The concept of Jury Nullification was brought into the spotlight by Colorado activist, Laura Kriho in the 1990’s. Kriho was charged with Contempt of Court after voting with her conscience while on jury duty. She refused to send a teenager to jail for a non-violent drug charge. Kriho defended herself in a years-long battle in the Colorado courts before finally clearing her name. This 1999 article is from High Times.
DENVER, CO–The Colorado prosecutors who have helped hemp activist Laura
Kriho make ‘jury nullification’ a household word across America have not
tired in their crusade.
Although the state Court of Appeals last April cleared Kriho of criminal charges
for voicing her political opinions in a jury room in 1996, the state government
itself is now filing for a re-hearing of the case.
Why Jury Nullification?
Kriho’s qualms about consigning a teenager to a long stretch in prison for
personal-quantity drug possession, and her attempt to articulate them to the other
jurors on the case, did indeed constitute “contempt of court,”
the state itself is now charging.
They’re insisting that the Appeals justices reverse their reasoning and find Kriho
guilty after all — thus keeping the concept of jury nullification foursquare before
the public’s attention, at no greater cost than a small Rocky Mountain of taxpayer
dollars (so far), and about $25,000 that Kriho has had to put up to defend
Heresy In The Court!
Ironically, Laura Kriho tried to get out of jury duty on that fateful 1996
day, telling a secretary she would have to hitchhike down to the Gilpin
County courthouse from her mountain home, but she was told she had to be
there. She later found out that she might’ve been charged $500 with a
remote chance of serving jail time if she hadn’t shown up. Instead, Kriho
wound up fined $1,200 for the contempt-of-court charge, and being dragged
back to court again and again and again, for three years and counting.
As an alternate-juror candidate, Kriho wasn’t even in the jury box during
the pretrial voir dire selection questioning by defense and prosecution
lawyers, which took several hours and consisted of over 300 questions. When
she was finally called, after other potential jurors had been rejected,
Kriho says the questioner asked simply, “You heard the questions. Is there
anything you’d answer differently?”
Kriho volunteered whatever information she thought would be relevant–that she
had once sued a developer, for instance. She was not asked about her political
activities with the Colorado Hemp Initiative Project (COHIP), nor was there any
reason to do so.
The case being tried had nothing at all to do with hemp or even marijuana,
involving instead a 19-year-old girl facing a long string of very heavy
criminal charges for a very small amount of methamphetamine.
Far from ever trying to “bias” her fellow jurors toward the defendant in their
deliberations after both sides had rested, Kriho points out that they
unanimously voted for conviction on the charges of ‘criminal impersonation’
and possession of ‘drug paraphernalia.’
But Kriho was the holdout juror on the third charge — criminal possession of
a Schedule I drug. Kriho felt there was not enough evidence to convict on
that charge, and that the police hadn’t shown probable cause to search for
drugs or anything else.
And though jury deliberations are supposed to be sacrosanct, prosecutors later
produced evidence that Kriho had spoken
aloud about the concept of jury nullification, under which individual jurors
are entitled to overlook the written law and vote with their conscience.
Ballistic On The Bench
She also confessed to the other jurors that she thought it was a shame that the
courts, not families, dealt nowadays with the sort of problems facing this teenage
“These are the radical arguments that got me in trouble,” Kriho says wryly.
Indeed, when another juror sent an anonymous note to trial judge Kenneth
Barnhill, asking about jury nullification, he instantly declared a mistrial, and
county prosecutors began investigating Laura Kriho personally.
“That’s not common,” remarks Kriho’s defense attorney, Paul Grant of
“Judge Barnhill never verified if one person had these concerns or twelve. He just
blew up, lost his temper, and declared a mistrial. It’s not the way a judge should
handle something like that.”
Casting around for evidence to support contempt-of-court charges against
Kriho (or at least to vilify her), county investigators uncovered her long
association with COHIP, and even exhumed a 12-year-old LSD-possession
charge against her, which had resulted in a deferred judgment and been
officially expunged from her record — or so she’d been unreliably advised at
These matters, though they had nothing to do with methamphetamine, should
have been divulged by her in voir dire, the state is now insisting.
“Because she stood against conviction they investigated her,” attorney Grant
summarizes, “and decided there were things they would have liked to have known
about her so they could have kept her off the jury.”
Based on these disclosures about Laura Kriho’s lifelong personal attitudes
to authority, and with details from within the jury room about the
deliberations there (which the Appeals Court later ruled, quite sharply,
were patently inadmissible as evidence against her), an official criminal
charge was essentially made up special for Laura Kriho: “Contempt of Court
For Obstructing The Administration Of Justice By Preventing The Selection
Of A Fair And Impartial Jury.”
On this personally-tailored bill of attainder, as some have called it,
Kriho was prosecuted last year before First District Judge Henry Nieto, who
duly found her guilty and fined her $2,100. This was defrayed through
COHIP’s Jury Rights Project, which also helped underwrite her successful
challenge to Nieto’s decision before the State Court of Appeals, to the
tune of over $25,000 so far.
And although the state has already spent around ten times that much in fruitlessly
prosecuting her, they’re clearly prepared to write another blank check on the
taxpayer’s tab to get some sort of conviction on her eventually.
Why The Fuss?
“What Laura Kriho was punished for,” diagnoses attorney Grant, “was
essentially interfering with a conviction. Although they came up with some
creative arguments to get around that, the truth still is Laura Kriho was
prosecuted and convicted because she disrupted the conviction of a drug
For Kriho, this explains the government’s dog-with-a-bone persistence in
keeping after her.
“This wouldn’t have happened if this weren’t a drug case,” she says. “It definitely
shows how scared the government is that juries will refuse to convict defendants
of nonviolent drug crimes.”
As for the prosecution’s side of the matter, the District Attorney on the
case, Jim Stanley, didn’t return calls to HIGH TIMES.
Jefferson County DA spokesperson Karen Russell maintains that filing for a re-
hearing before the State Court of Appeals is a routine procedure, and that if it’s
turned down, the next stop is the State Supreme Court.
Kriho, meanwhile, is continuing her activism. In early June, she spoke in
support of the Colorado Hemp Initiative at the office of Secretary of State
Vikki Buckley- — who scuttled the last such referendum measure, after voters
had already passed on it in November 1998, with back-room political tactics
that were also ultimately found to be illegal by the state’s highest
In a part of the country where law-enforcement officials are clearly fond of taking
the law into their own hands, legally or howsoever, Laura Kriho is obviously
destined to make an example, and go on making it for a good long time to come.
Ande Wanderer — Special to HT News
FROM HIGH TIMES/FILED 06/18/99
(* Article ‘High Timesified’ by ‘High Witness News’ Editor Dean Latimer, who also slapped his name on it.
This article also appeared in Media Bypass magazine. As I recall Latimer resold it to them (I didn’t get a cut or a even a copy).
Dean Latimer remains rather mysterious. I was back in NYC for a friend’s wedding reception and was suppose to meet him at the hermetically-sealed High Times office in a mid-town high rise one late afternoon.
When I got there he didn’t answer. I could see a shadowy figure in the office but no one came to the door, after telling me thirty minutes before to meet him there. And then, even though I had worked with him on several stories — my first pitch was written on a typewriter while i was living in Nepal my second year of college — I never heard from him again.
Apparently he also totally disappeared off the face of the earth shortly thereafter despite, or perhaps due to, a decades-long career covering taboo topics with an irreverence that would certainly get him ‘cancelled’ these days.