Dismissed Over Jury Instructions

Today I had Jury Duty. That is not uncommon: I get summoned every year. Yes, every year. I’ve only served once, however, as they tend to either summon me about a month after we move to a different county or state (we have moved quite a bit over the last few years), or my personal convictions aren’t aligned with that of the judge.

We hang the petty thieves and appoint the great ones to public office.
— Aesop (~550 BC)

I fully respect the right to be a juror, and gratefully served as an alternate the one time I was "allowed" to continue past interviews. Quite frankly, I’ve got a bad track record for making it that far. It’s not that I don’t show up. Quite the opposite, I get there and am usually dismissed within moments – and not for my own bias, but that of the judge. In the past I’ve been dismissed for silly reasons, like wearing a printed t-shirt or using the restroom without permission (stupid judges).

The jury is the last defense of freedom in the united States, and exists specifically to provide the people with the ability to trump the actions of all three branches of federal government, and the local government system. Just because a law is passed through congress, signed by the president or governor, or even makes it through several court cases, does not mean the law is "just." It is the jurors duty to make that determination in addition to the other facts of a case.

This time, I was dismissed for supporting our form of government. Yes, seriously. After the initial 20-some-odd people were selected and asked a barrage of questions intended to weed out those with bias against the judge, attorneys, defendant or witnesses, I was selected to replace one of those dismissed. Most specifically, they want to make sure you aren’t predisposed to favor one side of the case more than the other because there might be police officers or certain types of witnesses who may be more likely to receive your trust based solely on their status, and not their actual testimony.

While I respect the goal, I question its legitimacy. Who decides how likely we are to be more favorable to one side than another? The judge. And that’s where I take issue. This judge, I’ll just call him "Jack," an abbreviation of the donkey of a man he is, demonstrated his own bias several times.

When listing the charges he stated on several occasions things which were obviously favorable to the peoples case. For example, when describing the charge of "interfering with a utility," he said she "yanked the phone cord out of the wall." Yanked? Hey Jack, sounds to me like you’ve already decided how you feel about the defendant. When describing the charge of "interfering, avoiding, obstructing or resisting" (resisting arrest), he said the defendant forcefully fought the officers off. Hello? Sounds like Jack is introducing testimony already – before a jury has even been selected. While Jack described the primary charge of battery against two women as "something as minor as touching someone on the shoulder," he took judicial liberty to describe the charge of "aggravated battery against a police officer" as being more significant "because police officers are more important." Looks to me like he ought to be recusing himself, due to his very blatant feelings towards one side of the case. On the plus side, the defendant has excellent grounds to appeal her forthcoming conviction, since there’s no way she can hope to get a fair trial.

Jury Duty: The way it’s supposed to be

"The jury has a right to judge both the law as well as the fact in controversy."
— John Jay, 1st Chief Justice
   United States supreme Court, 1789

"The jury has the right to determine both the law and the facts."
— Samuel Chase, U.S. supreme Court Justice,
   1796, Signer of the unanimous Declaration

"the jury has the power to bring a verdict in the teeth of both law and fact."
— Oliver Wendell Holmes,
   U.S. supreme Court Justice, 1902

"The law itself is on trial quite as much as the cause which is to be decided."
— Harlan F. Stone, 12th Chief Justice
   U.S. supreme Court, 1941

"The pages of history shine on instance of the jury’s exercise of its prerogative to disregard instructions of the judge…"
— U.S. vs Dougherty, 473 F 2nd 113, 1139, (1972)

"Where rights secured by the Constitution are involved, there can be no rule making or legislation which would abrogate them"
— Miranda vs Arizona, 384 US 436 p. 491

"All laws which are repugnant to the Constitution are null and void."
— Marbury vs Madison, 5 US (2 Cranch) 137, 174, 176, (1803)

"An unconstitutional act is not law; it confers no right; it imposes no duties; affords no protection; it creates no office; it is in legal contemplation, as inoperative as though it had never been passed."
— Norton vs Shelby County, 118 US 425, p.442

The more telling questions were when Jack asked if anyone had any close friends, family, or themselves with experience in police, correctional or other related history. He dismissed everyone that reported ever having a bad experience with a police officer or other government agent, but kept everyone who had family or friends who were correctional officers, peace officers, military, or themselves retired military (like myself). Jack asked if anyone had experience with abuse, battery or assault charges, victims, witnesses or otherwise, and kept everyone that reported ever having been victimized in any fashion, and tossed the two people who reported having been either accused with no charges brought, or charged and dismissed. I guess it doesn’t pay to be "everyman."

This jury is so stacked against her that she doesn’t stand a chance.

What really gets me though, after the previous barrage of questions, and having kept people who have far more significant emotional ties to the alleged crimes, was when he asked if any of the prospective jurors would have a problem with accepting the law exactly, and only, as he describes it when he gives the jury instructions, setting any of our own experience, knowledge or "understanding" of the law aside. Naturally, I disagreed with that.

Unlike Jack, I do not know the "facts" of the case. I would prefer to reserve judgement on the case, the law or any aspect of the situation at least until I hear someones testimony – besides his. But more significantly, because I do not know what his instructions will be, it would be impossible for me to assert that I will follow his instructions without regard for my own life experience or education. It is a jurors responsibility to think for himself. Perhaps this is as simple as being another example of our political 2001 Odyssey: "Welcome to America, land of the free-to-do-as-you’re-told."

Apparently Jack wants a jury that will be more likely to believe his preferred witnesses (after all, Jack has already demonstrated that he knows the "facts" of the case), take his word as law (literally) and bring our verdict without concern for our "unapproved" experiences.

After arriving home, I told a friend about my experience at jury duty, and he teased me about how my "anti-government" convictions were being used to keep me from serving. It’s hard to laugh when it’s true. 🙁