Thursday, March 27, 2014
A couple of years ago, New Hampshire became, as far as I know, the first state that allows jurors to be informed of the right of jury nullification: the power of jurors to render a verdict inconsistent with the evidence (e.g., finding a defendant "not guilty" of possessing a small amount of marijuana despite the evidence proving his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt). Now, it looks like Alaska might follow suit.
According to an article from the Anchorage Daily News,
A House bill promoting the notion that jurors can ignore Alaska's criminal code and let a lawbreaking defendant off the hook had a brief hearing Wednesday in the House Judiciary Committee, then was held for later.
The bill, fostering "jury nullification," has been a bipartisan favorite of some Fairbanks-area House members, with identical versions introduced in 2002 and 2009.
Here is the text of the bill:
A BILL FOR AN ACT ENTITLED
“An Act relating to juries in criminal cases; and providing for an effective date.”
BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF ALASKA:
* Section 1. AS 12.45 is amended by adding a new section to read:
Sec. 12.45.017. Role of jury.
(a) Except as otherwise provided by law, the jury is the exclusive judge of the facts. The jury is bound to receive the law from the court and be governed thereby, except if a jury determines that a defendant is guilty according to the law and that the law is unjustly applied to the defendant, the jury may determine not to apply the law to the defendant and find the defendant not guilty or guilty of a lesser included offense.
(b) A defendant has the right to inform the jury of the jury’s power to judge the just application of the law and to vote on the verdict according to conscience. Failure to allow the defendant to inform the jury of the jury’s power is grounds for a mistrial.
(c) Notwithstanding any other law, the court shall allow the defendant to present to the jury, for its consideration, evidence and testimony relevant to the exercise of the jury’s power under this section.
(d) The state may rebut any evidence introduced under this section with evidence of a similar nature.
(e) This section applies only to an action tried to a jury under applicable criminal law. This section does not create a right to a jury.
(f) A potential juror may not be excused or disqualified from serving on a jury because the juror expresses a willingness to exercise a power granted to the jury under this section.
* Sec. 2. The uncodified law of the State of Alaska is amended by adding a new section to
APPLICABILITY. This Act applies to juries impaneled on or after the effective date
of this Act.
* Sec. 3. This Act takes effect immediately under AS 01.10.070(c).