Advocating for a controversial legal tactic known as jury nullification can get U.S. citizens prosecuted for jury tampering, according to one Manhattan prosecutor who’s pursuing that very charge against a 79-year-old former chemistry professor.
Indicted last year, all Julian P. Heicklen says he was doing is handing out pamphlets from the Fully Informed Jury Association near a courthouse. He wasn’t targeting any specific jury or juror, and his activism has taken him to dozens of courthouses around the country, according to The New York Times.
Manhattan prosecutor Rebecca Mermelstein argued in a recent court filing examined by the paper that because he hoped to “target prospective jurors,” he was tampering with the legal process.
“I’m not telling you to find anybody not guilty,” he allegedly told an undercover officer. “But if there is a law you think is wrong then you should do that.”
Essentially, he’s right: Jury nullification is the right of citizens to nullify the application of laws the feel are unjust. During alcohol prohibition, nearly 60 percent of trials were nullified by jurors. Nullification was often used in cases involving the Alien and Sedition and Fugitive Slave Acts, but it was also common in the South, where it was used to stymie civil rights trials.