Letter Re: Jury Nullification Law in Alaska

There is a quid-pro-quo to this proposal. If juries are allowed to “interpret” the application of a law, they could also decide to escalate the severity as well as diminish. I sat on a quasi-judicial board as chairman for a time, and on rare occasions the board would decide, by majority, on the “spirit” of the law rather than the letter of the law, thus compelling the municipality to appeal the decision to administrative court, wherein the decision was consistently overturned. The point is, sometimes they decided not to enforce the law, and sometimes they decided to impose a more stringent requirement than the law allowed. Having people decide your fate in court based on gut feel seems riskier, based on my experience with it. You want a court of law to be objective in its determinations. Otherwise, there is a huge risk of overloading the appellate system.

Hugh Replies: It is my understanding that jury nuliffication is legal and has been around since the inception of the court system. What is not done is specific instructions to the jury on whether it exists and how to use it. I believe this law is making the case that jurors should be instructed as a matter of general instructions. However, I am not an attorney and would need to hear from one to fully understand the implications. Jury nullification can be a potent check on out-of-control politicians, like in the case of the New York SAFE Act.

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