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Failure To Appear in Court (Bail Jump) and Jury Nullification

State of Washington v. Ryan Patrick Moore No. 69766-81

Ryan Moore was accused of possession of a stolen vehicle. After arraignment, the defendant failed to appear for court as ordered. The defendant was at his attorney's office during the missed court date. The court provides no explanation for what the defendant was doing at the attorney's office during the missed court date. Ultimately, the State dismissed the possession of a stolen vehicle charge, but went to trial on the bail jump charge. For a further discussion of bail jump see our article: Frequently Asked Questions About Bail Jump

At trial, the defendant was not allowed to testify that the underlying charge had been dismissed. Mr. Moore was found guilty at trial. With offender score of 9, Mr. Moore's sentencing range was 51-68 months. Mr. Moore was sentenced to 51 months. It appears that the trial court, and the Court of Appeals, were concerned about jury nullification. Jury nullification occurs in a trial when a jury acquits a defendant they believe to be guilty of the charges against them. This may occur when members of the jury disagree with the law the defendant has been charged with breaking, or believe that the law should not be applied in that particular case.

At Ryan Moore's trial, the to convict instruction informed the jury that:

If you find from the evidence that each of these elements has been proved beyond a reasonable doubt, then it will be your duty to return a verdict of guilty.

On the other hand, if, after weighing all of the evidence, you have a reasonable doubt as to any one of these elements, then it will be your duty to return a verdict of not guilty.

Moore argued that the instruction violated his constitutional right to a jury trial. The court was clear that this was a settled matter. Each division of this court has addressed similar challenges to the same instruction Moore contests here. And, in each case, the court upheld the instruction. See State v. Meqqyesy, 90 Wn. App. 693, 706, 958 P.2d 319 (1998)3 (Division One); State v. Brown. 130 Wn. App. 767, 771, 124 P.3d 663 (2005) (Division Two); State v. Wilson, 176 Wn. App. 147, 151, 307 P.3d 823 (2013) (Division Three), review denied Wn.2d , 316 P.3d 495 (2014).

By statute, every juror must swear or affirm to uphold and follow the law:

When the jury has been selected, an oath or affirmation shall be administered to the jurors [that they] will well, and truly try, the matter in issue between the plaintiff and defendant, and a true verdict give, according to the law and evidence as given them on the trial. RCW 4.44.260.

The jury has the ability to acquit against the evidence. But, it does not have the right to do so. See Meggyesy, 90 Wn. App. at 700. The court is not obligated to instruct the jury about that ability, Id. And, the court's lack of remedy against nullification is not because the jury lacks a duty to uphold the law. See Hartigan, 1 Wash. Terr, at 451. The court does not inquire into the jury's verdict out of respect for our judicial system. See State v. Balisok, 123 Wn.2d 114, 117-18, 866 P.2d 631 (1994) (noting that the policy behind not inquiring is to promote stable and certain verdicts and allow the jury to freely discuss the evidence). This deference does not relieve the jury of its duty to obey the law as given to it and apply that law to the facts before it.

 

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