Juror Rights Educator Threatened at Ocean County Courthouse
Toms River, NJ—Juror rights educator James Babb was threatened with arrest on Thursday over false jury tampering allegations by law enforcement at the Ocean County Courthouse in Toms River, NJ. Babb was handing out information regarding the right of conscientious acquittal—engaging in free speech activity that is legally protected under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution as well as Article I, Section 6 of the New Jersey State Constitution.
Babb captured these threats from law enforcement on two videos.
Confused law enforcement officers repeatedly demanded that Babb stop handing out general educational information regarding the right of jury nullification. First, he was incorrectly accused of soliciting, then he was alleged to have been violating some unspecified “policy”, and ultimately Lieutenant Green of the sheriff’s office told him that he was being investigated for the alleged crime of jury tampering under New Jersey Code Section 2C:29-8(c). Green then threatened to arrest Babb if he continued to hand out such information or returned later to do so.
Attorney David A. Lane, of Killmer, Lane, and Newman, LLC recently represented the Fully Informed Jury Association (FIJA) and two other plaintiffs in federal court to secure an injunction against similar behavior by the Denver Police Department. Lane has sent an email to the prosecutor’s office requesting that Prosecutor Joseph D. Coronato clarify the government’s intentions.
The letter states in part: “The detective in the video indicates that he spoke to either you or members of your office and the detective was advised that this is jury tampering. Please advise me whether you will permit Mr. Babb to leaflet in the walkway seen in the videos or in and around the courthouse grounds or whether you intend to charge him with jury tampering. The threat of arrest by the detective on the video is sufficient for me to make a claim in a NJ federal court that his right to free speech has been chilled by these actions and he needs an injunction to prevent further First Amendment violations. If you take no position, it is my contention that Mr. Babb’s First Amendment rights have been chilled and you are giving him no assurances that he will not be charged with jury tampering.”
“These tax-fattened, mini-tyrants will award themselves any power they can get away with, even if it means curtailing free expression for the entire neighborhood,” said juror rights educator Jim Babb. “Trumped up, overtly bogus “jury tampering” accusations reveal not just their ignorance of the law, but also their total disregard for rights of the mere mundanes who are forced to pay their salary. The freedom of expression is explicitly protected under the U.S. and New Jersey constitutions, which presumably these “public servants” have sworn to uphold,” Babb said.
Jury nullification is the right of jurors to vote Not Guilty, even if they believe beyond a reasonable doubt that the law has been broken. Jurors may wish to conscientiously exercise this right when they believe strict enforcement of the law would be unjust in the case at hand. Not only does the the New Jersey State Constitution guarantee freedom of speech, but it also goes to extra lengths to specifically codify what is every juror’s inherent “right to determine the law and the fact”—the exact concept that courthouse officials wish to hide from jurors.
While prosecutors and judges typically frown on such verdicts and prefer to keep this right secret from jurors so they cannot exercise it, there is nothing illegal about jury nullification and jurors cannot be punished for their verdicts. None of the handouts, nor of any of Babb’s speech discussed any current case or urged jurors to take any particular position in any case before them. Information provided to anyone who accepted a brochure simply informed them of all the options jurors have when judging a case before them, leaving what they do with that information completely up to them and their consciences.
“Whether their false threats of jury tampering charges come from ignorance or malice, the prosecutor’s and sheriff’s offices are violating Constitutionally-guaranteed rights of volunteers. Imagine how terrified they must be of fully informed jurors that they would respond to peaceful people—armed only with information—by threatening them with the possibility of deadly force and imprisonment,” said Kirsten Tynan, executive director of the Fully Informed Jury Association. “How can these government agents be trusted to do their jobs fairly when they can’t even understand the laws? Their tax-paid time would be better spent updating their legal education than using the fiefdom of the courthouse as their own personal schoolyard for bullying.”
Despite repeated attempts by government agents to quash juror rights educators’ efforts to fully inform everyone of jurors’ right to conscientiously acquit, also known as jury nullification, such education is well-established as protected speech. The Fully Informed Jury Association along with two co-plaintiffs secured an injunction in August 2015 against such arrests by the Denver Police Department of juror rights educators handing out FIJA’s Fresh Air for Justice and Your Jury Rights: True or False?.
Additionally, similar false jury tampering charges against another juror rights educator handing out FIJA’s Primer for Prospective Jurors were thrown out of federal court in a ruling from Judge Kimba M. Wood in New York, with a detailed explanation of why juror rights education does not constitute jury tampering. Babb was handing out both the Primer for Prospective Jurors and an additional Know Your Rights handout regarding jury nullification.
About the Fully Informed Jury Association
The Fully Informed Jury Association (FIJA) is a 501(c)(3), non-profit, nonpartisan, educational organization headquartered in Helena, Montana. Focusing on issues involving the role of the jury in our justice system, FIJA seeks to preserve the full function of the jury as the final arbiter in our courts of law by informing everyone about their rights, powers and responsibilities in delivering just verdicts when serving as jurors. The organization does not advocate for or against any case in progress, but rather seeks to fully inform everyone of all their options when serving on juries. This includes the option to conscientiously acquit when a just verdict requires it by voting Not Guilty, even if they believe the law has technically been broken, without fear of punishment for their verdict.
FIJA’s national office conducts its campaign solely through educational outreach programs and materials. A variety of brochures and other materials are available for free download by anyone from the online Library or can be purchased through the online Media Catalog. Many juror rights educators use these brochures for general educational outreach at courthouses, at fairs and festivals, at public speaking engagements, and so on.
● Video of Police Harassment of James Babb at Ocean County Courthouse, Part 1
● Video of Police Harassment of James Babb at Ocean County Courthouse, Part 2
● Federal injunction against Denver Police Department arrests of juror rights activists for free speech activity, granted August 2015
● Federal ruling dismissing false jury tampering charges against Julian Heicklen for free speech activity
● FIJA brochure: A Primer for Prospective Jurors
● Know Your Rights flyer
● First Amendment to the United States Constitution
● Article I, Section 6 of the New Jersey State Constitution