Jury nullification

  • by Allen St. Pierre, Former 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.” (more…)

  • by Allen St. Pierre, Former NORML Executive Director December 21, 2011

    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.

    Many thanks to John Peter Zenger, Julian Heicklen, Paul Butler and all citizens who fully exercise their rights to nullify bad laws.

  • by Allen St. Pierre, Former NORML Executive Director August 16, 2009

    If you’re confused over the term ‘jury nullification’, a prime example of such emerged from a courtroom in Boulder, Colorado last week. Many legal and sociology experts recognize a significant change in society by whether or not juries, made up of one’s local peers, will continue to enforce what many in a society have come to believe are bad and/or antiquated laws.

    Throughout America’s relatively short history, when elected policymakers and bureaucrats are not responsive to the will of the citizens or pass laws not supported by society, citizens sitting on a jury have an absolute right to vote their conscience, which also means in effect nullifying the law by not voting for conviction.

    The effect of this becomes abundantly clear when jurors consistently refuse to convict so-called ‘criminal offenders’, and numerous examples abound from prior civil rights movements in America: Abolitionists, Women’s Sufferage, Minority Rights and Access To The Vote and Gay/Lesbian.

    In time, and NORML is observing this right now around the country in ever-increasing amounts, prosecutors are having an increasingly harder time winning criminal convictions for ‘crimes’ a majority of the citizens do not in fact believe is a crime.

    Want to know more about the awesome power each of us possess as jurors to stop ‘bad’ laws from their continued enforcement? Check out FIJA!

    I want to personally thank ‘D. Walters, Erie, CO’ for both voting their conscience while sitting in judgment of a fellow cannabis consumer, and for letting their fellow citizens in the Boulder area know via a letter-to-the-editor what a waste of time and valuable social resources cannabis prohibition enforcement is for the criminal justice system.

    Medical marijuana case a waste of resources
    Posted by Camera staff in Tuesday, August 11th 2009

    I was a member of the jury on the medical marijuana case and beg to differ with Mr. Garnett’s assessment as presented in this Open Forum on Tuesday.

    This case was both a waste of taxpayer money and a travesty of justice that the charges against this man were ever brought in the first place. First of all, Mr. Garnett’s assertion that the jury found “that the amount of marijuana in Mr. Lauve’s home was medically necessary” is an inaccurate statement. The job of the prosecution was to prove that the amount in possession was NOT medically necessary and that Mr. Lauve was aware that he was in violation of the law. The prosecution presented absolutely NO EVIDENCE regarding either point of law. They brought no witnesses to show that the amount was not medically necessary. They did not even assert that the amount was not medically necessary. In fact, they prevented the defense from offering evidence regarding medical necessity. The prosecution did not even attempt to assert that Mr. Lauve knew the amount was excessive or suggest that he was doing anything inappropriate with the ‘excess’.

    This jury admired Jason Lauve for standing up to an unfair prosecution. The physical, emotional and legal costs to Jason Lauve of defending himself do not seem to be of concern of Mr. Garnett.

    And the cost to taxpayers? 4 full days spent by a judge, two prosecutors, a bailiff, a clerk, a detective, assorted police officers and 12 jurors! Plus laboratory time and expense to prove that it was ‘real’ marijuana. All of us could have spent these 4 days doing something that actually involved prosecuting a crime.

    D. Walters

  • by Allen St. Pierre, Former NORML Executive Director March 7, 2008

    When trying to make fair assessments and analysis regarding where at any particular place in time the now almost 40-year old public advocacy campaign to repeal cannabis prohibition laws is, while data, scholarly reports and budget priorities are all helpful, so too are tea leaves. Cultural ‘tea leaves’.

    When reading the jaw-dropping column in Time this morning, penned by the award-winning team of writers from the provocative—and often spot on—‘The Wire’, broadcast on HBO, I had tears landing in my lap.