No Coercion

Adventures in jury duty

Today I had jury duty--or, as I prefer to call it, jury conscription. I was selected to sit for voir dire for a civil case. Before getting around to hardship questions (which was my chief practical concern, seeing as how I'm a stay-at-home-dad unable to find alternative childcare for an entire week), the plaintiff's attorney asked if anyone had any "strong feelings" about our civil justice system.

My hand shot up.

He looked a bit surprised, as if it was the kind of question he asks as a matter of course but is accustomed to receiving only the chirping of crickets in response. He asked me to explain. I raised my voice to ensure even the spectators in the back row could hear me and told him that I was absolutely opposed to the entire concept of forced jury duty and that I believed that qualified as "strong feelings." His mild surprise became something more like disbelief, and the judge gave me the arched eyebrow. Murmurs went through the court room, and I heard a couple of jurors in the box with me give quiet exclamations of "Yeah!"

The attorney said, "But yet here you are. You still came today."

To this I replied (while gesturing toward the judge and bailiff), "Yes, because they have the guns and can force me." Louder murmurs from the crowd and jury box, and quite a bit of laughter this time, too.

The attorney nodded at me, conceding the point. He then informed me that jury duty is just something you do as a citizen, like paying your taxes--"You pay taxes, right?" I said, "Yes, I do, because I'm on the receiving end of the threat of force." He then looked around to the entire jury box and said, "Do you all understand that jury duty is a requirement, a part of being a citizen? You understand that, right?" A few nods, a few stony stares.

He gave up trying to convince me of the morality of forced labor and simply asked if my feelings would prevent me from deciding on the case fairly and impartially. I admitted that, since it was a civil case, my objection to the government's actions would have no bearing on my decisions regarding the case.

Interestingly, after this exchange, another juror spoke up and said that he agreed--that he was only there because of the government's ability to compel him (okay, he wasn't that eloquent). Then juror after juror (some of whom had had a chance to speak earlier) started coming up with what appeared to be rather contrived reasons they couldn't serve. It seemed I had emboldened some of them to refuse to just go along.

Eventually, the attorney got around to asking about hardships and asked me about my situation as a stay-at-home-dad. I said that I would not be able to arrange childcare for them beyond today. The judge, looking a bit exasperated, said that that fact, combined with my "earlier statements" meant I would be excused from jury duty.

However, as I stood up to leave the court room, the judge said, "Hang on a second." My spider-sense told me he was about to make a critical mistake. I was right. "What do you suggest we do if jury duty isn't compulsory? Just ask for volunteers!?"

Yep, that's right--he actually gave me a platform to discuss the issue in front of the entire court room (there were 50-60 people in there).

"Yes! Ask for volunteers, that's fine. Just don't use force against innocent people."

He goes on, "So what should we do if a bunch of people with an interest in having the case decided a certain way come along and volunteer to be on the jury? Should we just have some government official make the decision instead of a jury?"

I replied that I was in fact opposed to the entire idea of a government monopoly on dispute resolution and that private individuals and firms should handle such things on a voluntary basis. He asked if I meant things like arbitration firms. I said that, yes, that was a great example of what I was talking about and things like that could well take the place of a monopoly court system. I said that the most important thing was not to force innocent people to do things against their will. The court room was dead silent, some people looking confused, but many aiming huge smiles my way. The judge just shook his head and said, "Okay...good luck to you" (though he said it in that way you'd talk to your idiot friend who was about to do something fantastically stupid and dangerous and wouldn't be talked out of it).

As I left, the bailiff whispered something to me while grinning quite genuinely. I couldn't make it out clearly, but the message seemed to be one of support and admiration. Then, as I passed the last row of spectators, an old man rather reminiscent of Morgan Freeman grabbed my hand and shook it, smiling ear to ear.

There you have it. I consider today a minor victory in the long struggle to shift social consciousness away from legitimization of the state.
[Author's note: while the dialogue here is not how things went down verbatim, it's awfully damn close.]

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Comments (23) Trackbacks (1)
  1. I share your sentiments exactly as far as civil court is concerned. There is no compelling reason to forcibly conscript people to ajudicate a contract dispute or damage claim involving two or more private parties. I see no civic duty aspect of this at all.

  2. Outstanding. We need a lot more of this. The best thing, the very best thing, is that the court itself invited this attack.

    Suppose you (and by “you” I mean the officers of the court) are a husband. Your wife was promised to you by her father before she was born to satisfy a debt he incurred.

    It is one of your rules that your wife must serve you dinner. As she does, she must kneel before you and declare her undying love for you and affirm her duty to abide by your rules.

    If she fails to serve a meal to your liking, or fails to offer you the respect and love you deserve, you beat her senseless.

    Do you not understand that by coercing the marriage, the performance of her duty, and her expression of love, you completely destroy any chance that she might ever offer these to you voluntarily? That, in fact, you destroy the motive for any love or faith she might otherwise have shown?

    Tyrants do not deserve affection. Slaves have no duty to serve their masters.

    Moreover, in the specific case of criminal courts, juries are required to judge if their fellow citizens have violated a given law while being forbidden to judge if the law itself is just. They are slaves being compelled to punish their fellow slaves for displeasing their masters. Even if the charge is one of injuring another slave, the court’s concern is not the liberty and well being of the other slave. The master is the victim, by virtue of his property having been damaged and the smooth running of the plantation or factory disrupted.

    I regard jury duty as a true duty, and given that service has never imposed an undue hardship, I have always appeared voluntarily when summoned. However, I have never been asked to sit for a criminal case, and for the civil cases, I’ve always been removed from the pool by peremptory challenge.

    And I have not been summoned for over five years. My understanding of liberty, law, and justice have changed radically in the interim.

    • Well said, DJ. The idea that the state is the victim, when what’s really happened is one person has harmed another, is insidious.

    • “Moreover, in the specific case of criminal courts, juries are required to judge if their fellow citizens have violated a given law while being forbidden to judge if the law itself is just.”

      Could the concept of jury nullification apply in these cases to allow juries to judge if the law is just?

      What a lovely and inspiring story, by the way. I hope to be that courageous, but I’m afraid that I’d bungle my argument in the moment and fail to articulate a proper defense of individual liberty, embarrassing myself and doing a disservice to the cause in the process. Practice makes perfect though!

      • Thanks, Joshua! I’ve made the argument enough in other settings that I felt pretty good about it. I had never had to make it to a judge, but since I no longer place judges on some kind of pedestal, I just kept in mind that he was a regular person and probably knew far less about the subject (voluntary law and dispute resolution, not law in general) than I. However, I do wish I had been more concise and articulate so that I could have had time to get to a couple other points before the judge ended our little impromptu debate. I would have loved to have been able to bring up the organic evolution of private systems of law and common law and the way in which market forces would serve well to weed out the biased and unfair adjudicators in such a stateless system of law. Oh well…after two years I could be called again, so I’ll try to be more prepared by then!

        As for jury nullification, I don’t think it can apply to civil disputes. At least, I’ve only ever seen it discussed with regard to criminal cases. Someone else might have a better answer to that.

        • My question about jury nullification was in reference to the passage I quoted from DJMoore’s comment talking about criminal courts. That’s good to know though that nullification probably isn’t applicable to civil disputes, which I suppose makes sense.

  3. Great job, great piece.

    I recently had to serve on jury duty. It’s generally been something I’m OK with having to do and don’t bitch too much about. I think I dig the idea of hearing the case and figuring out what happened, who’s responsible, etc. The detective-ish nature of it.

    Granted, I’ve felt this way a long time and have only in the last year or so have been exposed to the concept of governmental force being illegitimate and all that. I’ve been on a political self-discovery journey for a few years now. It’s been great.

    So when I recently had to do jury duty, I was still OK with having to go. But when I got there, my skin absolutely CRAWLED. Every cell in my body wanted the hell out of there. I was assigned to a civil case of medical malpractice. Sitting in the jury box listening to the lawyers, all I could think of was how to escape.

    Long story short, it was pretty easy to tell the lawyers something to get me dismissed. Afterwards, I wasn’t really clear on what had changed in me, why I got the hives from it all.

    Your piece here points the way, I think. It was something I was FORCED to do, and I didn’t want any part of it. I felt trapped and needed to escape.

    I can’t believe the judge actually asked you to propose an alternative to drafting people to be jurists, that’s really amazing!

  4. Screw jury duty, it’s like pretending your vote counts during any elections.

  5. What a great experience. Just, wow!

  6. About ten years ago, I, too, was summoned (invited) to jury duty for a civil case. I told the court that Melvin Belai had said, “I’d rather be caught red handed and have the best legal council than be innocent.” I said, in light of that statement and all my knowledge of how the corrupt legal system worked, that I’d vote for the party who I thought had the least money, regardless of the evidence presented.

    I was excused. Then I asked the judge to have my name removed from the tax rolls from which jurors are selected. He said that could be arranged. I left. And, I haven’t had another invitation since.

  7. I’m in Harris County TX. I’m called on average every two yrs or so. Generally, in voir dire for a criminal case I’ll ask a question about a jury’s right and duty to find as to law as well as to the facts of the case. This usually puts me on the state’s and the defense’s ‘no way do we want this guy in the box’ list…but the judge will keep me sitting all day or until the box is filled anyway.
    In 20 yrs here I’ve sat for one traffic case in JP court…we acquitted in 10 minutes due to absolutely stupid testimony from the cop who wrote the citation.

  8. Thanks for sharing this great story! I have not been conscripted for jury duty before (I’m still young) so I hadn’t thought about it too much. Before reading this post, I imagine that I would have refused to go as a sort of defiance to the unjust force threatened against me, but I can see now from your story that it can be a great opportunity to educate people. I will definitely consider going when I get called and hope that I will have time to practice how best to phrase what I wish to say to everyone. The ability to clearly and eloquently express your opposition to the violent nature of our current justice system not just in writing, as you did in this post, but in words as you did in front of the whole court room, is definitely something that I hope to improve on so that I can effectively as possible tell the people in the court room what I find unjust about it. Great post, thanks.

  9. I realize this is an old post, but I was just shown it today.
    I wanted to say to the author, Well Said!

  10. Just received a summons. First time in my life. I practice an existence separate from teh state but not in Opposition. Se them a Letter declaring my own exempting myself form the process, not seeking exemption. The denied it, and now I am ready to make a big deal, even turn myself in for charges of contempt, and then have a great deal of media. I am at Ta’ir Lanier on Facebook, if any care to to come at this with me. I will not be treated like a subject.

  11. A stupendous performance- simple and obvious as the principles are, they are rarely embodied and defended in public, where the whimsical arbitration of those with a vested interest in the outcome of disputes rules. My husband (see comment below) wrote the courts quite an impressive manifesto (or two or three), which was dubiously read by any other than a clerk, and not in its entirety I am sure, and they eventually just went away– after sending a few more of the standard, menacing, “we might take action against you and hold you in contempt of court” type letters, of course. I appreciate your site here, keep it up.

    • Thanks, Onawa (and Ta’ir–I somehow missed that comment when it first came in)! I hope to see increasing numbers of people stand up to the state’s arbitrary justice system.

  12. Darren,

    Amazingly I’ve never been selected for jury duty. I’ve always dreaded the idea, but your experience makes me look forward to the possibility of educating an entire courtroom about liberty. Thanks for posting.

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