1. What have we seen in a year of lockdown? Philip Ball, homunculus
  2. The myth of the impartial juror Sonali Chakravarti, Boston Review
  3. June in Arkansas Chloe Honum, Bat City Review
  4. Go Bruins!


  1. The man who went to the North Korean place that ‘doesn’t exist’ Megha Mohan, BBC
  2. Assessing Our Frayed Society with (German-Korean philosopher) Byung-Chul Han Scott Beauchamp, Law & Liberty
  3. Baxter Street & Jury Duty, Summer of 2016 Edward Miller, Coldnoon
  4. Ta-Nehisi Coates & the Afro-Pessimist Temptation Darryl Pinckney, New York Review of Books

Can we count on juries?

Towards the end of this week’s Cracked Podcast an important issue was raised: juries are peopled by human beings and human beings are not naturally good at figuring out cause and effect. Over the last few hundred years the sort of evidence juries would have to evaluate were fairly simple; things like “does the glove fit?” (Okay, that’s a bad example.) But now juries are faced with expert witnesses discussing things like DNA evidence which requires a jury capable of interpreting statistical evidence. This is fine if the defendant has the money to hire their own expert witnesses, but for poor defendants they might well get railroaded by the ignorance of the jury. Is there anything that can be done?

Was I too Rash on Juries and Nullification?

I made a certain statement (a status update, not a comment) on Facebook, and in retrospect maybe it would have been better to have made it more intelligible (okay, and less harsh as well). Now instead I must go through the statement line by line and clarify and defend it. I don’t know if it is good blogging etiquette or not to drag Facebook into it, but this started out as a clarification for the Facebook crowd and transformed into something to big to post there. We’ll see, I guess. Here is the statement I made:

Idiots (to speak kindly) who call others cowards for trying to get out of jury duty, thereby eliminating the less than 0.00001% chance that that person might have to actually “help their fellow man” are perhaps no less dull and collectivist-minded than the feverish nationalist buffoons who make similar statements about “serving” overseas. The purpose of today’s “defense” system is to murder innocents abroad. The purpose of today’s “justice” system is to incarcerate innocents at home. Any person who wants no part in this is not only not a coward, that person is a hero. Anyone who says otherwise should put their money where their big, loud mouths are. How brave and principled are you really, huh tough guy? Quit yer bitchin’ and show me! Get the hell off of Facebook and the comments sections of blogs and put your own life and livelihood on the line.

This all started when a Facebook friend (a very well-known person in certain circles, but I guess I won’t bring up his name) mentioned he had been “conscripted” for jury duty. This interested me at the time because it was just days after I had sent in my own paperwork for jury duty (this would be the second time, click here for my thoughts on the first). As is usually the case with this particular person’s statuses, the comments section was on fire. But the debate was at least a little more civil than the one that took place in the comments section of a blog post that someone linked to in this Facebook thread. It was an article by the estimable Douglas French of  Laissez-Faire Books and the Mises Institute recounting how he had gotten out of jury duty by telling the lawyers in the voir dire process, and later the judge, that, if made a juror, even if he thought the defendant guilty, he would not convict. That even if he was the only such person, he would hang the jury and nullify a bad law.

To my surprise he was accused in several comments of being a hypocrite and a coward because he chose not to perjure himself in order to get on the jury so that he might actually nullify, rather than do as he had done by merely telling off the judge and the attorneys. Sure, some of these commenters concocted clever ways whereby Mr. French could have (hindsight is 20/20) spoken ambiguously in order to get on the jury and then nullify without technically committing perjury but doing this would have required not only premeditation, but also that the person (in this case a humble economist) perfectly answer any objection brought up by the two (three, if you count the judge) cross-examining lawyers in the voir dire process. This would be like expecting the Oakland Raiders to beat the New York Yankees. In Yankee Stadium. Playing baseball. That’s nothing if not an “undue hardship.” Despite having this explained to them (on both the blog and on Facebook) there were those that persisted in their stupidity and their rudeness. Their argument at the end of it all amounted to, “so what, you’re still a coward.”

Now let me explain what I meant by my original statement, line by line:

Idiots (to speak kindly) who call others cowards for trying to get out of jury duty…

These specific people really are idiots in my estimation. Not because they think jury duty might be a good way to help your fellow man, but because they readily abuse others who don’t think it is all it’s cracked up to be, and because, even after the latter view point has been soundly defended, still won’t make room for the fact that other people might have more important obligations (or even trivial druthers) than being at some magistrate’s beck and call all week, pressured into agreeing with 11 other people on something that might be worth disagreeing on.

…thereby eliminating the less than 0.00001% chance that that person might have to actually “help their fellow man”…

I am referring here not to pronouncing a “not guilty” verdict on falsely or mistakenly accused innocents (which is why juries ever came about in the first place, I believe, and is a very admirable thing to do), but specifically to hanging a jury thereby nullifying bad law. In order to even get on a jury to do this you basically have to lie in voir dire, which is perjury. The 0.00001% may or may not be exaggerated, but you don’t exactly hear about jury nullification every day so I bet it’s not too far from the mark. If I had been talking about mere “not guilty” verdicts this would be way off. That number is probably more like 50%.

…are perhaps no less dull and collectivist-minded than the feverish nationalist buffoons…

These jury-shamers I am talking about appear to be primarily libertarians, a group of people who seem to pride themselves on being bright and individualist-minded, so comparing them to those they despise the most (basically various shades of Neoconservatism, but in a pinch, Democrats who think Obama deserved his Nobel Peace Prize will do nicely) is the ultimate dig.

…who make similar statements about “serving” overseas.

The kinds of statements I am referring to in my comparison of jury-shamers to Neocons/Obama-Peacers are analogous to jury nullification, not analogous to “not guilty” verdicts. So maybe I’m talking about a person who admits in some cases that innocent people die even in the United States’ wars, but for the most part it’s just the bad guys. And then maybe, as if that didn’t make them look foolish enough, they make some statement to the effect of, “You can disobey immoral/unethical orders without being accused of insubordination, then court-martialed and punished.”

Note that these immoral/unjust orders might still somehow be lawful, or that even if they are unlawful, there is still pressure from command and your peers to carry them out. But let’s not be coy: just because something is done by the book does not mean it is right or correct or even excusable. Having rules of engagement may be better than having no rules, but they are no substitute for not invading and occupying in the first place.

The purpose of today’s “defense” system is to murder innocents abroad.

Collateral damage is murder, so even if these wars are motivated by good intentions, that’s what’s going on. However, I don’t think we should give the same exact Powers That Be that we accuse of being malevolent at home the benefit of the doubt by assuming that they are somehow benevolent abroad.

The purpose of today’s “justice” system is to incarcerate innocents at home.

This is somewhat different than saying that the “defense” system’s purpose is to murder innocents abroad. While there may be collateral damage of sorts, that is not what I am talking about. Here, I am talking about bad law. You may be “guilty” of breaking the law, so in that sense the purpose of the “justice” system is to incarcerate the “guilty”, and not as I said, the innocent. But this assumes that the laws in question are all good.

That is quite an assumption to make about the government of the supposed freest nation on earth that happens to have the highest incarceration rates in the world. The elephant in the room here is the Drug War. Most of us can agree that drugs are generally bad news, and that the violence associated with drugs is even worse news, but far too few seem to realize that this is just the natural result of prohibition. Surprise! It didn’t work with alcohol, which, according to some metrics, is FAR MORE DANGEROUS than certain hard drugs, but somehow these people thought it was going to work with pot and heroin? In a post-1960s world?! What were they smoking?

Any person who wants no part in this is not only not a coward, that person is a hero.

Freedom of conscience. That’s all this is. Would we want to live in a world where people are led to believe that exercising this right somehow makes them spineless (again, we can all agree on something, that just having your conscience tell you something doesn’t make that something right)? Well then, just open your eyes. Look out the window. Turn on the TV (the only channel immune to this might be the Weather Channel). People with an actual conscience or actual principles are laughing stocks. They are the ultimate fools in the eyes of the world. And for that, yes, even the ones I disagree with, they have my respect.

Anyone who says otherwise should put their money where their big, loud mouths are.

Here I’m only applying the same standards to the accusers that the accusers are applying to the accused. Judge not, that ye be not judgedThou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eyeTherefore, all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to themPhysician, heal thyselfHe that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone.

How brave and principled are you really, huh tough guy? Quit yer bitchin’ and show me! Get the hell off of Facebook and the comments sections of blogs…

Well, it sounded good at the time. But as a wise guy once told me, “vulgarity is no substitute for wit.”

…and put your own life and livelihood on the line.

In the case of “defense” and the military, especially in time of war, your life is on the line. No one disputes that. In the case of jury duty, especially when you perjure yourself in order to nullify bad law, it could very well be your livelihood that is threatened. But even where there is no perjury or nullification going on, there is still a case to be made that your livelihood is in danger.

I understand it is the situation in probably most states that your employer cannot fire you (and may even be made to remunerate you in some way) for taking time off for jury duty. Were it not for this law (which places burdens on employers that arguably shouldn’t be there), there’s at least the possibility that you would not be retained/paid for this “time off”, especially if your employer was not particularly fond of the unjust and immoral incursions of the government into everyday life. And why shouldn’t your employer be able to look out for his own best interests, even if it means firing your sorry behind? Does he “owe” you your job, indefinitely, no matter what? If it wasn’t for our crummy system and you were to be fired or lose pay because of jury duty, would your instinct really be to blame your employer? Not the people who conscripted you for jury duty in the first place? Or not the people who made life so miserable for some so-called criminal that you felt it was your duty to aid that person by nullifying the bad law he was being tried for breaking?

Additionally, since jury duty, unlike the military (these days at least) is something the state compels people to do (ultimately backing up their threats with actual guns, prisons, and larceny), telling these loud mouth accusers to put their livelihood on the line needn’t mean they have to serve on a jury (something they cannot do unless called upon). It could very well mean instead that they go out and agitate through means of civil disobedience: resisting arrest, harassing magistrates and LEOs, and so forth. Don’t act so surprised by these seemingly bizarre suggestions; we are talking about libertarians here, after all. And civil disobedience, though not quite so much as actual violent acts (only justified in self-defense, need I remind you?), can very well land you in the slammer and/or ruin your reputation as a good cog in the machine. If that doesn’t threaten your livelihood, I don’t know what does.

The Zimmerman Verdict, Racism and Trial by Jury

First of all, I have to admit up front that I had not been following the Zimmerman trial at all until the Not Guilty verdict flooded my Twitter feed and Facebook page. The case was just too common, too parochial and had attracted the type of Americans who normally don’t read the more cerebral musings found on this blog (if you get my drift).

I knew it was racially-charged, and that it was taking place in the South, but other than that I had really been in the dark about the relevant details. Nevertheless, you’re gonna get my two cents.

Here are the details that I have found relevant. Some of them may not, at first glance, seem relevant because they don’t even pertain to the Zimmerman-Martin case at all, but stay with me:

  1. George Zimmerman identifies as a Hispanic, not a white person, and is a registered, tried-and-true member of the Democratic Party. I bring this up first and foremost because race in this country has become an odd thing, to say the least. Perhaps it always has been. See Dr Delacroix’s ethnographic musings on race in America here for more on race in the US.
  2. In Jacksonville (also in Florida), a black woman was sentenced to 20 years in prison by a judge (not a jury) for firing warning shots at her estranged (and black) husband. It is unclear if the woman had a prior criminal record.* She was seeking a restraining order against the man and her defense team used the same “Stand Your Ground” laws used by Zimmerman’s team.** The trial was taking place at the same time as the Zimmerman one.
  3. In Miller Place, an affluent, predominantly white hamlet of Long Island in New York City, a black man was convicted by a jury of killing an unarmed white teenager who showed up at the black man’s house in the early hours of the morning and was threatening to assault the man’s son. The white teenager, now dead, had been friends with the black man’s teenage son.

All three of the verdicts were handed down over the weekend. I take away a couple of things about American society from these three cases. Firstly, the only white person involved in any of these cases directly was an unarmed teenager who got shot in the face. Secondly, America still has a long way to go before racism becomes more irrelevant than relevant. Jim Crow ended in the late 1960s, but its legacy of state-sponsored racism lives on in a number of ways that I don’t want to list here (feel free to do so in the ‘comments’ section).

Thirdly, and perhaps more importantly, I think that, were the woman from Jacksonville to have received a trial by jury (and it is still unclear to me why she did not get this constitutional right), she would have been found Not Guilty. Given this speculation, and given the large amount of ignorance about each of these cases on my part, I still have to conclude that the juries made the right decision.

Tocqueville once wrote about the unique trial by jury system found in the United States and argued that it was the jury itself which guaranteed liberty and freedom in the United States. Were this unique system ever to be removed from the legal system, Tocqueville mused, it would signify the beginning of the end of the American experiment in self-government. The right to be judged by one’s peers, instead of by a member of the court, is a right too few Americans appreciate enough. The trial by jury is not perfect, not by a long shot, but it is also no accident that liberty, tranquility and prosperity reign prominently in the few societies where it has been implemented.

*[Update: the woman had no prior criminal record]

**[Update: the Zimmerman team did not use the “Stand Your Ground” law of Florida]

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.) Continue reading