New Hampshire: House committee approves 9-8 plan to require judges give specific jury nullification instructions; related bill allowing for juries to “veto bad laws” rejected 16-0

Efforts by New Hampshire legislators to require judges give jury nullification instructions passed out of the House Judiciary Committee this week. This is just the latest in a 20+ year effort to require such instructions (detailed here).

Current law adopted in 2012 (HB 146) provides

In all court proceedings the court shall instruct the jury of its inherent right to judge the law as well as the facts and to nullify any and all actions they find to be unjust. The court is mandated to permit the defendant or counsel for the defendant to explain this right of jury nullification to the jury.

Many legislators became angry when the state’s supreme court ruled in 2014 this law did not require a specific jury nullification instruction by judges (State v. Paul (167 N.H. 39))

HB 1270 as amended (amendment here) and approved on a 9-8 vote by the House Judiciary Committee would replace the 2012 law with the following

In all criminal proceedings the court shall inform the jury of its right to judge the facts and the application of the law in relation to the facts in controversy.  At the request of the defendant or the defendant’s attorney, the court shall instruct the jury as follows:  If you have a reasonable doubt as to whether the state has proved any one or more of the elements of the crime charged, you must find the defendant not guilty.  However if you find that the state has proved all the elements of the offense charged beyond a reasonable doubt, you should find the defendant guilty.  Even if you find that the state has proved all of the elements of the offense charged beyond a reasonable doubt, you may still find that based upon the facts of this case a guilty verdict will yield an unjust result, and you may find the defendant not guilty.

A related jury nullification bill (HB 1333) was rejected 16-0 in committee. That bill provided an instruction that jurors could “veto bad laws” and “a jury has more authority than Congress, the President, or even the Supreme Court.

HB 1270 now goes to the full House for a March 9 vote.