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Jury Duty [Sep. 9th, 2003|12:30 am]
[mood |drunkdrunk]

A few months ago, I got my second-ever summons to appear for Jury Duty. (The first one was back in college, and I never had to appear for that one after replying that I was still a student.) Since I occasionally take my civic duties seriously, I thought I'd read up on it a bit. It wasn't pretty.

First, the good things. California has joined many other states in switching to a “one day / one trial” system: if you appear to serve, you will either be selected for a jury on that day, or that one day of waiting will count as your service for an entire year.

Just from hearsay, I was pretty sure that I'd be excused from any panel I was picked for. The strikes against me would be that I am:

  1. atheist;
  2. college-educated;
  3. libertarian (with a lower-case “l”);
  4. distrustful of the Government in general;
  5. distrustful of the Police in particular;
  6. white;
  7. believe in Jury Nullification (of which, more later).

Other readings weren't so reassuring. In particular, what exactly is the duty of a juror (and, by extension, a jury)? The most simplistic view is that they are simple fact-evaluating machines, coming into a trial with totally open minds, hearing the evidence, getting instructions from the judge, then deciding whether or not the evidence supports a conviction beyond a reasonable doubt (in criminal cases) or whether there's a preponderance of the evidence for one side or the other (in civil cases)

I don't think it's quite that simple, and there are more than a few people that agree. Many people have cited various arguments and quotations from the founders to show that jurors serve as the final check and balance to validate that a law is sane, and I find those arguments very compelling.

On top of those comments, there is another consideration. I hold this truth to be self-evident: any entity in power will use that power to maintain power and try to grab more power. In the current context, there is a growing movement in the Judicial branch to squash the rights and powers of the jury. Jury activism is counter to everyone's goals (except maybe the defence attorneys — which is why they're prohibited from mentioning it).

Every time I see a case where the people who might be affected by rules get to make those rules — and judges in America's courtrooms qualify — I find that there will be corruption and a need for oversight.

But that oversight hasn't been forthcoming. The other two branches of the government are equally hampered by jury activism, so they move in support of the Judiciary and against the average citizen.

Some of the more egregious issues:

  • In California, judges are prohibited by state law from explaining Jury Nullification to their juries.
  • Also in California, judges are prohibited from telling their juries what the consequences of the different verdicts might be. In combination with “mandatory minimums” and “three strikes” laws, this makes it very difficult for juries to vote their conscience.

Anyway, it was an educational experience, and I was a bit disappointed to be dismissed without ever having sat through jury selection. Maybe next time.