For those of you who don’t know much about jury nullification, basically it’s when the jury finds a defendant innocent because of their dislike of the law. For example, a jury might refuse to convict a non-violent drug offender because they disagree with the fundamental premise of drug laws themselves.
Throughout the United States, judges have forbidden defense attorneys from informing juries that they have a right to nullify the law based on their dislike of the law. In California for example, jurors are required to inform on other jurors if one of them argues that the law is bad. The judge will then replace that juror with an alternate. A defense attorney who argues on grounds of nullification could face disbarment or other sanctions by the court, even though nullification is a right all U.S. jurors poses under common law.
On June 18, New Hampshire Governor John Lynch signed HB 146, which reads:
“[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.”
I have the feeling this New Hampshire law will end up having a tremendous effect on the American judicial system as a whole. If enough people start nullifying drug laws in New Hampshire, eventually New Hampshire prosecutors will be forced to stop prosecuting drug offenses in that state entirely. In 2010, a Montana case never even made it to trial because prosecutors could not find enough people who would be willing to convict a person based on drug charges.
It is a little-known fact that the vast majority of cases in America never make it to a jury trial. The Florida Bar released a report showing that less than 1% of civil and criminal cases go before a jury. This is because legislatures have imposed incredibly stiff penalties for all sorts of victimless crimes, which makes gambling with a jury trial inherently dangerous for those who are accused of violating a victimless law. Often prosecutors will initially charge a person with numerous felony offenses, then offer a plea deal for far less time if the person agrees to plead guilty; thereby avoiding a jury trial. Presently, people who are charged with growing 50 or more marijuana plants under federal law face 20 years in prison. Often prosecutors will drop that to 5 years under a lesser charge if a person agrees to plead guilty.
If jury nullification were to become widespread, more and more people would again seek jury trials hoping for an acquittal. Since the number of people being charged with victimless crimes has increased exponentially, the U.S. court system itself would crumble under the weight of pending jury trials. Prosecutors would have no choice but to stop prosecuting victimless laws or face an implosion of the legal system.
Here is a document on nullification created by a lawyer that explains your rights as a juror. Every American citizen should take the time to read this document.
In the video below, historian Tom Woods explains the impact of nullification by state legislatures and juries throughout America’s history. Jury nullification was used to combat fugitive slave laws, as well as to fight against laws that violated free speech and free trade.