The concept of jury nullification has once again made headlines, this time for a retired professor charged by federal prosecutors with jury tampering.
The New York Times had the story Friday: Julian P. Heicklen, a retired chemistry professor from Penn State, has been distributing pamphlets “encouraging jurors to ignore the law if they disagree with it, and to render verdicts based on conscience,” outside the federal courthouse in Manhattan, according to Times writer Benjamin Weiser.
Jury nullification, which you may recall from an incident in early 2010 in Kitsap County Superior Court, is the idea that jurors can ignore the court’s instructions of following the law, and decide guilt or innocence based on their own feelings.
The federal government walks a fine First Amendment line in bringing such charges. But the courts have historically not liked a behavior which, to put it bluntly, undermines their authority.
“This is classic political advocacy,” Christopher T. Dunn, associate legal director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said of Mr. Heicklen’s pamphleteering. “Unless the government can show that he’s singling out jurors to influence a specific verdict, it’s squarely protected by the First Amendment, and they should dismiss the case.”
I am curious what people around here think of this prosecution, and further, of the concept of jury nullification in general.