Julian Heicklen, a 78-year-old former chemistry professor, was dragged from his home in New Jersey early in the morning of February 18 by four federal officers. His crime: distributing pamphlets about jury nullification in front of a courthouse.
Many libertarians endorse the idea of jury nullification, which holds that jurors are not obliged to find someone guilty merely because he broke the law. If they think the law is unjust, according to this way of thinking, they have the authority to acquit. Although jury nullification was championed by John Jay, the Supreme Court’s first chief justice, and has a long pedigree in American jurisprudence, most judges strongly discourage the practice.
Heicklen has been cited or arrested many times in the past for protesting or pamphleteering in prohibited places. But in what appears to be a novel move, he has been charged in this case with jury tampering, a federal misdemeanor punishable by six months in jail. Contrary to the implication of the charge, Heicklen did not pressure a juror to vote a certain way in a specific case; he merely offered information on a question of jurisprudential history and practice.
Heicklen was arrested because he refused to show up for his court date on the jury tampering charges after a federal grand jury in New York City had indicted him. He is acting as his own counsel before U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood, he says, so he can “say things that would get a lawyer disbarred…I’ve already called Judge Wood a liar and a U.S. attorney a liar.”
Heicklen at press time was free on bond pending an April court date. During his off time, he decided to go to Orlando in an attempt to again get arrested by violating an injunction by Judge Belvin Perry there banning the handing out of nullification literature near Perry’s courthouse. Heicklen violated that Orlando ban in mid-March, but no one arrested him.
The Fully Informed Jury Association, whose literature Heicklen distributes, has disavowed him. Although the group is challenging Perry’s pamphleteering ban on First Amendment grounds, it does not want to be associated with an activist defying a court order.