New Hampshire Rep. Frank Sapareto has introduced HB1452, to require juries to be fully informed of it’s right to jury nullification.
The bill states, “The court shall give the following instruction to the jury in all criminal proceedings: ‘The concept of jury nullification is well established in this country. If the jury feels that the law under which the defendant is accused is unjust, or that exigent circumstances justified the actions of the accused, or for any reason which appeals to their logic or passion, the jury has the power to acquit, and the courts must abide by that decision.’”
Under the law, a mistrial would be declared if the jury was not informed.
Jury nullification is doctrine under which a jury is tasked to judge not only the accused and the facts of the case, but also the law itself. The principle gives the people the power and authority to directly challenge and void unjust or unconstitutional laws, and protect their fellow citizens from unwarranted prosecution.
The Compromise of 1850 and How Abolitionists Used Nullification
In 1850, Congress compromised in order to hold the Union together against the divisive issue of slavery. Since the preservation of the Union (Northern control of the South’s economy), rather than the abolition of slavery was foremost in the minds of influential Republican bankers, manufacturers and heads of corporations, this compromise made perfect sense.
Part of this compromise was the passage of more stringent fugitive slave legislation that compelled citizens of all states to assist federal marshals and their deputies with the apprehension of suspected runaway slaves. It also brought all trials involving alleged fugitive slaves under federal jurisdiction. Under the “law” northerners were subject to large fines for aiding a slave in their escape, even by simply giving them food or shelter. The act also suspended habeas corpus and the right to a trial by jury for suspected slaves, and made their testimony inadmissible in court. The written testimony of the alleged slave’s master was given preferential treatment.
As would be expected, this new legislation outraged abolitionists. It also angered many everyday citizens who were previously more apathetic. In 1851, 26 people in Syracuse, New York, were arrested, charged and tried for freeing a runaway slave named William Henry (aka Jerry) who had been arrested under the Fugitive Slave Act. Among the 26 people tried was a U.S. Senator and the former Governor of New York! In an act of jury nullification, the trial resulted in only one conviction. “Jerry” was hidden in Syracuse for several days until he could safely escape into Canada.
Jury nullification has been long apart of common law stemming from the Magna Carta and brought to America during colonial times. Earlier in U.S. history, fully informed juries were common practice. However, in 1895 Supreme Court held that a trial judge has no responsibility to inform the jury of the right to nullify laws.
Despite the ruling, sate law can still require fully informed juries.
HB1452 was referred to the Judiciary Committee.
If you are a New Hampshire resident, contact the Judiciary Committee at the start of the year. Tell them to support and hold a hearing on HB1452.
Contact the committee chair:
Contact other members of the committee: