I had a long, post-acquittal chat yesterday with Joe Grumbine of The Human Solution International regarding the dramatic and very encouraging acquittal of Kyler Carriker in Wichita, Kansas. Joe attended much of the trial in person and shared many insights as to how jury nullification played into this case.

By way of a brief summary of the case, Kyler Carriker was charged with felony murder even though he had not killed anyone or had in any way anticipated that his peaceful actions would be tied to a violent crime. What he actually did was introduce people to a pot dealer. The people were an old high school buddy who he had recently reconnected with but wasn’t well acquainted with anymore and some of his associates who Carriker didn’t know. Unbeknownst to Carriker, the purported customer and his entourage did not intend to purchase marijuana, but rather were surreptitiously planning to take it by force. And they proceeded to do so with both the murder victim, Ronald Betts, as well as Carriker being shot in the process.

Carriker, who had no prior criminal record, was charged under Kansas’ felony murder law, not because he had any part in the murder or had any knowledge that a killing was going to take place, but rather on the basis that he was involved in a felony that was inherently dangerous or likely to result in death.

But wait! you might protest, as did a commenter on the FIJA Facebook page. The defendant was aiding in a pot transaction and had no idea that violence would ensue. This is hardly an inherently dangerous offense likely to result in death. This merely a case of overcharging and the jury delivered a regular acquittal in which the charge was not proved beyond a reasonable doubt. Surprisingly to many, though, you would be wrong.

As it turns out, in 1998 Kansas added marijuana offenses to its list of inherently dangerous felonies and then in 2013 further amended the law to apply this to middlemen such as Carriker just three months after the death of Ronald Betts, and retroactively applied it to the Carriker case. That would make this a nullification.

That, it turns out, is not the end of the evidence for nullification. According to Grumbine, the jury was polled after the verdict was delivered and comments from the jury foreman indicate this was charge was returned Not Guilty by way of jury nullification. That is consistent with the facts that the jury did convict Carriker of a less serious charge related to the drug deal and that the jury deliberated for several hours over the course of two days.

Moreover, despite the prosecution going to great lengths to keep from the jury any information regarding the egregiously harsh mandatory minimum sentence Carriker faced and the jury’s right to judge the law and acquit by way of jury nullification, the state made a major slip up in court. Despite getting the judge’s approval of a motion in limine that reportedly would curtail informing the jury about its right to conscientiously acquit, Grumbine reports that the prosecution then itself brought up the topic in court. Once the prosecution brought it up, that opened the door for Carriker’s attorney Sarah Swain to respond, invoking language that informed the jury that they could bring in any verdict they saw fit and could not be punished for it.

I have so far seen none of these details being reported in the mainstream news, even though they seem like they would have been highly influential in the outcome of the case.

This is quite amazing and unusual in this type of trial. According to Grumbine, the judge even had words for the prosecutor for this screwup on the state’s part. The bottom line for juror rights educators is that this was an extremely fortunate occurrence, but it is going to be a long time before something like this should happen again.

It is critical that we all be creating fully informed jurors NOW and not waiting until a particular trial we are interested is on the horizon. Jurors in nearly all cases will be kept in the dark at best, or outright misinformed in the courtroom, about their right to conscientiously acquit and uphold justice above the law. We must give them the knowledge and the confidence to exercise jury nullification for justice BEFORE they step foot inside the courthouse.