2

This may sound kind of crazy, but I think in many cases things go against defendants because the jury simply does not know what the law is. A judge's instruction is not the same as a juror actually READING the law.

So, this brings up an interesting question: can a defense attorney make a poster that has the text of the law in question (in other words the law under which the defendant is charged) and set up that poster on an easel in the courtroom for the jury to read, or to use it as an exhibit as the attorney makes his case?

Pursuant to this question, in New Hampshire law, the following statute is current:

519:23-a Right of Accused. – In all criminal proceedings the court shall permit the defense to inform the jury of its right to judge the facts and the application of the law in relation to the facts in controversy.

This statute could be interpreted as allowing the defense to inform the jury of the text of the law.

2

The jury does not get to decide what the law is

The jury is the trier of fact and they get told what the law is by the trier of law: the judge.

The New Jersey law quoted says as much - the defence can tell the jury they can “judge the facts and the application of the law in relation to the facts” - they don’t get to decide what the law is.

Counsel can and do make submissions on points of law to the judge but they don’t tell them what the law is because:

  1. the judge decides what the law is - not the parties. That’s their primary job.
  2. they can assume the judge has read the relevant law
  3. they have set out their interpretation of the law including all the case citations in submissions well before any hearing involving a jury
  4. The judge will have ruled on points of law where the parties differ. A party that disagrees with the ruling can ask to make further submissions and/or appeal later.
  5. Points of law are properly raised without the jury: at the bench, in chambers or in written submissions.
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  • Please see my revised question with the New Hampshire statute cited.
    – Cicero
    Oct 22 '20 at 21:09
  • One might argue that jury nullification is one way in which a jury can decide what the law is. Though it's not so much "a thing the jury is permitted to do" so much as it is "a loophole the jury (mostly) can't be stopped from exploiting". And it doesn't necessarily extend to any trials or other legal proceedings other than the one at hand. Oct 23 '20 at 9:51
  • Note that in some United States jurisdictions, the jury does, in fact, get to decide what the law is.
    – bdb484
    Oct 23 '20 at 16:26
  • @bdb484 Care to explain? Oct 24 '20 at 13:47
  • @zibadawatimmy See, e.g., Beavers v. State, 236 Ind. 549 (1957).
    – bdb484
    Oct 24 '20 at 16:26
-1

In the US, there is no issue in trial courts about anybody "deciding" what the law is: not lawyers, judges, or jurors. It is already decided what the law is. Jurors decide whether the evidence and the judge's statement of the law logically lead to a verdict of guilty, or not guilty. The judge will (in most states) read instructions approved by a judicial committee, the contents of which are based on case law – we could say that that committee "decides" what the law is. The judge must make decisions (based on case law) as to which instructions to read, and "errors" in choice of instruction are a basis for appeal.

The problem with a poster containing "the text of the law" is that the law, in the US, is more than just statutory text, there is also a huge surrounding corpus of legal precedent which tells the legal profession how to interpret the underlying statute. The courts are supposed to educate jurors as to what the law is in a specific, uniform fashion, not just reading the statutory text (which is often impenetrable), but what it is deemed – by the courts – to mean. When a law refers to a "reasonable" belief, jurors will probably not get much help as to what "reasonable" means. In the context of the "reasonable doubt" instruction, in Washington, that is said to mean

A reasonable doubt is one for which a reason exists and may arise from the evidence or lack of evidence. It is such a doubt as would exist in the mind of a reasonable person after fully, fairly, and carefully considering all of the evidence or lack of evidence

This is logically consistent with thinking "I don't like the DA": and it doesn't apply to defenses based on reasonable beliefs, where the individual juror has to judge what constitutes a reasonable belief. A printout of the pertinent section of the state or federal code won't help the juror to grasp what the law is.

An attempt to display a poster stating the law would be instantly squelched.

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  • 1
    "In the US, there is no issue in trial courts about anybody 'deciding' what the law is: not lawyers, judges, or jurors." This is a truly bizarre statement. What do you think the courts are doing all day?
    – bdb484
    Oct 22 '20 at 21:42
  • In what jurisdiction does the trial judge get to decide the meaning of a statute? That issue has already been decided. The judge can decide whether evidence is admissible.
    – user6726
    Oct 23 '20 at 0:16
  • And how, exactly, did the meaning of the statute come to be decided?
    – bdb484
    Oct 23 '20 at 2:50
  • In appeals courts, not trial courts.
    – user6726
    Oct 23 '20 at 14:56
  • And which court's decisions are being appealed in a court of appeals?
    – bdb484
    Oct 23 '20 at 16:19

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