Understanding Jury Nullification
This article comes from nhmagazine.com
Juries can deliver a message to the court about unpopular laws
A New Orleans mayor famously warned federal officials after they closed down several well-established houses of prostitution that “you can make it illegal, but you can’t make it unpopular.” Well, in New Hampshire and around the country, that forecast may well be applied to marijuana.
The times are changing. Polls consistently show a growing majority of people support marijuana legalization. The New Hampshire House of Representatives recently made history by becoming the first legislative body in the country to endorse legalizing possession of small amounts of cannabis. Colorado and Washington did the same thing by voter referendum. But don’t light up that joint quite yet. The bill faces another House vote, a tough fight in the Senate and a veto by Gov. Maggie Hassan.
This leaves New Hampshire in a bit of legal quandary. Is growing popular support running headlong into the region’s toughest marijuana prohibition laws? It begs the basic question: Are widely unpopular laws enforceable?
The question is both theoretical and practical. Will growing grassroots support for changing cannabis laws have more influence over politicians or the judiciary? Will a new state law that permits explicit instruction to juries that they have the right to thumb their noses at the evidence if the law itself is unjust render the state’s marijuana possession laws meaningless? And, are these laws going to be heaped on the dump pile of unenforceable, antiquated laws that ban things like adultery?
But laws themselves may not be that relevant because by and large lawyers and prosecutors admit that the state’s maximum marijuana sentencing laws are routinely ignored. It is in part because New Hampshire has such harsh laws — possession of any amount of pot is a Class A misdemeanor punishable by as much as one year in jail and $2,000 fine, and possession of less than one ounce with the intent to sell is a felony and carries a maximum sentence of three years and $25,000 fine. Neighboring New England states have decriminalized possession of small amounts of cannabis.