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Constitutional Law

Law Prof Urges Not Guilty Vote in Pot Cases, Supports Man Arrested for Nullification Advocacy

Posted Dec 21, 2011 1:42 PM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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George Washington University law professor Paul Butler has been urging jurors to vote not guilty in nonviolent drug cases since 1995.

“If you are ever on a jury in a marijuana case, I recommend that you vote ‘not guilty’—even if you think the defendant actually smoked pot, or sold it to another consenting adult,” Butler writes in an op-ed for the New York Times.

Butler, a former drug prosecutor, has been an advocate of jury nullification in the Yale Law Journal, on YouTube and on 60 Minutes. In the eyes of Manhattan federal prosecutors, Butler says, that apparently makes him a criminal.

Prosecutors charged retired chemistry professor Julian Heicklen, 79, with jury tampering earlier this year for passing out information about jury nullification in front of the federal courthouse in Manhattan. Prosecutors claim Heicklen is not protected by the First Amendment because his advocacy targets potential jurors.

Butler disagrees. “Laws against jury tampering are intended to deter people from threatening or intimidating jurors,” he says. “To contort these laws to justify punishing Mr. Heicklen, whose court-appointed counsel describe him as ‘a shabby old man distributing his silly leaflets from the sidewalk outside a courthouse,’ is not only unconstitutional but unpatriotic. Jury nullification is not new; its proponents have included John Hancock and John Adams.”

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