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
By BENJAMIN WEISER
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.” (more…)
George Washington University law professor and longtime jury nullification proponent Paul Butler pens a noteworthy op-ed in yesterday’s New York Times.
Notable not only because of the important subject matter vis-à-vis the first example proffered by Professor Butler, but also too because of the defendant in the case at bar cited.
Professor Julian Heicklen has been protesting Cannabis Prohibition laws since the mid 1990s, mainly around the Penn State campus where he was a longtime Chemistry professor, principally by causing a ruckus around jury nullification and protesting without permits.
Here is a related story NORML featured about Prof. Heicklen in 1998.
Well, to his ever-loving credit, in his retirement, this 79-year-old freedom loving activist is still–through his own pain and suffering–working hard to inform the public and potential jurors that they (better said, we) all have the right to vote our conscience when in judgment of our fellow citizens in a criminal court of law.
I too join Professors Heicklen and Butler in what some prosecutors deem a ‘crime’ and that is to educate as many citizens as possible that they don’t have to keep upholding bad laws like Cannabis Prohibition by voting to punish citizens for non-violent cannabis-related criminal offenses.
American citizens when acting as jurors have the right and responsibility to “Just Say No” to enforcing the country’s failed and expensive Cannabis Prohibition laws.