ONE SMALL OR GIANT VICTORY DEPT.
Wow! A federal judge actually rules in favor of freedom of speech…and in this case, a major issue on freedom of speech. Read this news report and please understand the background of this story. It is traditional in western law that the juries have full power in issues before the court. The jury can not only judge on guilt or innocence before a particular law but can rule on the law itself. For example, if you are sitting as a juror on a possession of marijuana case, the judge is likely to instruct you that if the evidence presented proves the defendant had possession of pot, he or she must be found guilty. However, under well-established legal precedents, you may ignore the judge’s instructions and, if you feel the law, however legal, was misapplied or unjust, you are well within your rights to find the defendant not guilty even though the evidence indicates guilt. Obviously, prosecutors and judges, looking to enhance their conviction record, do not want jurors to know of this power. In this New York case, they even arrested a man and charged him as “a threat” to the judicial system. Not only is the dissemination of such knowledge not a threat to justice but, quite the contrary, a significant support for true justice.
NY judge tosses out jury nullification charges
By LARRY NEUMEISTER
April 19, 2012
NEW YORK (AP) — A federal judge threw out charges Thursday against a man who urged jurors in multiple East Coast cities from Florida to New Hampshire to sometimes disregard the law and vote their conscience.
U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood in Manhattan tossed the case against Julian Heicklen, saying the First Amendment protects speech concerning judicial proceedings as long as the speech doesn’t prevent fair and impartial justice. She noted that the essence of the First Amendment is that falsehoods are better exposed through discussion than through suppression.
Heicklen, a retired chemistry professor, was arrested and charged with a misdemeanor for repeatedly handing out pamphlets to people outside a lower Manhattan courthouse near the World Trade Center site between October 2009 and May 2010, urging a practice known in legal circles as jury nullification.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Rebecca Mermelstein had reminded Wood during oral arguments last month that Heicklin also has regularly distributed pamphlets in front of federal courthouses in Philadelphia, Boston, Tampa, Fla., Alexandria, Va., Concord, N.H., Springfield, Mass., Hartford, Conn., and Albany and White Plains in New York state. She called him a “significant threat” to the integrity of the judicial system.
Wood wrote that Heicklen did not violate the law by handing out pamphlets discussing the role of juries in society and urging jurors to follow their consciences regardless of instructions on the law. She said the law would be violated only if Heicklen tried to influence the action or decision of a juror on a specific case pending before that juror.
“The court’s holding merely maintains the existing balance that federal courts have found between freedom of speech and the administration of justice,” Wood said. “Attempts to tamper with a jury in order to influence the outcome of a trial or a grand jury proceeding are still clearly prohibited.”
Heicklen was representing himself in the case, but defense lawyers Steven M. Statsinger and Sabrina Shroff argued the First Amendment issues before Wood.
Prosecutors declined to comment. Shroff said Heicklen and the lawyers “are delighted by this very important ruling and equally important victory.”