A man was arrested outside of a courthouse in New York City for allegedly violating a state statute dealing with criminal contempt in the second degree. He was taken into custody for sharing information about the court system’s “dirty little secret.” It is a practice referred to as “jury nullification” in which juries have the legal power to set a person free if the law used to bring charges against him or her are unfair.
Was it a crime?
The arresting officers contended that the defendant broke a law that disallows people from handing out flyers to entice a course of action within 200 feet of a courthouse. If the information on the flyer pertains to a case being heard that day, then that would be illegal. However, the defendant was not referencing any court case. He was attempting to empower individuals and prospective jurors with knowledge of an additional option to them in the cases if there is a flaw in the process.
While he was convicted in his first trial, his verdict was overturned by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit. The court argued that his actions did not meet the legal standard of a crime but were protected by his First Amendment rights to free speech. So, his rights were the ones to be violated. Informing the public about a legal maneuver that empowers the jury to negate unfair laws is not tantamount to influencing the outcome of a trial. Thus, he was found not guilty in the higher court and his criminal charges were dismissed.
Sticking to his guns
Now that his ordeal is over, the activist will continue to advocate for legal issues that are important to him. The court has affirmed his right to free speech and he will be able to return to the activity that caused him to be wrongfully arrested.