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New Hampshire considers jury nullification law

January 29, 2014 - Andrea Johnson
New Hampshire legislators are considering a bill that would require judges to tell jurors that they can acquit a guilty defendant if they don't agree with the charges.

The concept is called jury nullification and it is usually actively discouraged by judges and prosecutors, but it is a power that jurors do have. Back in the bad old days of Jim Crow, Southern jurors would occasionally refuse to convict a white defendant of murdering a black man, even if the white man was obviously guilty. In recent years, the most common cases of jury nullification in the United States are probably those involving minor drug charges and jurors who disagree with laws making marijuana illegal. According to the ABA Journal, there is already a law on the books in New Hampshire allowing defense attorneys to tell jurors that nullification is an option. A New Hampshire jury acquitted a man in September 2012 of felony drug charges for growing pot. The man claimed to be using the pot for his personal and religious use.

I've never been called for jury duty even though I vote religiously in every election. I've always suspected that someone ensures that newspaper reporters never are put in the jury pool to begin with. They'd be apt to disqualify me pretty quickly anyway because I'm apt to know too much about the cases. But, if I were called to serve on a jury, there are without a doubt some cases where I would be sorely tempted to vote to nullify. There are some bad laws on the books and people whose lives are ruined by harsh and draconian sentencing. But my judgement of what's "harsh and draconian" probably wouldn't be shared by every member of the jury. For a defendant to be acquitted rather than for there to be a hung jury, an entire panel of his peers must agree that the charges are unfair and the law is ridiculous. On the one hand, it might allow the tyranny of majority opinion, as in the white murderer of a black man being acquitted by a racist jury, but on the other jury nullification might serve as a much needed last line of defense against cruel laws passed by bad lawmakers.

I am generally in favor of New Hampshire's proposed law and think it ought to be passed by other state legislatures.

 
 

Article Comments

(7)

MattRothchild

Jan-30-14 10:26 AM

"From what you wrote we already have jury nullification law."

EB: the law in question doesn't create it, but requires judges to inform juries that it's an option.

MattRothchild

Jan-30-14 10:25 AM

"if the charges or the case seems particularly unjust but the defendant is guilty as charged. "

Or if the law itself is B.S. but the defendant is guilty as charged. Being found guilty doesn't do squat if you're guilty of a B.S. law.

EarlyBird

Jan-30-14 10:23 AM

I think a good reason few of us know about this is we don't get to criminal court everyday if ever. I imagine there are allot of things in the legal system people don't know unless they are lawyers, judges or others who have studied law.

AndreaJohnson

Jan-30-14 9:42 AM

But one few people know about.

EarlyBird

Jan-30-14 8:41 AM

"The concept is called jury nullification and it is usually actively discouraged by judges and prosecutors, but it is a power that jurors do have."

From what you wrote we already have jury nullification law.

AndreaJohnson

Jan-29-14 5:31 PM

My fast track out of jury duty would be the words "newspaper reporter" and "blogger" and "vehement opponent to the death penalty for religious reasons." I have also just admitted that I would be open to jury nullification. Still, I hope people who actually get to serve on juries will be aware that this is an option if the charges or the case seems particularly unjust but the defendant is guilty as charged.

MattRothchild

Jan-29-14 5:10 PM

"I am generally in favor of New Hampshire's proposed law and think it ought to be passed by other state legislatures."

Me too. Someone once said that American liberty depended upon four boxes: the soap box, the ballot box, THE JURY BOX, and the cartidge box.

For many years, mentioning "jury nullification" during the selection process was the fast track out of jury duty.

Recognize the power that you have. Ultimately YOU are the one who decides if someone will be punished by the laws passed by the legislature. Use it to chip away at government overreach and return criminal law to its rightful place of punishing egregious violations of others' Negative Rights.

 
 

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