Heavy Duty Jury Duty

Modern Jury Box

Today was the third time I’ve been called in for Jury Duty since I moved to this area about 21 years ago.  I’m a bit conflicted about the system, while I do believe it to be the best in the world.  It’s not perfect, but it IS the best, bar none (pun intended).

On one hand, as a mature citizen, I do find it all very interesting.  I hated history and social studies in high school.  But, now I find it all very relevant.  I understand better now what our Country’s Founders did and why.  I now get why responsible citizens should PARTICIPATE.  That includes being an INFORMED voter.

constitutionI would LIKE to serve on a jury.  But, I honestly don’t have the TIME to do it.  As a business owner and solo dentist, I am the only “producer” in my practice.  Every day I’m away costs money… a lot of money.  I can’t afford to be away for extended periods of time.  Now is simply not a “good time” for me to be on a jury.  But, there’s not much I can do about that.

That said, I must be honest in my answers to any questions during “voir dire.”  That’s when the judge and attorneys ask the potential jurors in the pool questions to determine their qualifications / viability as an impartial juror.

The first set of questions was a list of standard questions asked by the court / judge:

  1. Name?
  2. Where do you live?  For how long?
  3. Occupation?
  4. Served on a jury before?
  5. Been in a lawsuit?
  6. Other.  (Whatever else you feel is pertinent to your participation)

Two Attorneys Walk in from the Bar

JusticeThe case before us today was a matter between two attorneys.  That’s right… one attorney suing another!  Hoo-boy!  The plaintiff worked as an attorney for the defendant’s firm for 20-something years.  He alleged that the defendant did not pay bonuses due to him.  But, here’s the good part:  They didn’t have a written contract!!  No shit!   Two ATTORNEYS with an employer / employee (partnership?) relationship DIDN’T HAVE A CONTRACT.  They had a VERBAL agreement.  Holy crap!

The judge said that they expect this trial to last a week.  A WEEK!  Shit… I didn’t even take a week off for vacation this summer.

Four Attorneys and a Judge Walk into a Barr

So, when I got to the “other” question, I just had to say, “I can’t help being amused at two parties, both attorneys, having a VERBAL agreement for all those years.”  There was laughter all around along with a lot of nodding heads.

So, then it was the attorneys’ turn to ask specific jurors specific questions.   And, sure enough, one of the attorneys asked me to expand on my feelings pertaining to my “other” comment.  Judge - Stern and ScoldingSo, I simply repeated my astonishment that attorneys would make a long-term deal on a handshake.  I also said that, while I don’t know much about contract law, I can’t imagine how one would present “evidence” pertaining to a verbal contract.  It’s VERBAL.

The judge interrupted me and said, “You must understand that as a juror, you must abide by the law as I explain it to you.  You don’t have to like the law, but you must abide by it.  If you want to change the law, there are avenues to do that with your representative legislators.”

And, THAT opened the door.  😀

What the Heck Is Jury Nullification?

I replied that I must admit to being aware of “Jury Nullification.”  That means a jury can nullify a law if they feel it is unjust.  We can acquit even though the defendant violated the law, if we disagree with the law.  In other words, if the jury feels the law is WRONG, we can IGNORE it.  We can also ignore the judge’s orders to follow the law.  This contradicted what today’s judge had just said.  Jury Nullification doesn’t happen much… probably because most citizens / jurors are not aware of Jury Nullification.  And, when applied, it’s most often in criminal cases.  But, it can also apply to civil cases.  However, realistically, the law (and therefore the verdict) is usually just.

But, I can tell you this:  The judge… ‘she no like’ what I said!   She came back with, “Are you saying that you won’t abide by the law?”  My reply:  “Not if I feel it is unjust or unconstitutional.”  She concluded with, “Thank you.”  And, I sat down.

After all 30 potential jurors were questioned to the satisfaction of the attorneys, we were sent out for a 20-minute break.  When we returned, the judge announced the chosen jurors.  I wasn’t one of them.  Big surprise!

While I really don’t feel I have the time nor the financial latitude to endure a week-long trial as a juror, my purpose was not to “get out of it” by being intentionally combative or by feigning some strong bias (some jurors tried).  The judge and attorneys aren’t dummies, and they can see through that.  They simply deflect and ask the same question another way to the point where most of the jurors admit they could be impartial.

I spoke the truth.  And, every citizen / juror should know his or her rights, even if the judge tries to sweep it under the rug.

You’ve Gotta Fight… for Your Rights…. to Nuuull-i-fy!

Hat tip to the Beastie Boys.I’m simply being honest and expressing my beliefs.  In recent years, I’ve become more of a student of the Constitution and our Rights as citizens.  In that process, I’ve learned about the concept of Jury Nullification.  I’ve learned that WE, the People, have inalienable Rights.  I don’t like the fact that judges and attorneys INTENTIONALLY keep us in the dark about our rights when it suits their agenda.  This is apparently not uncommon.  And, sure enough, the judge in the courtroom today did not tell US the “whole truth.”  The truth is that jurors have a defacto authority to disagree with the law and apply that disagreement to the case at hand in spite of the judge’s orders to do otherwise.

Get smart and know your rights!  And, stand up for them, when they’re challenged (even by a judge)!  A right not exercised is a right lost.

Back to work, I go!

PS… Hot off the presses (from the Washington Post).  It appears that judges and prosecutors are NOT happy with the idea of citizens knowing their rights (click the link):
Billboard advocating jury nullification concerns local prosecutors

PPS… Even hotter off the presses:  A citizen was arrested for handing out pamphlets informing people about Jury Nullification on the sidewalk outside a courthouse:
Judge orders former pastor arrested for handing out jury nullification fliers.
To download the pamphlet, click on Jury Nullification.

Edit to add:  Here’s an interesting and informative website about jury duty:
Fully Informed Jury Association

From the same website, a page about the Constitutional basis for Jury Nullification.

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