Jury Duty for Radicals

"...as a juror, you are one of a panel of twelve judges with the responsibility of protecting all innocent Americans from unjust laws."

If your response to the subject of this resource is "huh?!?," here's a rationale:

"Think about everyone rotting in jail because juries believe the cops, think of all of those who are the victims of not only the weight of the system, but of 12 people who believed the bullshit. Perhaps if there were people on the jury who understand that cops lie, that prosecutors hide the truth, there would be fewer people in jail."
Jessica Rechtschaffer, from the NYC Anarchists discussion list, Re: [nyc@] Jury Duty --> -- Wed, 22 Oct 2008 17:49:21 -0700 (PDT). Quoted with permission

The main point here is that you should want to be selected for a jury, and once serving, you should know your rights and responsibilities, as they are, and not necessarily as they will be explained to you by the judge on your case.

Getting picked

  • Keep your opinions to yourself.
  • Keep your freak flag down, or at least at half mast.
  • This is not the moment to make a big deal about your principles. Prioritize the prisoner.

FAQ, (Please send me more!)

During the voir dire, do they ask if you've been arrested, or if you've been convicted? If it's the former, is there a way to not lie about a (civil disobedience) arrest record (no convictions), without revealing it? Can you answer something like "I've never been convicted of a crime." and refuse to get into what you've merely been accused of?

They can ask you if you've been arrested or convicted of a crime, they can also ask you if you've been the victim of a crime. If you refuse to do anything then you're less likely to get picked for the jury. It's better to make it a cagey pleasant answer - or an honest answer - probably your misdemeanors aren't going to get you kicked out - but being obstinate or unhelpful or unfriendly will.

If I normally ask for an alternative vow (instead of "So help me God"), should I do the same before the voir dire?

Fight your church and state battle on your own time if you can possibly stand it. This is not about you.

Won't the judge tell me how to review the case, and don't I have to follow her guidelines?

No and no. "You must know your rights! Because, once selected for jury duty, nobody will inform you of your power to judge both law and fact. In fact, the judge's instructions to the jury may be to the contrary." Jurors' Handbook, p. 2, continued...

"Moreover, it has been recommended that federal judges go one step further and routinely tell jurors, 'You are bound by the oath that you took at the beginning of the trial to follow the instructions that I give you, even if you personally disagree with them.'

"... But despite its tremendous popularity among judges, this argument is by far the most misshapen stone in the barricade judges have been erecting around the jury box. To begin with, it is usually false. The typical oath taken by jurors today does not forbid them from refusing to convict based on their sense of justice. ... At the beginning of the trial, jurors are typically asked to swear that they 'will well and truly try and a true deliverance make between the United States and the defendant at the bar, and a true verdict render according to the evidence, so help [me] God.'

"... But nothing in this oath would forbid jurors from acquitting if they are convinced -- based solely on "the evidence" -- that the accused's actions were morally blameless and that a conviction would be unjust.

"... If a jury refuses to convict a man because of overwhelming feelings of mercy or justice, they are returning a 'false' verdict. A verdict of 'not guilty' based on a jury's notions of justice is not affirmatively declaring that he is innocent. (The same is true of an acquittal based on their conclusion that he has only been shown to be probably guilty, but not beyond a reasonable doubt.) The general 'not guilty' verdict is merely a shorthand way of allowing the jury to express, for reasons they need not explain, 'we do not choose to condemn the accused by pronouncing him guilty.'"

Once you've been selected
The information below is excerpted from Jurors' Handbook: A Citizens Guide to Jury Duty, by James Joseph Duane, which you should really read in its entirety and bring with you to court.

  • But does the jury's power to veto bad laws exist under our Constitution?
    It certainly does! ... Chief Justice John Jay said: "It is presumed, that juries are the best judges of facts; it is, on the other hand, presumed that courts are the best judges of law. But still both objects are within your power of decision." ... "you have a right to take it upon yourselves to judge of both, and to determine the law as well as the fact in controversy." (Georgia v. Brailsford, 1794)
  • "If the jury feels that the law under which the defendant is accused, is unjust, or that exigent circumstances justified the actions of the accused, or for any reason which appeals to their logic of passion, the jury has the power to acquit, and the courts must abide by that decision." (US vs Moylan, 417 F 2d 1002, 1006 (1969))
  • If you feel the statute involved in any criminal case being tried before you is unfair, or that it infringes upon the defendant's God-given inalienable or Constitutional rights, you can affirm that the offending statute is really no law at all and that the violation of it is no crime; for no man is bound to obey an unjust command. In other words, if the defendant has disobeyed some man-made criminal statute, and the statute is unjust, the defendant has in substance, committed no crime. Jurors, having ruled then on the justice of the law involved and finding it opposed in whole or in part to their own natural concept of what is basically right, are bound to hold for the acquittal of said defendant.
  • It is your responsibility to insist that your vote of not guilty be respected by all other members of the jury. For you are not there as a fool, merely to agree with the majority, but as a qualified judge in your right to see that justice is done. Regardless of the pressures or abuse that may be applied to you by any or all members of the jury with whom you may in good conscience disagree, you can await the reading of the verdict secure in the knowledge you have voted your conscience and convictions, not those of someone else.

More arguments for serving jury duty

"I've heard radicals say that serving their jury duty would be to collaborate with, and legitimize the system, as if skipping out on it is somehow an ethical decision. Would these radicals apply this argument to protest other types of interactions with the criminal justice system, especially when doing so would create negative consequences for themselves? Getting out of jury duty is kinda like not voting, in that it is easy and no one gets penalized for it. I imagine there are fewer examples of radicals citing an opposition to cooperating with the justice system when it means risking much.

"There are all kinds of other ways in which we collaborate with the system -- we accept help from pro bono civil rights lawyers when we have serious charges against us, we show our IDs and go through metal detectors to visit people in jail or attend a trial, we report rapes to the cops, we answer the questions of customs agents, and we pull over to the side of the road acknowledging that a cop has signaled us to do so. Sure, we dirty our hands in some way by going along with any of these things; so ok, we have dirty hands. But if we ignore the justice system only when it makes things easier for ourselves, we are just being lazy, self-serving and exploiting our privilege. Jury duty gives us a chance to help others who are at risk, and therefore should be the last situation in which we pretend to be too pure to collaborate."

Nick Cooper, printed with permission.

More general info on serving jury duty

  • Voting of jurors: in criminal trials generally all the jurors have to vote guilty or not guilty or the result is a hung jury. If there is a hung jury that is a victory for the defendant. Prosecutors do not always decide to retry cases or the two sides may decide to settle the cases with a plea to much reduced charges.
  • Jury nullification as in the jury does not believe in the laws and votes on that basis exists and happens although not very often. An example of this might be a criminal trial for marijuana where the jurors decided criminalizing marijuana was wrong and voted not guilty on that basis.
  • Jury notices in some states may indicate what type of jury. There are civil trial, criminal trials, and also grand jury investigations (think Green Scare).
  • In terms of contempt of jurors I suspect this is just more of a threat by judges to get things moving most of the time. One does not hear often about judges throwing jurors in jail. If a juror answers all questions truthfully and follows the instructions of the judge it does not seem like the juror would be held in contempt generally.

Name of the author of the bulleted list above pending permission.

To be clear, Radical Reference does not advocate lying or misrepresenting yourself in a court of law.