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Federal Judge Upholds Right To Advocate Jury Nullification

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Julian Heicklen, an 80-year old retired chemistry professor from New Jersey, spent the fall of 2009 and spring of 2010 standing outside the federal courthouse in Manhattan with a sign reading "Jury Info." Mr. Heicklen handed passersby -- including, he hoped, jurors -- brochures advocating jury nullification. The doctrine of jury nulification holds that jurors who disagree with a law may vote, on that basis, to acquit a defendant who violated it. For example, in the mid-19th century, sympathetic United States juries refused to convict abolitionists under the Fugitive Slave Act . Mr. Heicklen had his own opportunity to argue for jury nullification when he was indicted for jury tampering. Last month, however, Judge Kimba Wood dismissed the case. Mr. Heicklen -- who in his 60s openly smoked marijuana on the Penn State campus to protest its prohibition -- had argued that the First Amendment protected him, but prosecutors countered that his conduct was "criminal and without constitutional protection." Judge Wood, however, did not reach the constitutional issue. Rather, she held that the jury tampering statute applies only where the defendant attempts to influence a juror in relation to "a specific case pending before that juror."

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Isaac Gorodetski
Project Manager,
Center for Legal Policy at the
Manhattan Institute
igorodetski@manhattan-institute.org

Katherine Lazarski
Press Officer,
Manhattan Institute
klazarski@manhattan-institute.org

 

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