Skip to comments.Jury Nullification Law Signed by New Hampshire Governor
Posted on 07/01/2012 6:43:15 PM PDT by marktwain
With all the buzz and anticipation surrounding the final rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court the past week, there has been little attention to an interesting legal development in New Hampshire: On June 18, Governor John Lynch (no relation) signed HB 146 into law and it becomes effective on January 1, 2013. HB 146 concerns the right of a jury to judge the application of the law in relationship to the facts in controversy. Its popularly known as the jury nullification bill. In this post, I will try to explain what impact this new law may have in the New Hampshire courts.
By way of background, Cato co-published the most comprehensive book on this subject back in 1998, Jury Nullification: The Evolution of a Doctrine by Clay Conrad. So pick that up if youre interested in the full legal and historical treatment. If youre not ready for the book, do check out this book review by University of Tennessee law professor Glenn Reynolds.
For purposes of this post, I am going to sidestep the question of whether or not jury nullification is a good idea. My purpose is not to make the case for HB 146. Rather, my purpose is to briefly explain what jury nullification is, provide a very brief history of the law on that subject, and, finally, explain how the recently enacted statute in New Hampshire may alter existing law and practices there.
To begin, the American Revolutionaries thought juries were an important check on the power of government. Thomas Jefferson said, I consider trial by jury as the only anchor yet imagined by man, by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution. The denial of the right to trial by jury was among the grievances enumerated in the Declaration of Independence. So it shouldnt surprise that, to guard against future oppression, the jury trial procedure is explicitly set forth in the American Bill of Rights. During this period, no one spoke of jury nullification and thats because that concept (no one gets convicted unless all the jurors, in good conscience, agree with the outcome) was viewed as part and parcel of what a jury trial was all about. Heres John Adams, It is not only [the juror's] right, but his duty to find the verdict according to his own best understanding, judgment, and conscience, though in direct opposition to the direction of the court. (emphasis added). That ideathat juries can render verdicts according to consciencebecame very unpopular in legal circles as the years passed.
Government officials around the country are very hostile to independent verdicts from juries and so employ several methods to exercise more control. First, plea bargaining powers are used to get persons accused of crimes to waive their right to a jury trial. Second, defense attorneys are typically instructed not to mention jury nullification in the courtoomlest the trial judge hold him/her in contempt and declare a mistrial. Third, the court will tell the jurors that their job is to find the facts (for example, which witnesses do you believe?), but it is the job of the court to decide the law and the jury must accept the law as explained to them by the judge, whatever their own view of that law might be. Prosecutors are so determined to drill this state-of-affairs into peoples heads that they actually arrested an elderly man who was distributing pamphlets outside a courthouse in New York City. Needless to say, Jefferson and Adams would be utterly astounded by all this.
In any event, whatever may be the law in other jurisdictions around the country, there has been a concerted effort in New Hampshire to shift power back to jurors. Before proceeding further, an important thing to grasp about exisiting law around the country is that the power of the jury to vote according to its conscienceeven contrary to the law as explained by the courtis admitted by nearly everyone. The catch is that the government tries really, really hard to discourage that from happening. (Yes, the jury can do it (it = bring in a not guilty verdict no matter what the judge says) but lets try to keep them in the dark!)
In State v. Bonacorsi, 648 A.2d 469 (1994), the Supreme Court of New Hampshire considered the tension between the power of the trial judge and the right of the accused to his trial by jury. The defendant asked the judge to give a jury nullification instruction. The judge denied the request and said that would be entirely inappropriate. The judge did allow something that most courts outside New Hampshire would never allowhe ruled that it would be okay for the defendants lawyer to advise the jury of its nullification power. The judge did caution that lawyer not to be too strenuous about that matter, or else the judge would have to remind the jurors that they have to take the law from the court, not the attorneys. And the judge later did just that, saying, You [jurors] are to follow the courts instructions.
Later on, during its deliberations, the jury requested a clarification from the judge on all this stuff. The defendant jumped at this development, and insisted that the court now had to inform the jury of its nullification prerogativeotherwise it would be left with the misleading impression that the prerogative did not exist, and that theyd be acting improperly if they were to vote according to their conscience. The trial judge refusedand simply referred the jury to his earlier instructions. When the jury convicted the defendant, he filed an appeal asking the Supreme Court of New Hampshire to review the actions of the trial judge and declare them improper, and to order a new trial. The state supreme court rejected that argument and affirmed what the trial court did. Heres an excerpt:
We have recognized jury nullification as the undisputed power of the jury to acquit, even if its verdict is contrary to law as given by the judge and contrary to the evidence While recognizing the prerogative, we have nonetheless consistently held that jury nullification is neither a right of the defendant, nor a defense recognized by law. Accordingly, a defendant is not invariably entitled to a jury nullification instruction. Rather, it is within the sound discretion of the trial court to determine if the facts of a particular case warrant a jury nullification instruction when it has been requested by a party. (emphasis added)
In other words, the trial judge will decide whether or not he/she will inform the jurors that they may act contrary to the courts instructions. Hmm.
Another unfortunate trend in the New Hampshire case law has been the following stance by the courts: We did give the jury a nullification instruction so there is no merit to any complaint that the jury was not properly informed!! This is the so-called Wentworth instruction, which the New Hampshire courts have deemed the equivalent of a jury nullification instruction. See State v. Sanchez, 883 A.2d 292 (2005). The Wentworth instruction is a very lame and indirect instruction that hinges on the word should. The trial judge tells the jury something like, If the prosecution has met its legal burden, the jury should find the defendant guilty. The New Hampshire Supreme Court says that since the word should is uttered, the jury is notified that even if the state has proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt, they could still acquit the defendant. The nullification prerogative is right therein between the lines, says the court.
So lets say Im a lawyer in New Hampshire and my client has been using marijuana for medical reasons, to help her deal with the chemotherapy treatments that have taken away her appetite, resulting in a severe and unhealthy weight loss. The prosecutors say the case is open and shutthe cops found marijuana in her purse. Marijuana possession is illegalno exceptions (lets just assume thisthe laws vary around the country). We want the jury to know about her medical condition and that they can vote according to their conscience. The prosecutors will say the medical condition is irrelevant and is therefore inadmissible as evidence. The judge might approve a nullification instructionbut all that means is that hell say, if the prosecutors proved she had marijuana in her purse, you should return a guilty verdict. Most, if not all, of the jurors are going to think they have no choicethat theyd be doing something improper if they were to vote not guilty in such circumstances. And the New Hampshire courts want the jurors to be left with that impression. (If anyone thinks the hypothetical case above is fanciful, please check out State v. Hokanson, 672 A.2d 714 (1996)).
Now, at last, we come to the law recently enacted by the New Hampshire legislature and signed by Governor John Lynch. Here is the language of the new law:
519:23-a Right of Accused. In all criminal proceedings the court shall permit the defense to inform the jury of its right to judge the facts and the application of the law in relation to the facts in controversy.
This is definitely a step forward for advocates of jury trial. Allowing counsel to speak directly to the jury about this subject is something that is not allowed in all the courthouses outside of New Hampshireso, again, this is good. I am concerned, however, that this language does not go far enough. We dont know how much pressure trial judges will exert on defense counsel. As noted above, if the attorneys argument is too strenuous, the judge may reprimand the attorney in some way or deliver his own strenuous instruction about how the jurors must ultimately accept the law as described by the court, not the defense. Im also afraid what the jurors hear will too often depend on the particular judge and, then, what that judge wants to do in a particular case.
Its great that there was enough support in the legislature to move on this bill and for the governor to sign it. However, some of that support, I fear, may be because of a wink and nod that nothing is really going to changeso go ahead and support the measure. I hope Im wrong about that. Continued vigilance will be necessary in New Hampshire.
The reform that I favor is a law that would require the following instruction to be delivered by the trial courtupon the request of the defense:
Trial Judge to the Jury:
It is presumed that juries are the best judges of fact. Accordingly, you are the sole judges of true facts in the case.
I think it requires no explanation, however, that judges are presumed to be the best judges of the law. Accordingly, you must accept my instructions as being correct statements of the legal principles that generally apply in a case of the type you have heard.
The order in which the instructions are given is no indication of their relative importance. You should not single out certain instructions and disregard others but should construe each one in the light of and in harmony with the others.
These principles are intended to help you in reaching a fair result in this case. You should give them due respect. Moreover, justice will ordinarily be done by applying them as a whole to the facts which you find have seen proven. You should do just that if, by doing so, you can do justice in this case.
Even so, it is difficult to draft legal statements that are so exact that they are right for all conceivable circumstances. Accordingly, you are entitled to act upon your conscientious feeling about what is a fair result in this case, and acquit the defendant if you believe that justice requires such a result.
Exercise your judgment without passion or prejudice, but with honesty and understanding. Give respectful regard to my statements of the law for what help they may be in arriving at a conscientious determination of justice in this case. That is your highest duty as a public body and as officers of this court.
That, in my view, is the instruction that any person facing criminal charges in America should get, upon request. (Its an actual instruction that was once used in state courts, see Clay Conrad book, above, pp. 122-123). The prosecutor can make the governments case and then the jury can decide. Thats what a jury trial is supposed to be about.
Why the hell do they need to pass a law to legalize the constitutional?
Personally I think we need to revisit the 1895 supreme court decision that jurors “Need not be informed” of their rights. I would further back it up by requiring that all students must demonstrate proficiency in juror rights and duties before graduating.
I’m surprised the rat Lynch signed this.
THOMAS JEFFERSON (1789): I consider trial by jury as the only anchor ever yet imagined by man, by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution.
JOHN ADAMS (1771): It’s not only ....(the juror’s) right, but his duty, in that case, to find the verdict according to his own best understanding, judgement, and conscience, though in direct opposition to the direction of the court.
ALEXANDER HAMILTON (1804): Jurors should acquit even against the judge’s instruction....”if exercising their judgement with discretion and honesty they have a clear conviction that the charge of the court is wrong.”
U.S. vs. DOUGHERTY (1972) [D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals]: The jury has....”unreviewable and irreversible power...to acquit in disregard of the instructions on the law given by the trial judge.”
Get ready for “the law is the Law” crowd to chime in.
If I,for example,ever find myself on a jury in a case in which a "hate crime" charge is involved I,rejecting the basic validity of all such laws,will vote "not guilty" on *that* charge....and I'll try to convince my fellow jurors to do likewise.
...from government school.
Informed Jury alert, you too, can make a judge and prosecutor miserable.
Yes. This NH law is nothing more than a proclamation. The jury can always vote its conscience. To think otherwise ignores the basic fact that no judge can order a juror to deliver a verdict of guilty or innocence. This is common sense, and the only thing keeping the Republic from once again enjoying basic freedom is KNOWLEDGE of the people. OMG.
.from government school.
The better expression is government owned and run socialist-entitlment, compulsory, and single-payer schooling.
There was a case in Detroit recently where I would have voted not guilty despite the fact that the ‘perp’ clearly stepped well over the line beyond our stand your ground law.
Tigh Croff came home from work to find 3 men breaking into his house for the 3rd time in a week. Croff gave chase and cornered one of them in an alley. The moron then chose to taunt Croff. Croff shot the man once in the chest and killed him.
There is no way in hell I would have ever voted to convict. Croff couldn’t go to work without his home being broken into. In my opinion he had every right to hunt down the scavenger who was threatening his livelihood.
BTW you didn’t hear about this one because there was no angle for the race baiters since Croff and his “victim” are both black.
Of course there are thousands of graduates who are unable to read. What about them?
All of these are clickable links pertaining to Jury Nullification at this site.
MEDIA COVERAGE #
In Jury Rooms, A Form of Civil Protest Grows 1999
LAURA KRIHO CASE (Acquitted Aug 2000) #
Voir Dire : A French Term for Jury Stacking - Mountain Media
Juror Rights are Dealt a Blow - Boulder Weekly
Jury Power & “Drug Peace”! - Amer. Anti-Prohibition League
SECONDARY RESOURCES #
The Fully Informed Jury Association
The Jury Rights Project
History of Jury Nullification
The Citizen’s Rulebook
Jury Nullification and the Rule of Law
Jury Nullification : The Top Secret Constitutional Right
An Essay on the Trial by Jury (1852)
CRFC - Jury Nullification
What Lawyers and Judges Won’t Tell You About Juries
Jury Nullification Bibliography
MEDIA COVERAGE #
Jury Nullification is a Tool for Chaos Foster’s Online, 2003 (archive.org)
South Dakota Rejects Jury Nullification Dec 2002
Jurors with Convictions, Freemarket.net
Trial By Jury, Clay S. Conrad, Cato Institute Dec 1998
What lawyers and judges won’t tell you about juries,
Progressive Review (1990)
LAURA KRIHO CASE (Acquitted Aug 2000) #
The Jury on Trial - Media Bypass, Dec 1996
Jury Rights Project - Kriho
ED ROSENTHAL CASE #
Jurors Denounce Their Own Verdict, Ann Harrison, AlterNet Feb 3, 2003
Compassion Challenged, Clay S. Conrad, Cato Institute Feb 2003
The Words of the Founding Fathers
Jurors should acquit, even against the judge’s instruction...
if exercising their judgement with discretion and honesty
they have a clear conviction the charge of the court is wrong.
— Alexander Hamilton, 1804
It is not only the juror’s right, but his duty to find the verdict
according to his own best understanding, judgement and conscience,
though in direct opposition to the instruction of the court.
—John Adams, 1771
I consider trial by jury as the only anchor yet imagined by man
by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution.
— Thomas Jefferson, 1789
It will be of little avail to the people that the laws are made
by men of their choice, if the laws are so voluminous that they
cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood;
if they... undergo such incessant changes that no man who knows
what the law is today can guess what it will be tomorrow
— James Madison
Imagine what would happen if jurors discovered that they can call and question witnesses or determine what is and isn’t admissible evidence for themselves.
The whole legal landscape would shift.
To grant it as a modified, statutory privilege to 14th Amendment corporate individuals who have no access to Constitutional rights.
The key to understanding how this would allow patriots to recover the Republic is that you only need 1 in 12 to nullify. So, realistically if you could just get every so-called patriot educated.. you win. I don’t blame leftists for my loss of freedom and never have. I blame my ignorant brethren.
If ever called to jury duty and I wasn't to do it at the time I'll portray myself as a babe in the woods....someone who doesn't have any real opinion on anything.That,IMO,would maximize my chances of being chosen.If I don't want to serve my response to each question will be "fry them all". ;-)
Yeah .. I’m I’m quite sure I’ll never be called, but I have the same tactic in mind.
If ONE juror stood firm with a nullification verdict over the other 11 .. guilty verdicts ... nullification wins ?
Typically the jury must be unanimous. So, if one juror decides that the law is unjust, unconstitutional, etc., he or she can vote to exonerate. You don’t have to give a reason as a juror, you can just vote not guilty and let the world wonder why you did it.
Lawyers and Judges have long overstepped their bounds by curtailing and designating what a Grand Jury and Jury have the right to do. I think Grand Juries need to tell DA’s and Judges go F off more often and use their investigatory power. Where they are in disuse they need to be brought back and begin to curb the power of the Judiciary by investigating it.
You are implying that you are not involved. You should demand that the Constitution be properly taught in every school. I would suspect Jesuit schools avoid it at all cost.
“Profilers will keep you from ever serving ... you subversive, you ...”
Jurists are deliberately chosen by both sides to be stupid and pliable, under the guise of “having no preconceptions” and “flexibility”.
“Imagine what would happen if jurors discovered that they can call and question witnesses”
I imagine they would discover that they were in the military and involved in a courts-martial under the UCMJ. The first time I testified in one I was really shocked when a Juror asked me a question. I think it is a very good idea. Cuts through the lawyers BS.
(I totally agree.)
Amen! Only reason to define a right is to be able to change it. Common Sense, in the political class, died about 100 years ago.
Let us not forget the William Penn case.
By the late 17th century, the court’s ability to punish juries was removed in Bushel’s Case involving a juror on the case against William Penn. Penn and William Mead had been arrested in 1670 for illegally preaching a Quaker sermon and disturbing the peace, but four jurors, led by Edward Bushell refused to find them guilty. Instead of dismissing the jury, the judge sent them back for further deliberations. Despite the judge demanding a guilty verdict, the jury this time unanimously found Penn guilty of preaching but acquitted him on the charge of disturbing the peace and acquitted Mead of all charges. The jury was then subsequently kept for three days without “meat, drink, fire and tobacco” to force them to bring in a guilty verdict and when they failed to do so the judge ended the trial. As punishment the judge ordered the jurors imprisoned until they paid a fine to the court. Four jurors refused to pay the fine and after several months, Edward Bushell sought a writ of habeas corpus. Chief Justice Vaughan, sitting on the Court of Common Pleas, discharged the writ, released them, called the power to punish a jury “absurd”, and forbade judges from punishing jurors for returning a verdict the judge disagreed with. This series of events is considered a significant milestone in the history of jury nullification. The particular case is celebrated in a plaque displayed in the Central Criminal Court (The Old Bailey) in London.
Personally, I consider this case and the cases about the fugitive slave laws to be the critical essence of nullification.
The jury comes to a conclusion:
Given the totality of the law and the facts, has a crime been committed?
If the question is answered in good conscience, and the answer is “NO”, then there can be no conviction.
We should all fear being tried by 12 people who were not smart enough to get out of jury duty! < /sarc >
But, and this is the important part, you SHOULD NOT say nullification is your reason to vote not-guilty. Otherwise the judge might (and they sometimes do) remove that juror and replace him with an alternate.
Just say "The prosecution has not proved their case beyond my reasonable doubt". And nothing more.
Well, you might be able to stretch that into a case that you've informed that jury nullification is possible (Duh!), but only if you admit you've simultaneously told them they're not supposed to do it ("shouldn't"). If they have that right, this argument is bogus. It's like saying you've informed people of their 2A rights by telling them they shouldn't CCW.
That was my immediate thought as well. The law should probably be amended to tell judges they're not allowed to issue instructions that appear to preclude nullification.
I believe the way the law is written in some states, the indictment power of the GJ is virtually unlimited. The DA naturally brings cases to them where he wants indictments, but in these states that isn't a necessary precondition to issuing one. I wouldn't mind seeing some ridiculous political and agenda-driven cases submitted by DA's result not only in failure to secure the indictment he wanted but an indictment issuing against HIM for violation of the civil rights of the accused and dereliction of the duties of his office (whatever is illegal in the state in question).
I'm also disgusted to see that in some cases, the prosecution can sidestep the GJ and charge on their own (see Zimmerman). What the hell is the point of having a GJ system if it's optional for the prosecution???
“What the hell is the point of having a GJ system if it’s optional for the prosecution???”
For political cover/PRN. Standard political prescription.
Or you could say: "This law is morally repugnant and I cannot n good consciousness vote to convict someone under it."
If the judge tries to dismiss you after hearing that, file charges and prosecute him for deprivation of rights under color of law.
Whoever, under color of any law, statute, ordinance, regulation, or custom, willfully subjects any person in any State, Territory, Commonwealth, Possession, or District to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured or protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States, or to different punishments, pains, or penalties, on account of such person being an alien, or by reason of his color, or race, than are prescribed for the punishment of citizens, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both; and if bodily injury results from the acts committed in violation of this section or if such acts include the use, attempted use, or threatened use of a dangerous weapon, explosives, or fire, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both; and if death results from the acts committed in violation of this section or if such acts include kidnapping or an attempt to kidnap, aggravated sexual abuse, or an attempt to commit aggravated sexual abuse, or an attempt to kill, shall be fined under this title, or imprisoned for any term of years or for life, or both, or may be sentenced to death.
It is our system, and it has been thus for over 300 years, and you don’t seem to understand it... Do you wonder why?
I was misled by the jury nullification thought in my head, and not thinking aunanimous verdict vs a split.