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News Link • Justice and Judges

New Hampshire Adopts Jury Nullification Law

• www.reason.com
Jury nullification, in which jurors refuse to convict defendants under laws they find objectionable or inappropriately applied, is a favored tactic of many libertarians who, rightly or wrongly perceive individual liberty as, at best, a minority taste among their neighbors. They like the idea of a tool that can be wielded on the spot to shield people from powerful control freaks without first having to win a popularity contest. But nullification is useful only if people know about. And last week, New Hampshire's governor signed a law requiring the state's judges to permit defense attorneys to inform jurors of their right to nullify the law.

On June 18, 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.

Short, simple and to the point. Nullification advocate Tim Lynch, of the Cato Institute, thinks it's a step in the right direction, though not necessarily a game-changer. Says he:

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 Hampshire–so, again, this is good.  I am concerned, however,  that this language does not go far enough.   We don’t know how much pressure trial judges will exert on defense counsel.  As noted above, if the attorney’s 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.  I’m 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.

 

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