New York has arrested and brought charges against an eccentric retired chemistry professor who frequently stands outside of federal court and informs passersby about ‘jury nullification’, a controversial practice in which jurors disregard laws they disagree with. Is Julian P. Heicklen a hooligan or hero? Either way, he’s extremely cranky, the New York Times found:
Since 2009, Mr. Heicklen has stood there and at courthouse entrances elsewhere and handed out pamphlets encouraging jurors to ignore the law if they disagree with it, and to render verdicts based on conscience.
That concept, called jury nullification, is highly controversial, and courts are hostile to it. But federal prosecutors have now taken the unusual step of having Mr. Heicklen indicted on a charge that his distributing of such pamphlets at the courthouse entrance violates a law against jury tampering.
Mr. Heicklen was arraigned on Friday in a somewhat contentious hearing before Judge Kimba M. Wood, who entered a not-guilty plea on Mr. Heicklen’s behalf when he refused to say how he would plead. During the proceeding, Mr. Heicklen railed at the judge and the government, and called the indictment “a tissue of lies.”
Mr. Heicklen insists that he never tries to influence specific jurors or cases, and instead gives his brochures to passers-by, hoping that jurors are among them.
But he feels his message must be getting out, or the government would not have brought charges against him.
“If I weren’t having any effect, would they do this?” said Mr. Heicklen, whose former colleagues recall him as a talented and unconventional educator. “You don’t have to be a genius to figure this thing out.”