Yet another First Amendment question, this time involving a pamphleteer.
Julian Heicklen is a retired professor of Chemistry at Penn State. He is given to eccentric expressions of his libertarian beliefs– e.g. smoking pot at the gates of Penn State once a week because he does not believe it should be criminalized (although, he says, he never otherwise smoked pot).
Recently, his campaign has been in favor of jury nullification. Since 2009, he has stood outside courthouse entrances (as depicted above, from the NY Times), particularly in Manhattan, handing out pamphlets telling jurors they have a write to ignore the court’s instruction.
This has apparently annoyed the prosecutors.
The New York Times writes:
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 a law against jury tampering.
Mr. Heicklen was arraigned on Friday in a somewhat contentious hearing before Judge Kimba M. Wood, who entered a not-guilty plea on Mr. Heicklen’s behalf when he refused to say how he would plead. During the proceeding, Mr. Heicklen railed at the judge and the government, and called the indictment “a tissue of lies.”
Mr. Heicklen insists that he never tries to influence specific jurors or cases, and instead gives his brochures to passers-by, hoping that jurors are among them.
The indictment charges:
From at least in or about October 2009 up to and including in or about May 2010, in the Southern District of New York, JULIAN HEICKLEN, the defendant, attempted to influence the actions and decisions of a grand and petit juror of a court of the United States…upon an issue and matter pending before such juror, and before a jury of which he was a member,r pertaining to his duties, by writing and sending to him a written communication in relation to such issue or matter, to wite, HEICKLEN distributed pamphlets urging jury nullification immediately in front of an entrance to the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York….
The charge is a misdemeanor. Heicklen intends to represent himself, and has already started writing Judge Woods letters about the case, including one in which he explains that a delay in serving him with the indictment means that the case must be dismissed. He writes: ”The Court did not conform to its own rules. Therefore this case has been nullified. I did not even need a jury to perform the nullification”
This trial should be unusual.
So what do you folks think?