| || |
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.
Post a Comment
News, Blogs & Events Web