A US federal court has charged a pamphleteer with jury tampering for his attempts to distribute literature outside the federal courthouse in lower Manhattan.
For months, Julian Heicklen, a septuagenarian libertarian, has distributed pamphlets about jury nullification in front of federal courthouses. He has been arrested on numerous occasions at the district court in Manhattan. Each arrest has seen Heicklen going limp and being carried or dragged away by federal officers. But he keeps coming back.
Heicklen’s pamphlets were not about any specific case, but explained the power of juries to acquit people who appear to have violated laws the jury considers unjust. Jury nullification has helped set free William Penn, John Peter Zenger, fugitive slaves, and violators of alcohol prohibition. More recently a Montana man arrested for possessing a very small amount of marijuana went free because the state was unable to seat a jury that might convict him. Jury nullification clearly holds potential to be a substantial check on government power.
For attempting to teach the public about this power, Julian Heicklen is charged with jury tampering. Clearly, the state intends to prevent potential jurors from making informed decisions. Government agents are doing what they can to make sure they get their way when cases go to trial. This is why they tamper with juries by preventing them from understanding their power.
To the state, power comes first, and justice comes somewhere afterward. The state must keep its power intact and the criminal justice system, an obscene farce of revenue gathering and career building, is there to do it. Much has been invested in prisons and police, and the investors are using their position to ensure the profits keep coming. Politicians need muscle to push forth their ambition, and they want a system that keeps the muscle strong.
In government courts, the prosecutor and judge are on the same team and the defense attorney’s rules are set by the institution that is trying to fine or imprison the defendant. They are monopolies within a system that enforces its own monopoly. Pamphleteers who teach prospective jurors about their power help give individuals a chance to effectively oppose the state. While jury power may be abused by those who wish to do injustice to other people, it at least allows some measure of participation and decisionmaking to those who are usually supposed to let the Important People make the important decisions. And unchecked state power abuses people as part of its normal operations.
When individuals who harm nobody are at risk of having their home invaded by heavily-armed enforcers who will haul them in chains to a cage full of violent and angry people, and forced to pay not only for this “service” but for the rest of the violent system, any tool for disrupting the violence is probably a good thing. Jury nullification is one such tool. No matter how much the state tampers with the administration of justice, Julian Heicklen is on the side of liberty.