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.

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

Around the Web: Left and Right Edition

Some sense is finally being made on foreign policy in the Wall Street Journal (h/t Jacques)

Jury nullification in New Hampshire!?! Please buh-lieve it!

When Left links up with Right

Will Wilkinson (of the Economist) and Nick Gillespie (of Reason) take turns ganging up on a recent hit piece of libertarianism in the New York Times. Libertarianism, if you will remember, is the best of both the Left and the Right (with none of the nastiness).

And on Leftist-but-realist (a rarity I assure you!) Stephen Walt’s blog over at Foreign Policy, a Cato Institute foreign policy wonk gets his due.

Pushing Back Against the State

A friend recently brought my attention to the Orwellian American Community Survey (ACS), a 48-question survey that is sent by the Census Bureau to a random sample of households and asks whether you have difficulty concentrating, how much you paid to heat your home last year, how many times you’ve been married, whether you have a toilet, and on and on.

In 2010 (and in the previous three decades) I sent in my regular census form with the first two questions filled in, those that respond to the Census Bureau’s Constitutional authority to conduct an enumeration every ten years.  I left the rest blank.  I got one visit from a census-taker and told her to get lost.  That was the end of it.  My friend, who is less interested in matters of constitutionality, tells me he simply threw his away and ignored the people who came knocking on his door until they gave up.  I think that’s what I would do with the ACS if I ever got one.

I got my driver’s license renewed last week and they took my thumb print.  I thought of resisting, but to what end?  The DMV drones would simply deny my license, and then what?  Mount some kind of campaign?  I have no time for such a thing, and a driver’s license is a necessity.

Last fall I was summoned for jury duty.  I called the specified phone number the night before and heard that I needn’t report.  But for some reason they decided I was a no-show.  The consequence?  I got a post card scolding me, no more.  (I was prepared to quote the 13th Amendment to the judge, the one that outlaws involuntary servitude.  I was also prepared to go ahead and serve, if the case were an interesting one where I might apply jury nullification.)  My friend just ignores jury summons.

I am about to begin remodeling work on my house, including re-doing a couple of bathrooms.  The building code has gotten quite a bit more intrusive since I built my house in 1978.  My neighbors are laughing at me since both did their bathrooms without permits.  But for various reasons I am going the permit route.  And in truth, some of the provisions that I bristled at first turned out, upon reflection, to be beneficial to me.

And to round out my list of sins, I never mounted the front license plate on my Thunderbird convertible.  I just thought that would spoil its looks, but it occurred to me that I probably can’t be caught by red-light cameras.  I’m amazed that I haven’t been stopped in eight years.

So the question I ask myself (and you) is: where to draw the line — when to push back and when to go along.  The aforementioned examples suggest that the consequences of resistance are likely to be far less than what we fear.  For that we can thank bureaucratic ineptitude.  Random citizens are almost as likely to fall prey to some bureaucratic outrage as are resistors.

I guess the answer is that each of us should do our own cost-benefit analysis.  How good will I feel about resisting and what is it likely to cost me?  Of course that’s often difficult to estimate, but I know one thing: I don’t want to be just a bystander to the slide into fascist dictatorship, if that’s where we’re headed.

While freedom of speech survives we should make the best of it, as in blogs like this.  But almost all the tools are in place for government agents to persecute people for their expressed opinions.  For example, the NSA is developing a capability to intercept and decrypt almost any sort of electronic communication such as emails, phone calls or Google searches. They may well be trolling the entire internet for posts like this.

What are your thoughts?  How are you pushing back?