Julian Heicklen. Remember him? He’s the 80-year retired chemistry professor who was indicted for jury tampering because he liked to pass out pamphlets on jury nullification. On the steps of Manhattan courthouses.
[Read our prior posts “Advocating Jury Nullification: Crime or Freedom of Speech?” and “More on Jury Nullification and Julian Heicklen” for more detailed background information.]
Last Thursday (April 19, 2012), Judge Kimba Wood dismissed the indictment. Her written opinion relies on a strict interpretation of the jury tampering statute, which thereby avoids any touchy issues related to the First Amendment. The entire ruling is available for download on Scribd, but I’ve also noted a few key excerpts that caught my attention. [Emphasis added by yours truly.]
The Court understands the [jury tampering] statute to contain three elements:
- that the defendant knowingly attempted to influence the action or decision of a juror of a United States Court;
- that the defendant knowingly attempted to influence that juror (a) upon an issue or matter pending before that juror, or pending before the jury of which that juror is a member; or (b) pertaining to that juror’s duties; and
- that the defendant knowingly attempted to influence that juror by writing or sending to that juror a written communication in relation to such issue or matter.
The opinion also states,
To the extent any ambiguity remains in the statute’s interpretations, the statute should be construed narrowly if the statute, construed broadly, would potentially violate the Constitution.
The relevant cases establish that the First Amendment squarely protects speech concerning judicial proceedings and public debate regarding the functioning of the judicial system, so long as that speech does not interfere with the fair and impartial administration of justice.
Because the Indictment does not allege that Heicklen attempted to influence a juror through a written communication made in relation to a specific case before a juror or in relation to a point in dispute before a juror, the Court finds that the Indictment fails to state all of the elements of the offense described in 18 U.S.C. Section 1504 and must be dismissed as legally insufficient.
Was this the right decision?
Personally, I believe Judge Wood made the proper ruling… although it certainly opens the door for Heicklen supporters to continue advocating jury nullification throughout the states.
What are your thoughts on the matter?