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New York judge tosses out case against man charged with advocating jury nullification

April 19, 2012 - Andrea Johnson
Here's a judge who's on the right side of justice.

Manhattan Judge Kimba Wood tossed out misdemeanor charges today against Julian Heicklen, a retired chemistry professor who was arrested for repeatedly handing out pamphlets on jury nullification outside a lower Manhattan courthouse. Heicklen urged jurors to sometimes disregard the law and vote their conscience.

According to the AP, Wood said in the ruling that the First Amendment protects speech concerning judicial proceedings as long as it doesn't prevent fair and impartial justice. She said the essence of the First Amendment is that falsehoods are better exposed through discussion than through suppression. The prosecutors refused to comment, but Heicklen's defense team said he is delighted with the ruling.

The ruling says nothing about the legality of jury nullification, just Heicklen's right to advocate it. In recent years judges have done much to discourage it, for obvious reasons, since jurors who practice nullification ignore a judge's instructions and refuse to convict someone who is technically guilty under the law.

Proponents say that jury nullification is justified in some situations: if the law under which charges have been brought is clearly unjust, for instance, or if the punishment doesn't fit the crime. They say that jurors can't be punished for jury nullification. Double jeopardy prevents a defendant from being prosecuted again for the same crime.

Regardless of what your feelings are on jury nullification, Wood's ruling is a victory for freedom of speech. The crime was that Heicklen was charged in the first place. I hope others will now join the good professor outside that courthouse and hand out more pamphlets on jury nullification.


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