Friday, February 25, 2011

Jury Nullification Advocate Is Indicted

Julian P. Heicklen sat silent and unresponsive as his bail hearing began one day recently in federal court in Manhattan; his eyes were closed, his head slumped forward.

“Mr. Heicklen?” the magistrate judge, Ronald L. Ellis, asked. “Mr. Heicklen? Is Mr. Heicklen awake?”

“I believe he is, your honor,” a prosecutor, Rebecca Mermelstein, said. “I think he’s choosing not to respond but is certainly capable of doing so.”

There was, in fact, nothing wrong with Mr. Heicklen, 78, who eventually opened his eyes and told the judge, “I’m exercising my Fifth Amendment right to remain silent.”

Indeed, it was not his silence that landed Mr. Heicklen, a retired Pennsylvania State University chemistry professor, in court; it was what he had been doing outside the federal courthouse at 500 Pearl Street.

Since 2009, Mr. Heicklen has stood there and at courthouse entrances elsewhere and handed out pamphlets encouraging jurors to ignore the law if they disagree with it, and to render verdicts based on conscience.

That concept, called jury nullification, is highly controversial, and courts are hostile to it. But federal prosecutors have now taken the unusual step of having Mr. Heicklen indicted on a charge that his distributing of such pamphlets at the courthouse entrance violates the law against jury tampering. He was arraigned on Friday in a somewhat contentious hearing before Judge Kimba M. Wood, who entered a not guilty plea on his behalf when he refused to say how he would plead. During the proceeding, he railed at the judge and the government, and called the indictment “a tissue of lies.”
Read the rest here.

1 comment:

Michael said...

This is an unfortunate situation.

Julian P. Heicklen may be a nutcase. However, "Jury Nullification" is as old as the Magna Carta. It is the whole reason why the Anglo-Saxon system is based on jury trials to begin with.

The jury is the conscience of the community. It is the jury's job, not just to mechanically apply the law, but to determine if (a) it is a just law and (b) if a just law is being applied unjustly. The infamous "Fugitive Slave Law" of the 1850's was rendered a dead letter throughout the North (and much of the Old South) because juries refused to convict.

As I have stated previously, we live in revolutionary times. Unfortunately, at times like this, marginal people use genuine greivances and injustices, to claim their "place in the sun," to the detriment and discredit of the just causes to which they attach themselves.

The "jury box" is, and has been, a historic bulwark against official corruption and tyranny. Let it remain so, despite those who misuse just causes for their own pathological ends.