While there is nothing to prevent a petit jury from acquitting although finding that the prosecution has proven its case, this so-called “mercy-dispensing power”, as defendant concedes, is not a legally sanctioned function of the jury and should not be encouraged by the court.
It follows, from what has been said, that, while the jury has the power to refuse to find any fact regardless of how clearly it may appear to a judge to have been proved, the jury does not, so to speak, have the right to find a fact and then refuse to render the verdict which such a finding necessarily requires. As is manifest, merciful, or weak jurors may disregard even overwhelming proof of culpability and acquit entirely or convict of a lower crime than the evidence reflects. But that, it has been correctly observed, is ‘their responsibility, and not the court's.’ People v. Randazzo, supra, 127 App.Div. 824, 825, 112 N.Y.S. 104. There is probably no way to prevent or guard against this, but certainly a court should avoid doing anything, such as submitting lower crimes in an inappropriate case, that would constitute an invitation to the jury to foreswear its duty and return a compromise or otherwise unwarranted verdict. Or, to express the matter in somewhat different terms, the jury's power to dispense mercy, by favoring the defendant despite the evidence, should not be allowed so to dominate the trial proceedings as to impede or interfere with the jury's primary fact-finding function.