jury nullification in order to protect her client.
- Twelve Incompetent Men (and Women!)note by Ian Mc Wethy is a short play based entirely on this premise. They have footage of the defendant committing his crime on camera. He even shouts out his name in the footage. The play starts with a judge saying that if it took more than thirty minutes for the jury to deliberate, he would be very disappointed in them. Needless to say, the verdict came back innocent.
- Played with in The Order of the Stick when Haley points out that the innocent verdict they receive when being tried for destroying a mystical Gate is erroneous because, regardless of the surrounding circumstances, they are actually guilty of the charge. It turns out that the entire trial was a sham orchestrated to get them to the city, and the "jury" was in fact Roy's father using an illusion.
- The Boondocks plays it for laughs.
- In one episode, an intern for the Black Panthers was sentenced to death for the murder of a cop despite the real killer leaving the gun with the receipt attached, his prints on the gun, and shouting to everyone around that he was the murderer.
- Uncle Ruckus served on a jury that convicted a blind black man accused of shooting (from 50 yards away) three white women with a rifle and delighted in shouting racist threats (complete with a hangman's noose) from his seat in the jury.
- There was also the episode in which R. Kelly is acquitted of lewd conduct with a minor, despite overwhelming evidence, because the jury liked his music and Kelly's (white) attorney argued that the (black) prosecutor hates black people.
- The Simpsons: In the episode "New Kid On The Block", Homer, ever the Jerkass Big Eater, eats a whole restaurant's stock of food (several times over) because it offers an "all you can eat" buffet and then has the gall to sue it for false advertisement because it wasn't all that he could eat. It ends up being one of the few times that Lionel Hutz (representing Homer) wins a case because all of the people in the jury were fat food lovers like Homer who felt sympathy for his "plight".