I Have Been Summoned (Poll!)

So I have Jury Duty tomorrow morning. Early. I don’t know any of the details of the trial. I’ve been dreading it all week long but have gradually come to accept that there is no way out of it (or at least out of showing up the first day) so I might as well make the most of it. The problem is I don’t know what to expect. Will the lawyers cross examine me first? Or did that form I filled out a few months back suffice to make me a good juror (this is Montana after all, I’m sure we don’t have big-city standards)? I don’t think the form contained enough information about me for the prosecuting and defense teams to decide I am a good juror.  So I am inclined to think that there will be additional questioning. And if so, that would be my ticket out of it because if just one team of attorneys thinks that I would make a decisive, respectable, impartial juror, the court will probably dismiss me. And I would likely never be summoned again. To be honest, I don’t think I would make a “good” juror because I don’t like authority all that much. Not cops. Not judges. Not elected officials. And I absolutely loathe lawyers with rare exception. If they ask my opinion about any of of these things should I tell them or hold back?

Should I be honest (assuming they ask me the right kinds of questions) and tell them I think their courtroom — no, their entire system — is running a racket? This would basically be the cowardly way to reclaim my rights to my own person because they can’t do anything to you for expressing an opinion. The less cowardly way would be to refuse to show up, but that could put me in a world of trouble since all commands handed down by the state are in essence backed by the barrel of a gun. Talk about judicial fiat! (Pardon the monetary lingo.)

Or should I go the Jury Nullification route and pretend I would make a good juror by telling those shysters (there’s no “c”, like “schmuck” or “schlemiel” or “schlimazel” or “Schumer”, so it’s not Yiddish, so watch the charges of anti-Semitism!) what they want to hear? This would basically be accepting that my rights have been trampled and just getting over it so I can then defend the rights of someone else (the defendant). Potentially. If the need arises. Assumes it will be a case where Jury Nullification would be useful.

If the law in question is itself more of a crime than the breaking of it or if I think the guy is innocent but all the other jurors think he is guilty, then I can hang the jury (if the voting threshold requires unanimity) by being the sole person to decide: Innocent (technically, it’s “Not Guilty”). Then the case would either be thrown out or go to retrial (and presumably they will get a new jury).

If the law is legitimate and a real crime was committed by the defendant and I am truly convinced that he did indeed do it, and all the other jurors are as well, then my one chance to practice Jury Nullification goes out the window and I might as well have not even been a juror because if it is that bad of a crime and it is that obvious that the defendant did it, then obviously whoever went in my stead, perhaps some guy who’s never even heard of Jury Nullification and wouldn’t even practice it if he had, would come to the same conclusion as I might: Guilty. Then the defendant get’s hauled off to live at the expense of the taxpayer in a comfy little room for five to ten (or fined or whatever).

The thing about Jury Nullification is you have to be quiet about it (but if I want to be loud, I’ll just print this piece, read it and weep) in order for it to work. Unless you want them to dismiss you, even mentioning it will get you not only dismissed, but perhaps chased out and summarily stricken from the nice list. So, unless I plan on raising the hairs on the heads and necks of the lawyers and judge (I think I even voted for the guy) or secretly converting some of the other jurors or, I won’t be waving my FIJA-issued handbook in anyone’s face. Why bother? One nullifier is sufficient to arrest the progress of tyranny (one case at a time), even if the other eleven act like sheep. That’s the beauty of it. And that’s what juries are for.

But the whole involuntary servitude thing, I’m still not feeling it. Wasn’t there an Amendment against that thing and haven’t these state-level goons ever heard of the Incorporation Doctrine? Not that the 13th ever stopped federal-level goons.

And that’s not even my main reservation. Rather it’s that once I commit to nullifying — if there is a bad law (like it shouldn’t be one at all or the punishment does not fit the crime) — once I commit to nullifying, before I am aware of any details of the case, what if I am pressured and I waver and then make the wrong decision, condemn a man for breaking a law that shouldn’t even be there? Or what if it’s a legitimate law, but I still get the verdict wrong and condemn an innocent person (even if it’s something pathetic like a paying small fine)? That would be far worse than what the other jurors did. They were simply fooled. They were lied to. But if I do what they did, there’s no excuse. I know better, right?

Anyways, I’ve come up with two polls for you. The first one is asking what the most libertarian thing to do is, in this situation. Please answer it whether you are a libertarian or not: Should I dodge the summons (either the approach of not showing up or the gradualist approach of showing up but convincing the lawyers and judge that you are unfit) or should I nullify bad laws? To rephrase: should I fend for myself or make a statement by defending others? There might as well be a third option. Should I keep from drawing attention to myself and just go with the flow like everybody else, regardless of the facts and regardless of the law?

The second is asking what I should do, based on what you think is right or best. Should I “weasel” my way out of it by being honest that their “justice” and their “summons” are stenches in my nostrils? Should I nullify if there is a bad law, whether he broke it or not? Should I do my civic duty (to convict every criminal!) and just base my decision on the other juror’s consensus? Or should I sleep in and hope they don’t come knock down my door with  guns-ablazing?

For reference:

Article 3, Section 2, Paragraph 3, United States Constitution

The Trial of all Crimes, except in Cases of Impeachment, shall be by Jury; and such Trial shall be held in the State where the said Crimes shall have been committed; but when not committed within any State, the Trial shall be at such Place or Places as the Congress may by Law have directed.

Amendment 4, United States Constitution

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Amendment 5, United States Constitution

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

Amendment 6, United States Constitution

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.

Amendment 7, United States Constitution

In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

Amendment 8, United States Constitution

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

Amendment 9, United States Constitution

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

Amendment 10, United States Constitution

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

Amendment 13, United States Constitution

1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

14 thoughts on “I Have Been Summoned (Poll!)

  1. Well-written article! I read the entire thing. I was torn between voting “duty” or “nullify”. If you are impanelled, I think whichever one you decide to do, you could still do both… (correct me if I’m wrong.) You could judiciously condemn the felon, while also nullifying whatever might be morally wrong; both within the governments’ laws (if they are immoral) and biblically speaking. Who knows, the case(s) might end up being interesting.

    I myself, (having gone to court 3 times and testified one of the times), have a deep distrust and dislike of lawyers and judges. I honestly don’t know how anyone could be a lawyer. It isn’t about what is best for the defendant, as I witnessed. It’s all about who gets a bigger paycheck and who impresses the judge most. (And that is generalizing a bit, I’m sure not all lawyers/judges are like that.) But I was tempted to vote “weasel” or “sleep” just to evade the entire ordeal altogether… I’m just an indecisive person. Anyways, let us know how it goes, if it amounts to anything by the end of the day. Best of luck!

  2. For me, it depends on the nature of the case. I’ve gone to jury duty prepared to quote the Thirteenth Amendment. But it might also be fun to play Jury Nullification. Or you might have a case where a crime really has been committed, in which case you might enjoy the experience.

    • The whole thing was surprisingly interesting. It’s good to know how it works first hand even if I just sat there and never got to say anything. But that just means they’ll send another summons at some point.

  3. Hank,
    You should show up and let it unfold–this will provide entertainment for you grandchildren some day. Know that if you have any opinion about anything relating to the trial, you probably will be dismissed. You won’t have to make a stink. (In other words, wear a smile while you nullify!) My husband showed up as a potential juror, knew the defendant from high school days, was asked if he had an opinion on the defendant, and merely responded, “Well, in high school, you tend to form an opinion on everybody,” and was immediately dismissed from the case.
    I have testified several times. Once, when I was a young college student, in a moment of nervousness, I called the judge, “Your Majesty,” and he started smirking–and promptly closed the case–in our favor. Another time, I was cross-examined (attacked) for my personal beliefs while on the witness stand. I stuck to my guns, and afterward, another attorney on the case sought me out to let me know how much my stubbornness had impressed and encouraged him–which of course, encouraged me.
    As a defender and promoter of liberty, you should take EVERY opportunity to get your ideas “out there”–even when you disagree on principle with the vehicle of dissemination. Go and let your light shine!
    Amy Foreman

  4. Well, I got there on time, sat around for an hour before anything happened. There was a good seventy other potential jurors in the room. 27 (picked by computer) were impanelled immediately. A lot of them were dismissed in the first hour and each time a new person took their place. The rest of us were listening to the whole thing but not actively participating. There were three 10-15 minute recesses, and by the time it was over (the whole thing went from 8:30 to 1:30) and they picked their twelve jurors and one alternate, more than a third of us hadn’t done a thing, just sat there. It took me a while to figure out what I would say or do if I got called up there. Since everyone was technically under oath, if the question “would you convict someone who broke the law (state felony) even if you disagreed with that law” came up for me I would have just been honest and probably would have been dismissed, although in this particular case I did agree with the law insofar as I knew what was in it, so there’s a chance they would have ignored the fact I would have otherwise nullified. Others were asked this question, by the prosecutor, but the only person that spoke up said he would still find the person guilty because it was “not his role, as a juror, to make pronouncements on the law.” Another question, from the defense, was “should law enforcement be given more credibility than other witnesses?” No one gave a straight answer. I would have flat out said “no.” The defense probably would have liked that but the prosecution would probably want some clarification. A related question was “do cops intimidate you; if so why?” My answer (if I had been called up there): “Yes; they are armed, arrogant, and one step away from being thugs.” So I had three ways I could have gotten out of it, and given the oath, I would have felt compelled to use them. It seems that in order to nullify these days you have to lie under oath. Great system. Oh, and I did bring my jury handbook in. It was in my shirt pocket. Nobody noticed.

  5. That little oath that witnesses swear prior to taking the witness stand – ‘To tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.’ That never happens. Jurors never hear the whole truth as pre-trial activities are conducted to determine what evidence is and is not allowable. This is in addition to any false testimony given while on the stand (happens all the time). Even a piece of exonerating or damning evidence could be excluded based on technicalities. A juror will never be privy to this.

    Personally, I would always nullify. Its the state. They are out to win. They will spend your dollars to either successfully convict or extract a plea.

    • Please correct me if I misunderstand you. Always nullify, even when, based on your values you think it is a real crime and based on the evidence (I’d wager that even if the court system was 100% honest you would never get the whole truth) you think the person really committed it? I suppose I can understand that sentiment to a certain extent. Can one convict in good conscience, if they know there is a chance, perhaps only a slight one, that they aren’t really getting the whole story? I really don’t know if I could. But at the same time there are real criminals out there that need to be removed from society (only a temporary arrangement; I do believe in second chances) and/or make restitution, so if you nullify every time because there is a chance you don’t have all the facts, they will still be there plaguing us. Justice will go unserved for the criminal. The tradeoff may be that you serve it to the state instead. Maybe that will be worth it to cut down on the few cases where innocent people get convicted, as well as to slow down the state. But you would still have to do something to combat crime. There may be better methods than the ones in place, like just banning them from your community and dispensing the death penalty ONLY in self-defense, but until those are feasible you have to do something with them. But as you describe it, the way things are almost seem no better (and definitely worse in some cases) than vigilantism.

    • A few items to consider:

      In order to honestly vote for a conviction, one must be legitimately convinced that every step of the process; warrants, arrests, documentation, reports, testimonies, full disclosure etc. have all been accomplished with unquestionable integrity by all parties involved in the process.

      Yes, there are true criminals out there. Problematic of the current system is the absence of rehabilitative efforts which offer any significant opportunity for reform. The system is skewed heavily to promote recidivism. This recidivism is a large contributor to the continuance and expansion of the police/prison industrial complex. The term ‘criminal justice system’ is more than a little misleading.

      The majority of cases never see a trial. Plea bargains are offered with reduced sentences, which are often taken due to lack of funds, fear of prosecution, and the unwillingness to depend upon a public defender if one cannot afford a prohibitively expensive defense attorney.

      This raises an interesting question about so called justice: If a prosecutor is willing to offer a reduced sentence for a plea, yet pushes for a harsher sentence if a case goes to trial, where is justice being offered? If the prosecutor truly believes a crime has been committed, why the flexibility on sentencing? Why be willing to compromise only for the sake of avoiding a trial?

      In any event, jury trials are the exception. A much better option might be to instill a restitution based system for all but the truly dangerous to society types. Those sentenced to jail or prison are really never able to make financial restitution as income opportunities become almost non-existent following incarceration.

      I personally have no problem sitting on any jury and nullifying. Until the state can either develop better alternatives or crumble into oblivion, its a small thing I can do to throw a rock in their spokes.

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