HB 146 – Should NH Have Jury Nullification?

DateMonday, February 21, 2011 at 07:24AM

Jury boxThe New Hampshire House Judiciary Committee has come out against HB 146, a bill that would give the jury in any trial the power of nullification.

In this context a unanimous jury could present a not-guilty verdict despite the evidence in the case, or the letter of the law as written or applied, if it agreed in total that the law itself or the circumstances of its application are not compelling grounds for a guilty verdict.

The application of the law could be too narrow or to broad.  The punishment might seem excessive given the details of the charges.  It might be a bad law, or just unclear.  Jury Nullification sends a message to the practitioners of the legal system, and the General Court,  that something is not right.

Jury nullification does not nullify the actual law.  It nullifies its application in the context of the trial at hand.  It allows the jury of your peers to think outside whatever box the judge or the prosecution has constructed for them by allowing them to ask if the law itself has been properly applied to the case and the accused. (That’s the simple explanation, as far as I can tell)

It might also save the taxpayers millions of dollars.  Guilty verdicts on shaky legal applications or laws which are poorly written result in appeals, new trials, more appeals, and years of court dates paid for by taxpayers.  Would it not make more sense to inform the jury of their right to nullify?  To allow them to look at the defendant, the legal system, and the law all together?  And if, in their unanimous judgment, it is not being applied correctly, nullify the charges based upon it?

The House judiciary committee does not agree with HB 146 as written.  By a vote of 15-0 they have agreed that it is inexpedient to legislate.  So is this not right for New Hampshire?

I do not mean to suggest that I understand the finer points of law, or that I can say what the committee saw in the language that they found objectionable.  I am not entirely sure I grasp the finer points of the whole debate myself.  But I do wonder what the committee is afraid of?  The jury is the verdict.  Are they suggesting that while a jury trial is necessary to ensure real justice in our real world that the same jury must be limited in its power to interpret the circumstances and application of the law that they will use to incarcerate the accused?

It seems to me that if you can get a unanimous jury to agree on anything at all, what are the odds they will all see that the law as applied, or the circumstances as presented, are suspect to such a degree that they are questioning the law itself?  And if they can, where is the justice in refusing them the authority to act on that reasonable doubt–not of the evidence, but of how the law itself is being used?

There are going to be plenty of arguments against it–good ones I am certain.  But freedom comes with risks.  Our system of justice, whatever its flaws, is meant to ensure that the innocent go free even if it means a few of the guilty must as well.  It is the only way to protect the innocent from the will and force of the guns of government.

Cross Posted

About Steve Mac Donald

Husband, Dad, Dog Lover, Blogger, (sometimes) Radio Co-Host, Free Speech Facilitator, Climate Denier, Gun Owner, info-junkie, ...
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