HB 332: Informing Jurors to Ensure Justice

This Bill failed the House 29-45.

Libertas Institute supports this bill.

Jurors have rights of which they are not made aware—and this is detrimental to the cause of justice. Specifically, jurors can determine a person not guilty of a crime they may ahve actually committed, if the particular circumstances of the case create a manifest injustice.

We laid out this situation in detail, providing the history and importance of juries, in a recent public policy brief.

Representative Marc Roberts has sponsored House Bill 332 in order to codify these juror rights, enabling attorneys or judges to ensure that jurors understand their importance and power, all in an effort to ensure justice is served.

The bill would establish that a defendant in a criminal case as the right to a jury that is informed of:

  1. the potential sentence and direct legal consequences of a guilty verdict; and
  2. the jury’s power to find a defendant not guilty when a guilty verdict would be manifestly unjust.

Utah has an indeterminate sentencing system, meaning that rather than imposing a specific sentence, judges impose a range—for example, five to life. The Board of Pardons and Parole gets to make the final determination, holding a person’s life—and justice—in their unelected hands. If jurors knew that sentencing a person would lead to a much longer sentence than they otherwise consider just, they might render a different verdict. But right now, jurors are not made aware of the consequences of their decision. This bill would change that.

It’s also important to realize that legislators cannot anticipate every consequence of their action. Often times they are presented a situation that leads to a law being passed, but that law unintentionally applies to a different situation the legislatore had not anticipated. This bill would therefore create a general escape valve of sorts, such that the application of any law which would be unjust in a particular circumstance could be dealt with under this provision, ensuring justice and allowing the defendant to escape the unintended legal consequence.