I Was Arrested and Detained for Passing Out Fliers Near a Courthouse

In the land of the free, people still get arrested for speaking out about what they believe in.

A little over a year ago, I was arrested and detained for 10 hours in New York City because I was handing out leaflets advocating jury nullification. I was arrested under a state law that makes it a crime to talk about judicial proceedings within 200 feet of a courthouse. I filed a First Amendment lawsuit because political speech shouldn’t be a crime, no matter where it takes place.

Jury nullification is a power that the jury has to acquit a defendant, despite the law, if they believe a law to be unjust. It has been used for centuries to squash government overreach. In the 1800s, juries refused to convict those who helped African-Americans escape from slavery. Juries also refused to convict those who had been charged with violating alcohol prohibition laws during the 1930s.

In recent years, juries have used the power of jury nullification to acquit people facing petty drug charges, which disproportionately affect people of color. Juries have repeatedly refused to convict those who have been charged with breaking unjust laws.

For a few years now, I have been educating people about jury nullification by handing out leaflets in front of courthouses in Connecticut and Massachusetts. I have been questioned by prosecutors and federal agents, chased off of public property, surrounded by a host of officers, and threatened with arrest. Still, New York City was different.

On a brisk December morning in 2017, I stood on a public sidewalk in front of the Bronx Hall of Justice. I decided to protest New York’s unjust laws by handing out fliers informing people of their power to nullify unjust laws. After several minutes, two court officers approached me and said that I would need to move 200 feet away from the courthouse to continue handing out fliers.

When I refused to move, the court officers arrested me, searched me, and seized my property. I was ultimately detained for 10 hours that day, simply for exercising my First Amendment right to speak. They declined to prosecute me, but only because the arresting officer failed to measure whether I was standing within 200 feet of the courthouse at the time of my arrest. Otherwise, who knows what could have happened.

I brought this case because the government has no business criminalizing political speech just because it happens outside a courthouse. Courthouses are important public symbols, closely tied to the administration of justice. They are frequently important places for political speech on a wide range of issues, including police brutality, immigrants' rights, and criminal justice reform.

Although it’s against the law to intentionally manipulate a juror’s vote in a specific case, speech informing people about the concept of jury nullification is entitled to the same constitutional protection as any other speech about our criminal justice system. Whatever you may think about jury nullification, it shouldn’t be a secret, and talking about it in public shouldn’t be a crime.

We’ll see you in court, New York.

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Anonymous

But without the lawsuit money how will you be able to go to Europe and Egypt for vacations?

Anonymous

Hmm. You have the same right to distribute information outside a courthouse as the Operation Rescue people have to distribute information outside a Planned Parenthood. And in both cases a statutory boundary line has been drawn to protect the right of those who have need to do business in either location to free and clear access these public accommodations. If this law is overturned, what remains to protect PP patients or Court visitors from having to navigate a gauntlet of activists just to do their business?

SgrA*

"Whatever you may think about jury nullification, it shouldn’t be a secret." Nothing in our judicial system should be a secret. Evidence shouldn't be secreted away after proceedings are concluded. Trump can't use the 5th amendment to keep his taxes secret, because he might in this way incriminate himself for criminal activity. Trump then can't use Executive Privilege to withhold his taxes, especially those before his term in office; and Trump can't use the 1st amendment as a provision of a privacy interpretation for keeping taxes secret. Lawyers are usurping the Constitution when they attempt to keep secrets in our judicial system. A justice department based on secrets is NOT the same thing as Lady Justice being blindfolded before the scale-balance. Truth applies in regard to Justice; it is denied when not been learned from, or repeated for the good of the society.

LOL

I was detained because someone else handed out nullification-related pamphlets also containing U.S. Constitutions near a courthouse in Pa., 2017. Since a jury was already constituted, it became the right time to convict me (and no other): the same day. My biographer, Sir Judge Dredd Scott Kafka, makes careful note of this blurred legal fiction, one which lead to my false imprisonment for nearly one year. I ask, are you a man of your convictions, Jean-Luc?

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