Late last year, federal prosecutors indicted a 78-year-old retired chemistry professor named Julian Heicklen for jury tampering, a misdemeanour that carried a fine and potential jail time of up to six months. They do not allege he influenced any specific juror on any specific case. Instead, his crime was passing out pamphlets in front of the federal courthouse in downtown Manhattan. The pamphlets contained information about jury nullification: which is a juror’s right or ability, depending on which side you ask, to vote not guilty regardless of whether the prosecution proved its case if that juror believes the law to be unjust (about which see my post of five months ago; I am still proud of having written what one commenter called “the stupidest, most socially irresponsible, morally and legally indefensible notion ever to grace the pages of The Economist”). Now, Mr Heicklen seems something of a crank: he’s smoked marijuana in order to get arrested but does not otherwise smoke; he asked that Muslims be excluded from any jury that tries him because he is Jewish and believes that “Islam preaches death to the Jews”; he has been fined for unlicensed pamphleteering half a dozen times in Manhattan and has also distributed nullification materials elsewhere. But of course, one man’s crank is another man’s hero, and, anyway, if the odious Fred Phelps has the right to disrupt the funerals of fallen soldiers (and he does), then a thoughtful, harmless guy like Mr Heicklen ought to be able to pass out fliers on the courthouse steps. Again, not in New York. Here he discusses being whisked away without citation four times; by far the creepiest part of which is his having been taken to psychiatric hospitals. There certainly have been regimes that abuse psychiatry and brand anti-government activists crazy, but I did not think I lived in one.
Apparently the brief (unsurprisingly) mentions this blog as well as my personal political blog: blog of bile. Before I created this site for Julian I had posted his and our updates there. If anyone gets a digital copy of the brief please send it my way.