Can Fully Informed Juries Help Cannabis Prohibition?

  • by Allen St. Pierre, NORML Executive Director April 23, 2012

    Of the many numerous peaceful and constitutionally-respectful means employed for decades by which cannabis law reformers have been to try to bring about about an end to Cannabis Prohibition laws, one of the most benign, yet most powerful arrows in the activist’s quiver is jury nullification–whereby jurors are educated and informed about their right to vote not guilty in cases where they morally question the underlying law itself (and not just to cast a verdict ‘for’ or ‘against’ individuals the government has charged with ‘crimes’).

    For almost 20 years NORML supporter and former Penn State Chemistry professor Julien Heicklen has been publicly advocating that jurors can’t be punished for voting their conscience, notably in cannabis-related cases, where, despite the evidence marshaled and the pleas for conviction and punishment by the government, jurors vote ‘not guilty’ in cases where the underlying law is in great dispute and/or are no longer supported by society in large (case in point here approximately 75% of the American public supports medical access to cannabis; 50% support ending Cannabis Prohibition outright).

    Last year Dr. Heicklen was arrested in front of a federal court house in New York City for providing educational pamphlets to people passing by, including perspective jurors, that informed them of America’s long history with jury nullification (i.e. the trial of Peter Zenger during the colonial period) and that the practice is still important today in a functional democracy.

    Thankfully, the charges of jury tampering against Dr. Heicklen were dismissed last week and there is now an even greater legal precedent to cite for both citizens accused of cannabis-related crimes (approximately 850,000 annually in America) and citizens asked to sit on juries to keep upholding antiquated Cannabis Prohibition laws.

    To learn more about jury nullification and its likely historical importance in helping to end Cannabis Prohibition, please checkout the Fully Informed Jury Association (a.k.a. FIJA) @ fija.org

    From New York Times

    Jury Statute not Violated by Protester, Judge Rules

    April 19, 2012


    The next time the 80-year-old retired chemistry professor takes his protest to the plaza outside the federal courthouse in Manhattan, he may make it home without being locked up.

    A federal judge on Thursday ordered the dismissal of an indictment against the professor, Julian P. Heicklen, who had been charged with jury tampering for advocating the controversial position known as jury nullification while outside the courthouse.

    Mr. Heicklen had repeatedly stood with a “Jury Info” sign and handed out brochures supporting nullification, the view that jurors who disagree with a law may ignore their oaths and vote to acquit a defendant accused of violating it.

    Prosecutors said such advocacy, “directed as it is to jurors, would be both criminal and without constitutional protections no matter where it occurred.”

    But the judge, Kimba M. Wood of Federal District Court, wrote that a person violated the jury tampering statute only when he or she knowingly tried to influence a juror’s decision through a written communication “made in relation to a specific case pending before that juror.”

    Judge Wood added that she would not “stretch the interpretation” of the statute to cover speech that was “not meant to influence” a juror’s actions in a specific case.

    Mr. Heicklen expressed pleasure at the ruling. “Not just for me,” he said. “I think it’s a major decision for the country.”

    He added: “This is better than having them throw me in jail.”  

    Mr. Heicklen had contended that he did not try to influence specific jurors; rather, he handed out brochures to anyone who passed by, hoping jurors were among them.

    Mr. Heicklen, who acted as his own lawyer, was assisted by two lawyers, Sabrina Shroff and Steven M. Statsinger of the federal defender’s office.

    Ms. Shroff said she was pleased by the ruling. “The right to speech is just so fundamental,” she said.

    Prosecutors declined to comment on the ruling. In a hearing last month, a prosecutor called Mr. Heicklen’s advocacy “a significant and important threat to our judicial system.”

    Judge Wood made it clear that the indictment could be dismissed merely on a reading of the plain language of the statute, which refers to trying to influence a juror through “written communication” in relation to an “issue or matter pending” before the juror.

    By taking that approach, the judge avoided First Amendment questions raised in the case, said Rachel E. Barkow, a law professor at New York University, who has written about nullification.

    “I don’t think sensible prosecutors should have even brought this case,” Ms. Barkow said, adding that Judge Wood had rejected “the government’s broader reading because it would arguably chill protected speech.”

    Christopher Dunn, associate legal director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said the ruling freed Mr. Heicklen to resume his activities outside the courthouse, at 500 Pearl Street.

    “But it has a much broader impact,” he said, “because there are people all around the country who do exactly what he was doing, and under this ruling they will no longer face the threat of prosecution.”



    35 Responses to “Can Fully Informed Juries Help Cannabis Prohibition?”

    1. In my case US v Gerald Duval Jr and Jeremy Duval case# 11-20594 We were the firse in us history to be found guilty by jury on 04,20,2012. We were able to tell jury that we were within Michigain guidelines. Jury found us guilty. Over 100 plants manditory 10 years Gerald, 5 years my son Jeremy. sentencing date Aug 27, 2012. Our story Youtube: Gerald Duval Jr.
      Jerry Duval 517-605-9443

    2. Fed-Up says:

      jed says: Fed-UP ‘can i see ur affavit?’

      you mean for the store that sold me the yeast product ?…haha,that was a joke.I was trying to’ demonise something wholesome like bread– a health threat ‘with potential for mold, to illustrate how over the top and out of proportion this pro-active insanity is

      “There were approximately 35 people involved in the raid. As I said they had DCI and Homeland Security, the DEA, the Fire Department, the Sheriffs Office and Local Green River PD. They brought in two Tractor trailers full of equipment. I would say a rough but fair estimate of the cost of the operation was $100,000″

      Jesus Christ, He wasn’t building a bomb,this is a middle aged man growing a few plants to ease his health conditions and he is being treated like a terrorist.To me this seems absurd,and a waste of money and resources.they probably could have done the same job with 2 or three cops,

      “Now today I found out they can take my home even though there was no tax evasion going on due to distribution. I had no idea they could take your home for a few plants and a half a jar of marijuana”

      This speaks for itself…no more jokes.

    3. jed says:

      Fed-UP can i see ur affavit?

    4. Just An Observer says:

      Did Heicklen sue the state for malicious prosecution, false arrest or anything else relating to his arrest? If you want to get the government to back off, be prepared to go the distance and hit back harder than they hit you!

      Heicklen has a good chance to win such a suit if we’re going to let those who spill hot coffee on themselves to sue for large amounts and win, so why not give it a try?

    5. Fed-Up says:

      no where to turn says:

      “they went door to door frightening my neighbors by telling them there were “deadly mold spores” on my pot plants”

      OMG, Talk about being pro-active… you should have seen the mold growing on my loaf of bread.I cut the mold out and still made a peanut butter sandwich. They should of quarantined the whole county!

      And what about the store that sold me a yeast product knowing full well that it had the potential to mold in certain room temperatures? i smell a Lawsuit…ha

      Don’t mean to make fun of an unnecessary and tragic violation,but that sounded absurd, the absolutely bizzare correlations they come
      up with is beyond reason….way beyond reason!

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