55 4 mins 14 yrs

“I consider trial by jury as the only anchor yet imagined by man by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution."

–Thomas Jefferson, Author of the Declaration of Independence and third U.S. President

I’ll be honest.  I started my jury service with a very bad attitude. Randomly selected, I was instructed to be physically present in the jury room at one of LA’s least attractive courthouses by 8 o’clock on Monday morning.

Plucked from my daily routine, I fought morning “rush hour” traffic on 2 different freeways on that first day, and then was forced to find street parking due to woefully inadequate courthouse parking.  With only minutes to spare, I found a parking spot on a side street under a freeway pass, and I risked life and limb to cross in front of the busy on-ramp traffic.  After hurrying into the square, graceless building, I found myself standing in a long line for a weapons search.

Jury duty.  What had I done to deserve this? I wasn’t the one that had made the “bad choice,” landing in need of a lawyer and a trial. I didn’t make my living as a lawyer, nor did I glean any prestige acting as a judge. But here I was, an ordinary citizen, chosen at random, sacrificing time and money, surrounded by strangers, waiting for the wheels of justice to turn.

It did get easier. After the first day I no longer lost my way to the courthouse, helplessly gazing at 4 lanes of traffic and the bright glare of the sun on the concrete. Wearing my jury badge, I became friendly with the policemen performing the weapons search at the front of the building. And, as I sat in the grey purgatory of the jury holding room – a room animated only by the low drone of competing morning TV talk shows, simultaneously broadcast from 4 different TV monitors – I reached into my memory and took a mental step back into history.

Trial by jury came to America from England. Designed to protect citizens from the abuse and power of government, the principle of a Common Law Jury or Jury of your Peers was first established on June 15, 1215 at Runnymede, England when King John signed the Magna Carta.

America’s founders wisely took the best of King George’s England, threw out the worst, and adapted to a new land. “Trial by jury” is discussed in all three of America’s founding documents:  The Declaration of Independence, The Constitution, and The Bill of Rights.  In our system of checks and balances, the jury is our final check, and the people’s last safeguard against unjust law and tyranny.

By the end of my jury duty, my attitude had completely changed.  As we say in LA, “it’s not always ALL about me,” and performing jury duty is a very small price to pay for living in America. I deeply value my right to a “trial by jury” were I to ever need one.  It’s not a perfect system, but it is the best one yet invented.

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55 thoughts on “Freedom Isn’t Free

  1. -It’s not a perfect system, but it is the best one yet invented–

    I’m not sure that I agree with that. The OJ Trial comes to mind as an extreme example of jury nullification in a criminal trial. How widespread are such travesties?

    And the abuses by slip and fall lawyers like John Edwards, who are able to bamboozle back-country juries in civil cases, into immense awards based on garbage science (breast implants causing immune illness, baby doctors causing cerebral palsy, and other such attorney fairy tales ). That simply doesn’t happen in any other countries.

    In any other country, John Edwards would be in a penitentiary where he belongs, and companies like Dow Corning would be still in business.

    I don’t think our system is as good as we often think it is.

  2. I once did Jury service and a quite dispiriting experience it was for sure. It was clear to me that most of the Jury didn’t really care about actually doing their duty . They were prepared to simply go along with the majority verdict to get it over with and get home in time for tea, and there was more than one member who had no intention of finding the accused guilty purely because they didn’t like the police or the ‘system’. In the end it came down to judgement of personalities and nothing to do with evidence. The victim of the theft came across as arrogant and unlikeable and we duly found the accused NOT GUILTY ! even though I felt the evidence was clear that he did it.

    aving said all that I still have to agree with Patty that the system of ordinary citizen juries is an essential safeguard of a genuine democracy but as with all institutions relying on individual judgments and votes it is deeply flawed.

  3. The Phantom: Reading comprehension! I said it wasn’t perfect. I too think OJ was a travesty of justice.

    Listen,I know it’s hard for you to wholeheartedly embrace Western democracy and America in particular…

    but name a country without the right to a trial with a jury of peers…. there are many… and then consider if you’d like to live there over America.

    It is not a perfect system, but it is the best system yet invented.

  4. Don’t get condescending, honey.

    It’s not imperfect, it’s terrible. It is a disgrace, especially in the civil justice arena, where we are the laughingstock of the western world.

    And what you have in America is usually NOT a jury by peers. Very often, those with good jobs do their best to avoid jury duty. So you’re usually left with a jury comprised not of peers, but of those with nothing else to do and/or those who were not smart enough to duck their civic duty.

  5. Nice post Patty.

    To paraphrase Churchill (who was talking about democracy), it is the worst system apart from all the others that have been tried.

  6. Phantom: Name one country, one without "trial by jury of your peers" that is better than ours. ..you can’t.

    Until you do, I’ll continue to condescend to your anti-Westernisms ,anti-Americanisms because I look down on silly statements designed to undermine a vastly superior system to which you have no alternative.

  7. name a country without the right to a trial with a jury of peers.

    america. under certain conditions.

  8. Daytripper: name a country, other than America, without trial of jury by your peers …you can’t name one that represents a better alternative….no amount of word games can save you anti-Westerners from this fact.

    hahahahah. (not real mature of me, I know…)

  9. Ah. The libs on other sites think I’m a fascist, and Patty thinks I’m William Kunstler’s reincarnation. That means I’m hittin’ ’em straight and true.

    Just as the NY Yankees should be doing tomorrow at 1pm when I see them open the season at Yankee Stadium. But I digress.

    I’m not in oppostion to trial by peers. But I don’t concede that is the case in America. I think we have the right to a trial by those who have been unsuccessful in dodging Jury Duty, which sadly is what most try to do.

    Other western nations –hey Canada is not too far away, eh? — or Britain most of the time, compares very well with the system as it is actually practiced in the US of A.

    By the way, I think I’m far more pro-American than you are. You’re happy to shovel vast amounts of treasure via Exxon and Mobil to fund the Islamics, Russkies, and Venezuelans, while your incisive Phantom and a few others want to actually do something about it. I want to starve the beasts, you’re happy to feed them more and more.

    Listen, and learn.

  10. The Phantom: There isn’t too much successful jury dodging where I live…although I can’t say that it wasn’t constantly being tried.

    But you still can’t name a country without "jury of peers" that is better. Can you?

    I’m still listening, still learning. I just don’t hear anything from you.

  11. I think there may be a case for having professional jurors amongst conscript citizens to help redress the imbalance of flawed and inexperience populations, plus I agree with Phantom that dodging Jury service should be made almost impossible.

  12. Colm: Jury dodging in LA is virtually impossible.You can get an excuse (medical etc.) or a postponement (vacation, children etc.) but you can’t dodge if you’re self-employed, unemployed, or simply too busy.

    I don’t know where Phantom lives.

  13. Patty

    I live in Brooklyn NY –where you will be happy to know that we now have a system ( NY State or NYC wide ) where there are almost no exemptions. Doctors and lawyers must serve. Mayor Bloomberg served. Which is good.

    But in most of the country, the jury pool is abysmal.

    And Patty,as respects civil cases — every country on the face of the earth is better than the US. Zimbabwe, Byelorussia and the Comoros Islands are better than the US. We have a capricious and unreliable system, esp as it pertains to Punitive Damages –firms from other countries are very afraid of this system and its abritrariness.

    As respects criminal cases, yes I am OK with juries. But juries of intelligent people. If someone is a professional welfare recipient, or has not graduated high school, they have no business judging anybody. But people like that are on our juries every day.

  14. Patty can you get out of it by pretending to completely unsuitable so the defence or prosecution will veto you.

    For example if you loudly proclaim that you can tell whether the accused is guilty or not by the shape of his skull and how close together his eyes are, then surely you would get out of it.

  15. Ross

    I know someone who did something not very different from that in the old days here. He got out of serving.

    In NY, there was good reason for avoiding service –until recently, it was not uncommon for a jury in a violent crime case to be sequestered. Where you might be under guard in a hotel with your fellow jurors for a period of weeks.

    The court officer’s union, representing the cops who police the courts, actually filed a grievance when the practice of sequestration was to be cut back. All that lost overtime. You cannot make this stuff up.

  16. Ross: yes, a juror could get out simply by saying that they thought – based on what little they knew of the case from the introduction during voir dire that he/she thought the prosecution (or the defense) had a strong case.
    Unless it’s true, not real ethical, but not a case for stating that the trial by jury of peers is a broken system, as I believe Phantom attempts to do.

    Phantom: Zimbabwe is better than the States, Belarus?…have you lost your mind? I actually know someone who came here in his 20’s (9 years ago) from Belarus – he kisses the ground of Los Angeles and AMerica. WIth all due respect, only a fool thinks that Zimbabwe etc. is superior.

    Would you live there?

  17. Patty

    Hyperbole is the best thing in the world. Don’t you know that?

    And I was speaking of civil (money) cases. Even Zimbabwe and Belarus wouldn’t stand for a John Edwards. In that respect, Zimbabwe is far superior to the United States.

    And who said I had a mind that could be lost!

  18. The Phantom: Oh my! You have chosen 2 of the most unstable countries in the world today to praise and compare to the US…If you knew anything about them, I don’t believe you would choose to visit there, much less live there! God forbid you end up on the wrong side of the law there, "civil" or otherwise.

    That’s the problem with America – we are so rich, so complacent, so respectful to one another that it is easy to think the rest of the world is the same. Or better!

    It’s not.

    Oh well, good-night. Live to debate another day.

  19. William Kunstler was a lawyer. I met William Kunstler once, and he gave me a big hug (although I can’t think why). Phantom, you are no William Kunstler.

    [Apologies to Lloyd Bentsen]

    BTW, the no skipping jury duty is NY statewide. We have it here in Rochester. My wife just got called and had to serve even though she is a sole proprietor and had to close her shop for a week.

    [Speaking of Lloyd Bentsen, where’s that other great Texan, Daphne? I know she liked Lloyd even though he was a Democrat.]

  20. I hate jury duty – as does everyone I know. They have tried to make it a bit easier on us by establishing a call-in system. You call a phone number early in the a.m. and you are told whether you should report that day or not. Sometimes you do have to physically show up and other times you don’t. I guess it must be the size of the jury pool. It is very difficult to get out of. I recently was forwarded a piece of mail from my old address calling me to jury duty – – the only reason I got out was because we now live in a different county. I’m sure we’ll be called soon for the new county.

    I think it’s the best system out there. Is it perfect? Are people perfect? Of course not. I would still rather leave my fate to a jury of my peers than to a patronage job, appointed judge. Curious that some here would feel that they know better what to do than most Americans in their estimation. A sure sign of…..hmmmm. Any idea what that’s a sign of? (this is a pop quiz…) 😉

  21. Patty: I generally cringe when I read your posts and pray that our friends across the sea recognize that your positions are not representative of the people of this great nation. I am sure you think likewise upon reading mine. However, I commend you on this post and your experience as a juror. It is indeed an imperfect system, as one who wallows in it every day believe me I know, yet it is at its core a success, and the key to the entire system. The Courts are the great weapon of the people, and even though they err from time to time, juries generally provide what is just and proper.

  22. Mahons: I actually thought that your lofty opinion of yourself was a pose. Afterall, I am generally underwhelmed by your knowledge, your analysis, your wit – the long shadow of your perceived genius does not reach as far as little ‘ole me.

    Now, I do enjoy a good pose. But apparently you are serious! Do you really think you are a towering genius!?!? Another G.K.Chesterton? With a little Groucho Marx thrown in?

    Now, I appreciate the entertainment value of swagger; as you know, I am a fan of Rush Limbaugh. But this comment!

    I fear you are not joking….I don’t cringe generally at your posts, but I did now blush at your inflated opinion of yourself reflected in this comment.

  23. Oh, and Mahons….I wouldn’t worry too much aboutthe impression I make on "our friends" across the ocean…they are not quite "empty vessels" as you seem think.

  24. Patty – surely by agreeing with you on your post I have demonstrated that I do not consider myself a genius. However, in the land of the blind, one-eyed men are kings.

    If you are asking me whether I believe one of our parents forgot to drown their stupid children, I would have to opine that it was your dear mother and father.

    I don’t believe you are an object of influence as much as an object of deserving ridicule. But aside from that, I still think you hit the nail on the head when it came to the value of the jury system.

  25. –…I wouldn’t worry too much about the impression I make on "our friends" across the ocean…they are not quite "empty vessels" as you seem think.–

    Some, yes.

    Most, no.

  26. "I generally cringe when I read your posts and pray that our friends across the sea recognize that your positions are not representative of the people of this great nation"

    Mahons – Good for you. I think its important to correct what is not true and counter specific ideas and positions that paint either the UK or the US in a bad light unnecessarily. Especially just random rubbish when it appears.

    However here re the post i disagree with you. The jury system is truly appauling. It is our silly propensity to look no further than this system and sit on our hands nodding at how marvellous it is that ensures justice is regularly left to people who are stupid, inexperienced, care little, have no interest in cases or outcomes, and therefore in TRUE justice and its massive importance. If that is the best we can do and as far as we want to take this system then that is indicative of how imperfect, abused and faintly pathetic the legal system actually is. Or how lazy and self satisfied we have become.

  27. Alison: Yours is an opinion I am sure shared by many, and especially when a jury does something foolish. I think those of us who are in favor of a jury system often have to explain that we do not believe it is perfect which it most certainly is not.

    I just believe that the jury system gives us a better chance for justice than any other.

  28. >>If you are asking me whether I believe one of our parents forgot to drown their stupid children, I would have to opine that it was your dear mother and father.<<

    Mahons, have things really sunk this far in my absence?
    And it would be at least more interesting if gave some reasons why you think a jury system generally provides better justice than non-jury, instead of just saying that it’s the best tho not perfect, which is exactly what supporters of non-jury trials could claim too.

    I think Alison has got it dead right on this one, especially the bit about smugness.

    And Patty, you probably won’t get anyone to satisfy your repeated call to "name one country (with non-jury trials) that is better than ours" as you probably think no country is better than yours anyway; but while you’re waiting, maybe you can name for us some non-jury European countries that have produced more false convictions than the US or the UK.

  29. Much as it kills me to do so, I agree with Alison ( or she agrees with me )

    There is immense abuse that goes on every day in the US court system, much of it caused by highly sophisticated persuaders like Gerry Spence and Bruce Cutler and John Edwards who play ignorant jurors like a fiddle. Its nothing to be proud of.

    I want Madradin Ruad back.

    Off to a rainy Yankee Stadium. Bye all.

  30. Noel: I can’t see myself crooning the old Rainbow song "Since You’ve Been Gone (I am Ottua My Head, Can’t Take It)" in reply. However, I have missed your wit, intelligence and championing of the Zionist cause.

    I wasn’t offering a thesis on the jury system in my comment, so you’ll have to forgive me for not covering the entire topic. As for the jury system in particular, I find it preferable to the non-jury system and clearly prefer trial by jury to the ancient trial by combat or by ordeal.

    The origins of the jury system are more ancient than indicated, and go back to the Greeks (as so any things do). It would likely horrify the average ATW rightworlder to note the contributions of Islamic Law to the jury system as well so I’ll pass directly to the modern age. I believe that the jury system (which does even differ in the US and UK) is a better protection for the individual than non-jury trials or "professional" jurors. The jurors do not determine the law, but rather the facts of the case. And when the law is so twisted, unknown to jurors but exercised by them in necessary cases, they have the ability to nullify the law. It is at its heart a check against the power of the government, and that is why I think it is the best system devised to date – at least until such time as I am declared ruler of the Earth and can impose my will.

    Sadly, given the chores my wife had me do this weekend, that day seems to be far off.

  31. Noel,

    "maybe you can name for us some non-jury European countries that have produced more false convictions than the US or the UK. "

    As measured how? You could equally have written ‘quashed convictions’ and if that figure was indeed higher then what would it show? It could be because systems without juries are also worse at discovering and overturning unsafe convictions. Given that the extreme end of ‘no jury’ is also ‘no trial’, that also seems pretty likely.

    That does suggest a way to compare the performance of the systems, though, and I wonder if it has been done. The problem is that we don’t usually know who is guilty or not, and ‘unsafe conviction’ doesn’t necessarily mean they weren’t guilty. However, perhaps it is possible to compare rates of people convicted in each system who have later been completely exonerated (e.g. on DNA evidence and such).

    As for stupid people on juries and trusted to administer justice, don’t forget that these are the same people that are trusted to vote.

  32. >>It is at its heart a check against the power of the government, and that is why I think it is the best system devised to date <<

    Well, if that’s what it is at heart, then it’s pretty useless. The Judiciary is independent of government, and it’s independence can be measured at the rate it frees people the government would like convicted. If a govt. could get rid of an independent judiciary, it can all the more easily scrap trial by jury.
    Don’t want to "green" this topic, but the ease with which the govt got rid of not only trial by jury but any trial at all in Northern Ireland shows how thin this safeguard is.

    >>the extreme end of ‘no jury’ is also ‘no trial’, <<

    You could hardly be more wrong. If you think you have a greater chance of being falsely convicted in, say, a court in the Netherlands than one in Britain, you must have never heard of the Guilford 4 or a score of other prominent cases.

    >>As measured how?<< I meant as confirmed by the proportion of overturned convictions, as you said. Remember, many, probably most, such cases are brought to light by the media and/or public representatives, both of which are equally active and committed in other European countries, where there is no reason to believe the judicial system is more resistant to case appeals and review than in Britain.

    Juries are generally made up of poorly educated and often unthinking individuals, people succeptible to popular moods, intimidation, emotional performances from all sides and who couldn’t recognise the clearest evidence (I mean, how would you like your fate to be decided by some of the folk who comment here?). Voting for a govt is one thing, but deciding on jailing, or in the US on killing a person is something different.

    A nice example of the folly of the whole set-up was given me by my aged juror mother (may have mentioned this here before). Some time ago she, and 11 equally inept others apparently, had to decide if a young fellah was guilty of larceny, burglary etc. She, and most others, were totally convinced he was innocent: he was a fine looking lad, reminded her of Daniel O’Donnell, and even wore a crucifix. At the end, the judge, noticing this general sentiment, had to tell them in no uncertain terms that the guy was guilty. They returned with the desired verdict.

  33. Noel: The judiciary often is a product of the government, be it through appointment, nomination etc. And if not a product of the government, it is often of the same class as the ruling class. Hence the judiciary, while an important check against other branches of government, in my country, remains of the government.

    The removal of the right to a jury trial you note in regard to NI is off course an example of the importance of the right to a jury. It wasn’t the concept of a jury that was thin, but rather the right to one in that situation.

    There are indeed foolish people who make it on to juries, they thrive in all walks of life. The overwhelming majority of juries I’ve dealt with are composed of thoughful people.

    As for Mother Cunningham, who may want to start a support group with Obama’s grandmother, it seems the least we can at least forgive her poor jury service, since she brought such a light into the world.

  34. Mahons,

    I am disappointed that you did not comment on the judge’s action in the "Mother Cunningham" case. Are US judges allowed to direct a verdict in criminal cases?

  35. Alan: In the British system the directions of the judge to the jury is far stronger than here. I don’t believe the judge can actually direct a jury to vote one way in the UK, but the judge can certainly suggest it – or I haven’t read enough Rumpole of the Bailey. But I don’t believe the judge can order a jury to reach a particular verdict.

    In the U.S. at a criminal jury trial a judge may not direct the jury to vote either way.

  36. Thanks, Mahons. Whenever I think of English judges I keep seeing the Monty Python sketch where one of them says:

    Anyway, I finished up with ‘the actions of these vicious men is a violent stain on the community and the full penalty of the law is scarcely sufficient to deal with their ghastly crimes’, and I waggled my wig! Just ever so slightly, but it was a stunning effect.

    as he doffs his judicial robes revealing his S&M undergarments.

    [I almost forgot …Note: The above is meant to be taken humourously.]

  37. Noel,

    ">>the extreme end of ‘no jury’ is also ‘no trial’, <<

    You could hardly be more wrong"

    All I meant here is that a special case of conviction without jury is conviction without a trial.

    Essentially all of these are systems for classifying people into guilty or not guilty and you can therefore talk about Type 1 errors (false positives – convicting the innocent), and Type 2 errors (false negatives – letting the guilty go). In an ideal world you want to minimise both but generally the system is set up to prefer type 2 to type 1.

    I expect that it would be possible to figure out something about both kinds of error in various systems and draw some conclusions, but it’s not enough to just point to the guilford 4.

    Incidentally if the two basic systems really differed in error rates then a combination of both would very likely be better again, especially if you’re worried about false convictions. And of course variations are possible – I doubt there is anything magical about the number 12 when it comes to the size of the jury, for example, but I suspect 12 is better than 0. Or maybe jurors should have to pass some kind of test (but then they’d use that to get out of it).

  38. Gawd..I turn my back for a few hours and this thread has simply gone to pot.

    See what you started, Mahons..happy? (sarc.) The "they are not empty vessels" comment didn’t apply to Noel, or periodically with ALison, or anyone that disagrees with me! You are all empty vessels! Let Mahons fill you with his wisdom!

    I think I’ll go join Daphne in internet limbo…no more Patty to kick around…(that’s a RIchard Nixon quote for all you empty vessels out there)

    Actually, I’m just kidding. I’m not going anywhere. (And I suspect Daphne will be back)

    Dawkins: "Being peerless, I could never be tried by a jury of my peers"
    LOL. I share your sentiment.

  39. A little anecdote for you about the time I did Jury service. I was in the canteen at the court before the trial started talking with a fellow Juror – a posh ‘Sloane Ranger’ type woman. She told me of her previous stint at Jury service and said she had found the accused guilty of burglary, when I asked how she came to her verdict she said "As soon as I heard his Scouse accent I knew he was guilty".

    NB – for our American friends, Scouse is a Liverpool accent.

  40. I want Daphne back, and Madradin, and Felix, and Adrian, and Orlando, and drunken cyclist and even … whisper her name .. Jo !

  41. Someone should do a "Rememberance of Things Past" post, complete with favorite sayings..annoying habits..whatever… of all the loose screws who have graced the pages of this site, and have chosen to move on to greener pastures, or full-time employment, or maybe even a lover or 2. Colm? Do I hear you proposing this to DV as a guest post?

  42. Colm: I’ll write a post about Texas women who are opposed to Orangemen parades in Tel Aviv that include Roman Catholic Seminarians, Anti-war fetishists and Marxists and even . . . whisper …the very odd.

    Daphne’s absence makes the site less funny and less smart in my opinion. However, I understand the need for a break.

    P.S. Colm – where you proposing a jury pool?

  43. Mahons

    I get all the others but who was the anti-war fetishist?

    P.S. What do you mean by your last question?

    Patty – Is it wise to raise old ghosts ?

  44. Colm: I just couldn’t recall Orlando’s stuff so I took a guess. A jury pool is available jurors for selection.

  45. Orlando ,along with Adrian and Henry 94 was one of the ‘Holy Trinity’ who were always quick to leap to the defence of ‘the one true church’whenever it was even mildly criticised here on ATW. I don’t think he was particularly anti-war though.

    Oh I get it now. Were you suggesting I wanted to bring them all back to create a Jury pool ?

  46. Yes, Colm, what Mahons was trying to say is that if you could collect twelve of these wooden heads you’d have a jury of your piers.

    [Note: The above … oh, never mind.]

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