This Saturday is Jury Rights Day, which commemorates the 1670 acquittal of Quaker leader William Penn by English jurors who refused to convict him even though he had clearly violated a ban on dissenting religious assemblies. Denver is celebrating the occasion by harassing activists who seek to inform the public about the principle embodied in Penn’s acquittal: the right of jurors to reject the enforcement of unjust laws, a.k.a. jury nullification.
After two local activists, Mark Iannicelli and Eric Brandt, distributed jury nullification pamphlets outside the Lindsey-Flanigan Courthouse in Denver on July 27, Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey charged each of them with seven counts of jury tampering, a felony punishable by one to three years in prison. The seven counts were based on pamphlets received by seven jury pool members.
The statute cited by Morrissey makes it a crime to “communicate with a juror” outside of a judicial proceeding “with intent to influence [the] juror’s vote, opinion, decision, or other action in a case.” But neither Iannicelli nor Brandt is accused of trying to affect the outcome of any particular case. They were merely distributing general information about jury rights.
Denver conceded such activity is constitutionally protected after David Lane, the attorney who represents Iannicelli and Brandt, filed a First Amendment lawsuit on behalf of two other activists and the Fully Informed Jury Association (FIJA). The city stipulated that “Plaintiffs who wish to engage in peacefully passing out jury nullification literature to passersby on the [courthouse] Plaza are entitled to do so.”