Jury nullification generally refers to a jury’s decision to acquit a defendant even though the jurors believe the accused to be factually guilty of the crime. Reasons include sympathy with the accused or distaste for the particular law being enforced.
Earlier this month, a Belknap County Superior Court Jury unanimously acquitted Doug Darrell, a 59-year-old Rastafarian charged with marijuana cultivation, after his lawyer, Mark Sisti, argued that a conviction would be unjust in light of the fact that Darrell was growing cannabis for his own religious and medicinal use.
It’s a legal concept known as jury nullification, a power that experts say has resided in the U.S. Constitution since the nation began but is rarely applied in modern courtrooms.
And it’s the basis for a new state law that permits the defense in all criminal cases “to inform the jury of its right to judge the facts and the application of the law in relation to the facts in controversy.”
Chuck Temple is a professor at the University of New Hampshire School of Law, where he is director of the criminal practice clinic. In his 27 years of practice, he said, he has always asked judges to instruct juries about nullification — but has never had a judge do so.
Temple said the new law, which takes effect Jan. 1, “changes the landscape of how criminal cases will be argued.”
Before, he said, “in the vast majority of criminal cases, there would be no arguments regarding jury nullification. … Now, it’s going to be an everyday occurrence in criminal jury trials.”
Are you a suspect in a criminal investigation? The time to obtain the advice of an attorney is before you are arrested. The Lawyer Referral Service of the New Hampshire Bar Association can refer you to competent and experienced criminal law attorneys who have achieved specific education and experience standards with felony cases. Call 603-229-0002 or request a referral online.