Fully Informed Jury Association

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Function of Juries & Jury Nullification | 25 Mar 2014

-Hearing for Alaska Jury Nullification Bill on Wednesday

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LawBooksMany thanks to long-time FIJA activist and state contact Frank Turney for alerting us to HB 315, now making its way through the legislative process in Alaska. FIJA does not endorse or oppose any piece of legislation, but we do track these bills to keep everyone informed. Frank tells us that Alaska’s HB 315 will have a hearing before the Alaska House Judiciary committee Wednesday, 26 March at 1:00 pm Alaska local time. The out of state call-in number to testify is 1-800-468-2186.

The text of the bill as introduced is as follows:

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
read:
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).

Representative Tammie Wilson, sponsor of the measure, writes in her Sponsor Statement:

Before one is able to understand why jury nullification is a good idea, one must understand the importance of a trial by jury. Our Founding Fathers considered them to be a powerful weapon in the war against tyranny. Thomas Jefferson wrote, “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”. In the Federalist Papers, Alexander Hamilton wrote that trial by jury was the “very palladium of free government” and a “valuable check upon corruption”.

Given the strength of these opinions, then, it is no surprise that the denial of trials by jury was one of the foremost acts of despotism listed by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence.

As for the concept that juries have not only the power but the obligation to nullify unjust rulings of a judge, John Adams wrote, “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”.

Our Founding Fathers zealously defended this right and recognized that only an informed and empowered jury could effectively protect a defendant from the potentially harmful effects of autocratic judges. Jury nullification allows citizens to have the final say on what is fair in a court of law.

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