Fully Informed Jury Association

Are you fully informed about jury nullification?

Function of Juries & Jury Nullification | 19 Apr 2014

-Tallahassee Paper Supports Unanimous Jury Verdicts for Death Sentences


Jury BoxWhile Florida requires a unanimous vote of jurors to convict a defendant of a death-eligible, capital offense, (a) the jurors’ role in determining whether the defendant is put to death or sentenced to life without parole is only ADVISORY and can be overruled by a single judge, and (b) that recommendation is made based on a simple majority vote. This is the laxest standard in the United States for putting a person to death. It is not surprising then that Florida leads the nation in death sentences and reversal of death sentences, and ranks second in actual executions.

One might wonder how just it is to put a person to death when the state can’t get just 12 individuals out of MILLIONS to agree it should be done, especially when those 12 are pre-screened to weed out everyone who opposes the death penalty, thereby forming a jury made up only of those predisposed to be willing to impose a death sentence. This opinion piece from the Tallahassee Democrat argues for a unanimous standard for a jury to recommend death, make the process for reaching such a serious decision more robust and consistent with that to convict in the first place.

Our Opinion: Death penalty

Though the judge in a case can override the jury’s recommendation, that is rare. So, what the jury decides matters, and it is inconsistent that a decision on guilt should require unanimity — while the decision to take the life of the accused needs only a simple majority.

Here’s food for thought: Since 2006, the state Supreme Court has not overturned any sentence in which the jury recommended death by a 12-0 vote.

Surely, with a requirement of unanimity, jurors would have an extra incentive to engage in a thorough discussion before making a recommendation. That extra time would ensure extra fairness.

Click through for the entire article.


FIJActivist & Function of Juries & Jury Nullification | 16 Apr 2014

-FIJA Educates Future Jurors at Florida Liberty Summit


FIJA outreach table at the 2014 Florida Liberty Summit

FIJA outreach table at the 2014 Florida Liberty Summit

Florida State Contact Bill Hickman represented FIJA at the Florida Liberty Summit held in Orlando, Florida from 4-6 April 2014. Hosted by the Florida Campaign for Liberty, this year’s event featured as keynote speaker Dr. Ron Paul, who has been an outspoken jury nullification educator.

FIJA State Contact Bill Hickman greets Libertarian candidate for Florida governor Adrian Wylie at the FIJA outreach table

FIJA State Contact Bill Hickman greets Libertarian candidate for Florida governor Adrian Wyllie at the FIJA outreach table

Hickman estimates that about 200 potential jurors picked up information from the FIJA table. Among those who stopped by were a couple who had been friends of FIJA co-founder Larry Dodge. “It was worthwhile, with many visits to the FIJA table,” he reports.

Thank you so much, Bill, for your time and hard work!


Jury Nullification | 15 Apr 2014

-New FIJA Facebook Page


facebookThere has long been a Facebook page set up in our name, to which we have been pointing people. The problem is that it hasn’t been very useful. We assume it was started by an enthusiastic supporter several years ago, but we haven’t been able to contact them to get admin access to the page. The page admin doesn’t seem ever to have posted, we haven’t gotten a response to multiple messages to the page, and we have no idea who started it. Neither will Facebook either tell us who that is so we can contact them or let us claim it as our own page, even though it purports to represent us.

Since we have been unable in any of several attempts of various kinds to get admin access to that page, we have started a new Facebook page to share information, coordinate outreach efforts, and so on. If at some point we are able to get admin access to the other page, the plan is to merge them into one page. Meanwhile, we’ll occasionally post over there to alert its fans that things are going on at the new page and encourage them to join us.

Theoretically, we’ve set up the new page so that Facebook fans can post as well as share FIJA-related photos and videos on it, but if there is any problem doing that, let us know and we’ll see about fixing it. Please keep posts, photos, and videos related to juries or FIJA. While many people may share your other interests outside of these topics, others may be not wish to have to sift through things unrelated to the subject of the page that do not interest them. Thank you!

The official FIJA Facebook page is located at: http://www.facebook.com/FIJANational

The link attached to the Facebook icon on the home page has been updated to reflect this, so you will always be able to reach the right page from our home page.


Function of Juries & Jury Nullification | 15 Apr 2014

-Alaska Jury Nullification Bill Won’t Move this Session


LawBooksAlaska’s jury nullification bill had a hearing before the House Judiciary committee yesterday. According to the Fairbanks Daily Miner, it will not be voted on this session. The article mislabels the bill as HB 316. The jury nullification bill is HB 315.
Jury nullification bill won’t move this session

Advocates of jury nullification did their best to improve a bill expanding a jury’s ability to nullify laws, but the bill won’t be making it to a vote this session.
House Bill 316, a bill by North Pole Republican Rep. Tammie Wilson, would expand and protect a jury’s right to judge the merits of a law, not just the facts before them, in a criminal case.

The bill would allow defendants to argue their case based merits of the law, encouraging jurors to find them not guilty even in cases where evidence shows otherwise. It also would bar judges from dismissing jurors who support nullification.

Jury nullification advocates called in on Monday with support for the law, but requested several amendments that would beef up the law even more. Speakers like Pamela Goode said jury nullification is a safeguard against unfair laws.

“It is necessary for the restoration of justice,” she said. “We currently have bureaucratic code that oversteps statutes, statutes that overstep the constitution and we have men and women in black and white robes — we will refer to as “judges” — who have forgotten their proper lawful authority.”

She said several changes to the bill would ensure that jury nullification is clearly protected.

FIJA National does not endorse or oppose any piece of legislation, but we do track these bills to keep everyone informed.


Function of Juries & Jury Nullification | 14 Apr 2014

-Jury Nullification Outreach in Bellingham, Washington


Juror education activists have been out several times already this year in Bellingham, Washington and elsewhere around the state to teach everyone about the power jurors have that prosecutors and judges don’t want them to know about. This video features several folks who have been doing juror education in front of the Whatcom County Courthouse in Bellingham, Washington. Poppy is charged in Washington state with victimless medical marijuana-related offenses. She, Sr Fumo, and Harmon discuss jury nullification and its potential applications, including regarding marijuana law, as well as juror education outreach efforts in Bellingham.


Function of Juries & Jurors Doing Justice | 14 Apr 2014

-Jury Acquits Former Firefighter of Weapons-Related Charges


Jury BoxFormer South Jersey firefighter Sam McGraw faced a 5-year prison sentence for victimless offenses related to defensively carrying a shotgun as he went outside to investigate suspicious activity that led him to fear for his family’s safety. Rather than burglars, the intruders turned out to be police

Former Firefighter Acquitted After Mistaking Police for Burglars

I thought people were breaking into my house,” McGraw said. “So I got a gun thinking it would keep everyone safe.”

Fearing for his parent’s safety, McGraw says he grabbed his Benelli 12-gauge shotgun, which he legally owns, and stepped outside to confront who he initially believed were intruders.

It turns out they weren’t burglars however. Instead, they were Pennsville Police officers.

The officers were searching the area with a flashlight for a suspect who ran from a fight at a local bar. McGraw was arrested and charged with possession of a firearm with an unlawful purpose and aggravated assault by pointing a firearm.

McGraw was charged with possession of a firearm with an unlawful purpose and aggravated assault by pointing a firearm. He denied pointing the weapon at anyone. He owned the firearm legally, he never discharged it, and nobody was harmed.

Despite being acquitted of all charges, McGraw says that he had to put his life on hold to deal with the trial and his reputation in the community has been negatively impacted.

Pennsville man cleared of charges after ‘racking’ shotgun to scare away intruders

After a year of waiting and a five-day jury trial in Superior Court in which he was found not guilty of both charges on March 11, McGraw said he is still having trouble getting his life back to normal.

“My employer at the auto parts store where I work has been supportive,” he said. “But a lot of other people think that just being charged means you must have done something wrong.”

Even if they can’t get a conviction, prosecutors have the easily-abused power to punish defendants through charging them with offenses that can eat up a huge chunk of their life as they pay to defend themselves not only with their hard-earned dollars that will not be reimbursed, but with their time, their energy, their reputations, and otherwise. Jurors should recognize that when defendants appear before them, they are already being punished by the legal system even though they haven’t yet had a chance to plead their cases.


Function of Juries & Jury Nullification | 13 Apr 2014

-New Jersey 4/20 Smoke Out Highlights Jury Nullification


We received the below press release from Ed “NJWeedman” Forchion regarding an upcoming event on April 20 at the New Jersey Statehouse in Trenton, NJ. Jawara McIntosh, aka Tosh1, will join Ed at the NJ420 Rally calling attention to various issues surrounding marijuana law and enforcement in New Jersey, including jurors’ right to exercise jury nullification in such cases. Read on below for details. Click here for the Facebook event page.

New Jersey Smoke Out and Jury Nullification

4/20 Smoke out at the New Jersey Statehouse

Trenton, NJ—April 7, 2014 Jawara McIntosh, who performs as Tosh1, will appear with Ed Forchion, the New Jersey Weedman on April 20th, at the NJ420 Rally. Rally begins at noon, in front of the New Jersey Statehouse in Trenton, and will call attention to Governor Chris Christie’s obstruction of the spirit of the New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act, signed into law by outgoing Governor Corzine on January 18th, 2010.

Tosh is the youngest son of legendary Reggae icon, Peter Tosh, who’s remembered for his fiery social activism, immortalized in his songs Legalize It; Get Up, Stand Up; and Equal Rights. Following an arrest after being pulled over on Highway 17 in Mahwah, New Jersey on June 14, 2013, McIntosh was charged with possession of more than 25 pounds of marijuana, an offense that could land him in prison for 10-20 years. According to Tosh, the reason for the stop was DWD — Driving While Dread.

A long history of racial profiling in New Jersey is now beginning to look endemic, leaving the State looking unable to root out racism in its police. The question now is, when will people of color regain their constitutional freedom of movement in New Jersey?

Tosh will appear at Bergen County Court following the rally, April 21st to defend his case and battle for freedom and the fulfillment of his father’s Legalize It campaign. The case comes at a watershed moment for the movement, as a further 13 states prepare to follow Colorado and Washington and legalize cannabis in 2014.

Supporters claim that the Tosh case underlines the hypocrisy of a legal situation where life-saving medicinal benefits of the Herb are recognized by the state, yet severe criminal penalties remain for those outside its medical program, explaining, “Weedman and Tosh continue the campaign of herb freedom fighters like Peter Tosh, as do all who help The Healing of the Nation. These are true Patriots.”

NJWeedman won a crucial victory in 2013 when he was acquitted over a pound of pot, successfully following a jury nullification strategy. Citing scientifically proven medical benefits, and invoking his First Amendment Rights for religious freedom, Weedman was found ‘not guilty’ as a result of his informing the jurors of their obligation to judge the suitability of the law, as well as the guilt or innocence of the accused. Utilizing the jury nullification defense, the long-time cannabis campaigner successfully demonstrated that juries, when informed of their right to make that choice, will not convict those accused unjustly of what they perceive as a politically motivated, victimless crime.

Jury Nullification, the people’s “top-secret constitutional right,” will be highlighted at NJ420. The rally promises to educate and empower those affected by criminalization of their medicine, or, as in the case of Rastafari and other religious groups, their sacrament.

The rally begins at noon at the Veterans Park in front of the Statehouse. Marchers will gather at Trenton Amtrak Train Station at 2:00 for the 1.8 mile trek to the park.
Follow the Tosh Case at www.cpunite.org.

4/20 Smoke Out


Function of Juries & Jury Nullification | 13 Apr 2014

-Jury Nullification Can Veto Prison Profiteering


Fence_of_Prison-BPOAn article in the Republic Report comments on the curious nature of lobbying being done by for-profit prison interests that profit from captive labor forced to work FAR below market wages.

Are Prison Labor Companies Lobbying to Keep Prisoners in Jail for Nonviolent Offenses?

In recent months, a broad, cross-ideological coalition has pressed forward to reform mandatory minimum prison sentencing. In some cases mandatory minimum sentencing can lead to a lifetime in jail for nonviolent offenders. But a strange group has appeared on lobby disclosure forms reviewed by Republic Report. Prison labor companies are attempting to influence the bill, and they refuse to reveal what they’re doing and why.

The group is called the Correctional Vendors Association, an organization that represents companies that use prison labor to produce everything from furniture to clothing goods. CVA has spent $240,000 on lobbying over the past year, and forms show the organization is interested in shaping the outcome of the Justice Safety Valve Act, or S.619, a bill proposed Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Rand Paul (R-KY) to allow judges to impose a sentence below the mandatory minimum in many cases, including drug-related sentences.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union’s report “Banking on Bondage: Private Prisons and Mass Incarceration”:

Leading private prison companies essentially admit that their business model depends on high rates of incarceration. For example, in a 2010 Annual Report filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the largest private prison company, stated: “The demand for our facilities and services could be adversely affected by… leniency in conviction or parole standards and sentencing practices… .”

This Justice Policy Insitute report “Gaming the System: How the Political Strategies of Private Prison Companies Promote Ineffective Incarceration Policies” argues that:

While private prison companies may try to present themselves as just meeting existing “demand” for prison beds and responding to current “market” conditions, in fact they have worked hard over the past decade to create markets for their product. As revenues of private prison companies have grown over the past decade, the companies have had more resources with which to build political power, and they have used this power to promote policies that lead to higher rates of incarceration.

So it seems reasonable then to inquire, why is the Correctional Vendors Association is lobbying on this bill? Is it trying to leverage influence on government into more corporate profits at the expense of those whose lives are irreparably damaged due to unjust and excessive imprisonment and the taxpayers whose dollars are funneled into their pockets? No answer seems to be forthcoming.

You as a juror should be aware that not only can your Not Guilty vote veto bad laws, but it can also prevent this unconscionable enslavement of peaceful people for corporate profit. Jury nullification in cases where the the law is unjust or unjustly applied, or when the punishment is unjust in comparison to the offense, is one tool we have to push back against this kind of ill-gotten corporate welfare collected off the backs of harmless people.

Remember that even a single conviction on just one of many charges—even a seemingly minor one—can trigger excessively harsh penalties due to mandatory minimum sentencing schemes, three strikes laws, 10-20-life rules, sentence enhancements for acquitted conduct, and so on. And harsh penalties mean a ready supply of forced labor who are often paid less than 50 cents and hour for work that would command several dollars an hour in the free market.

Inside the courtroom, of course, we will often be misinstructed by judges that we “must” convict if the prosecution proves its case beyond a reasonable doubt. But this is simply not true. Judges cannot require jurors to deliver a Guilty verdict, and jurors cannot be punished for voting their consciences. Jury nullification is not only your right, but your duty if it is necessary to deliver a just verdict.


Function of Juries & Jury Nullification | 11 Apr 2014

-Judges Okay Juror Intent on Convicting before Hearing Evidence


Jury BoxJudge Seated Juror Who Declared Defendant Guilty Before Trial

Jose Felipe Velasco insists Orange County Judge David A. Hoffer cheated him out of a fair trial by placing a juror on the supposedly neutral citizen’s panel after she repeatedly declared the defendant guilty before hearing any evidence.

Velasco, who is serving a prison term of 123 years to life after that panelist–identified as Juror 112 in court documents–helped convict him in 2009 of committing multiple sex crimes against underage girls.

According to the court transcript, Juror 112 indicated THREE TIMES that she would vote Guilty, even without having heard any evidence, even if the government couldn’t prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt, and even if she believed the alleged victim was outright lying. It was only after being repeatedly questioned and cajoled that Juror 112 agreed she would “try” to be fair. Nonetheless, she was seated on the jury, over the objections of the defense.

Neither U.S. Magistrate Judge Alicia G. Rosenberg, nor U.S. District Court Judge J. Spencer Letts saw anything wrong with this, and Velasco’s appeal has so far been denied. This lack of concern on the part of high-ranking judges is disturbing on many levels. Three judges have now casually discarded one of the fundamental principles of our legal system, grounded in centuries of American and English jurisprudence. The presumption of innocence applies even to those accused of heinous crimes such as Velasco because even perfectly innocent people may be maliciously or mistakenly accused. And there is no reason to believe this laxity in standards for what constitutes an “impartial” jury is reserved only for those who are accused of the most serious crimes. Any one could be maliciously charged or prosecuted by someone with an axe to grind under catch-all laws such as “disturbing the peace” or “interfering with an officer” and others, and have a juror seated with a strong desire to convict based solely on accusation.

That not just one, not just two, but THREE judges have given a pass to this clear violation of due process and the right to a fair trial by jury illustrates yet again how tilted the playing field in the courtroom has become. It is tilted grossly in favor of conviction.


Function of Juries | 10 Apr 2014

-Occupy St. Louis Protester Acquitted


Jury BoxOccupy St. Louis protester acquitted of assault after alleging police brutality

An Occupy St. Louis protester, Scott O’Rourke, was acquitted Wednesday of assaulting a police officer after raising claims that it was in fact the officer who had beat him.

It is the third acquittal of an Occupy protester on assault charges. Two prior defendants — Ryan Macias, 25, and Ryan Seal, 27 — also alleged police brutality in their December 2012 trial, pointing to booking photos and hospital reports that showed their injuries.

In a system so tilted toward prosecution, with law enforcement, prosecutors, and judges (often ex-prosecutors themselves) all financially motivated to keep the legal system packed, one might take a moment to consider how would defendants such as O’Rourke fare if left to the mercy of a legal system without juries? This passage from the article suggests that they would not fare well:

Welch pointed out in trial that O’Rourke was accused of delivering punches with just his right hand, even though he is left handed. The attorney also put his client on the witness stand and said he believed the jury’s confidence in his credibility was a key to winning the case.

Welch showed the jurors hospital records and a booking photo of the broken nose that O’Rourke sustained — he says from an officer’s punching him. The officer never denied delivering the blow but insisted it had been justified. Welch had to fight in court to get the booking photo of his client from prosecutors.

In court motions, Welch said that what prosecutors finally produced was a drivers license photo, and that it was only on the eve of the trial (when the case was first set back in February) that they turned over the actual booking photo showing the injuries. Welch unsuccessfully fought to have a judge dismiss the case as a result.

This is one reason why we have juries: to stand as a bulwark against abusive law enforcement and malicious prosecution by corrupt government officials.


Jury Nullification | 10 Apr 2014

-Alaska Jury Nullification Bill HB 315 Hearing Scheduled


LawBooksWe have word from Alaska State Contact Frank Turney that a hearing is scheduled for Alaska’s jury nullification bill as follows:

HB 315
Monday, 14 April 2014
1:00 pm Alaska time
State Capitol, Room 120
Call in number: 1-800-468-2186
Those who can’t call in may e-mail the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee: Representative.Wes.Keller@akleg.gov

This bill is sponsored by Representative Tammie Wilson (R) and co-sponsored by Representative Scott Kawasaki (D). Amendments to the language of the bill may be discussed.

FIJA National does not endorse or oppose any piece of legislation, but we do track these bills to keep everyone informed.


Function of Juries & Jury Nullification | 28 Mar 2014

-Thoughts On State Con-Cons


LawBooksFIJA Board Member Margi Crook shares her thoughts on constitutional conventions, in light of a recent resolution passed by the Georgia state legislature calling for a constitutional convention under Article V of the U.S. Constitution.

Thoughts On State Con-Cons

My first thought on hearing that the Georgia legislature has passed a resolution to hold a convention of states, was that if the federal government cannot abide by its oath to uphold the Constitution, why should we believe that those same legislators will listen to resolutions passed in an Article V convention of the states. Even if they did limit themselves to one resolution rather than re-writing the Constitution.

Really! I can remember asking my US representative to vote against some bill. His response was, “I am sorry that we do not agree, but we are going to pass it anyway.” I wrote him again and told him that if he would abide by his oath to uphold the Constitution, that we would agree. They are going to do as they please, and swearing an oath means nothing to them.

In 1787, there was a Constitutional Convention, also known as the Philadelphia Convention, which was convened in Philadelphia for the purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation. The intention of many of the proponents was actually to create a new government, rather than revise the Articles of Confederation. It was a runaway convention which gave us the Constitution for the United States as we know it today. The Articles of Confederation were gone forever.

Click through to read the entire article.

She wraps up with this insightful quote, particularly relevant to our rights as jurors:

I’ll end with a quote from U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice, Warren Burger. He wrote: “…there is no effective way to limit or muzzle the actions of a Constitutional Convention. The Convention could make its own rules and set its own agenda. Congress might try to limit the convention to one amendment or to one issue, but there is no way to assure that the convention would obey. After a convention is convened, it will be too late to stop the convention if we don’t like its agenda. The meeting in 1787 ignored the limit placed by the confederation Congress ‘for the sole and express purpose.’”

Ratified just a few years after the end of the American Revolutionary War, which resulted in part from grievances over denial of the benefits of trial by jury, the current United States Constitution has numerous provisions meant to guarantee due process and the benefits of trial by jury. But in a time when our government has sees to throw these supposedly guaranteed rights under the bus in favor of more expedient and efficient paths to conviction and imprisonment of those who are accused, and in a culture that has been trained by government that our rights are what the government tells us they are, one might wonder what would be the fate of trial by jury and jurors’ right to conscientiously acquit through jury nullification if those in charge see fit to scrap the current Constitution and start fresh.

(Link via Dispatch-Resister.)


Function of Juries & Jurors Doing Justice & Jury Nullification | 26 Mar 2014

-Jury Finds Woman Not Guilty of Registering to Vote


Jury BoxA formerly incarcerated woman was acquitted last week of an offense that could have put her back in prison for up to fifteen years—registering to vote.

After serving time for a victimless drug offense, Iowa resident Kelli Jo Griffin believed, based on what had previously been the state’s policy, that her voting eligibility would automatically be restored once she completed probation. Unbeknownst to her, that policy was rescinded three years ago and replaced with a new process by which she would specifically have to apply and have her application approved to regain her eligibility.

Griffin registered to vote to show her stepdaughter how the process worked, by participating in an election in which 110 people voted in uncontested mayoral and council races. This was the offense for which the Iowa Secretary of State and Lee County Attorney would have taken this mother away from her family and imprisoned her at taxpayers’ expense for fifteen years. Her 12-member jury soundly rejected that attempt in just 40 minutes with a Not Guilty verdict.

Former Offender Acquitted in Iowa Voter Fraud Case

A former drug offender who believed her voting rights had been restored when she cast a ballot last year was acquitted of perjury Thursday, a public rebuke of Iowa’s two-year investigation into voter fraud.

The 12-member jury took less than 40 minutes to reject the prosecution’s argument that Kelli Jo Griffin intentionally lied on a voter registration form she filled out for a municipal election in the southeastern Iowa town of Montrose.

It was the first trial stemming from the state’s voter fraud investigation championed by Republican Secretary of State Matt Schultz. And it highlighted Iowa’s status as one of just four states in which ex-offenders have to apply to the governor to regain their voting rights, under a 2011 order that has created confusion.

Griffin, a 40-year-old mother of three young children and one stepdaughter, would have faced up to 15 years in prison if convicted since she was charged as a habitual offender.

Jury finds Griffin not guilty

A 12-member jury spent less than 40 minutes in deliberation Thursday morning before finding Kelli J. Griffin not guilty of perjury related to falsified voter registration information.

The State of Iowa alleged that Griffin, 40, a convicted felon who lives in Montrose, registered to vote and cast her ballot in the November 2013 Montrose city election with the knowledge that her voting rights had not been restored.

Convicting and incarcerating people for victimless crimes has an effect on social policy, albeit one that many of us may not be aware of. When someone is incarcerated, she cannot vote nor serve on a jury. Once she has completed her sentence, she is likely to remain ineligible to vote or serve on a jury, with restoration of that eligibility often depending on jumping through the right bureaucratic hoops if it is even an option at all. Even if a formerly incarcerated person does become eligible again for jury duty, she is likely to be eliminated during voir dire from potential service on a jury based on her conviction. If there is a Census while a person is imprisoned, she is likely to be counted as a resident of the location where she is incarcerated and not counted in her actual location of residence, thereby skewing political representation disproportionately in favor of communities whose livelihoods largely depend on prisons remaining full and have an economic incentive to vote accordingly.

By cumulatively disenfranchising disproportionate numbers of people who have unique experience with the legal system and incarceration, we remove their voices and experiences from the processes by which law and public policy is shaped, thereby skewing those processes further and further in favor of criminalization of victimless offenses, unconscionably harsh sentences, and vindictive stacking of charges by malicious prosecutors trying to bully their legal targets into foregoing their right to trial by jury.


Function of Juries & Jury Nullification | 25 Mar 2014

-Hearing for Alaska Jury Nullification Bill on Wednesday


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:

“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).

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.


Function of Juries & Jury Nullification | 25 Mar 2014

-Our Criminal Justice System Has Become a Crime


LawBooksIn this editorial, Glenn Harlan Reynolds argues in USA Today that there is little justice in our so-called “justice” system, with the jury trials that are so common on television and in the movies being the exception in real life and abusive overcharging in order to coerce people into plea bargains being the rule.
Our criminal justice system has become a crime

When juries decide not to convict because doing so would be unjust, it’s called “jury nullification,” and although everyone admits that it’s a power juries have, many disapprove of it. But when prosecutors decide not to bring charges, it’s called “prosecutorial discretion,” and it’s subject to far less criticism, if it’s even noticed. As for prosecutorial targeting of disfavored groups or individuals, the general attitude is “if you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime.”

The problem with that attitude is that, with today’s broad and vague criminal statutes at both the state and federal level, everyone is guilty of some sort of crime, a point that Harvey Silverglate underscores with the title of his recent book, Three Felonies A Day: How The Feds Target The Innocent, that being the number of felonies that the average American, usually unknowingly, commits.

And it’s not just prosecutors who have such “discretion”, aka nullification power. Law enforcement agents have discretion over who to arrest or not, even if they believe the law has been broken. Judges have much control over what evidence they allow juries to see or not, who may testify in court or not, what instructions the jury is given or denied, how to sentence those who are convicted, and they can overturn convictions. They can use these various elements to nullify the law when they think it should be nullified. Yet the powers that be in the legal system would have us believe that jurors are the only people involved in the process who must strictly apply the law in every case without considering whether the law is just or whether strictly enforcing it will allow them to deliver a just verdict.

Reynolds’ suggested remedies include more fully informing jurors of what’s going on in the cases they are hearing:

First, prosecutors should have “skin in the game” — if someone’s charged with 100 crimes but convicted of only one, the state should have to pay 99% of his legal fees. This would discourage overcharging. (So would judicial oversight, but we’ve seen little enough of that.) Second, plea-bargain offers should be disclosed at trial, so that judges and juries can understand just how serious the state really thinks the offense is. Empowering juries and grand juries (a standard joke is that any competent prosecutor can get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich) would also provide more supervision. And finally, I think that prosecutors should be stripped of their absolute immunity to suit — an immunity created by judicial activism, not by statute — and should be subject to civil damages for misconduct such as withholding evidence.


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