Yesterday, I received what every registered voter spends years hoping to get – a summons for jury duty.
I'm looking forward to it. I can't wait to walk in and start by asking if the state of Florida still allows hanging? The prosecutor will love me. “Well,” I'll say, “he wouldn't even be here if he wasn't guilty of something. Besides, I can tell he's guilty just by looking at him.” Oh, yeah, this is going to be fun.
OK, stop yelling at me. I know everyone's presumed innocent until found guilty and I think that's good. Imagine if someone accused you of being a child molester and you had to prove you weren't? It would be easy to prove that you are a child molester, but how can you prove you're not? It's a good system even though we sometimes get it wrong.
I've heard, although I'm not certain it's actually true, that a jury can do pretty much anything it wants. It doesn't have to follow the judge's recommendations, it can ask it's own questions, it can pretty much run the show if the jurors have enough testosterone and are willing to stand up to a judge who will hate all of them.
As citizens, we have a fundamental right, guaranteed by the Constitution, to challenge the government. We can do this by voting, we can do it with guns, we can do it from a soapbox and, finally, we can do it as jurors. Most courts will tell juries that they are there to examine the facts, but many constitutional lawyers and some of our Founding Fathers have said that a jury must also examine the law. If the jurors find a law to be unconstitutional, they have a duty and obligation to find the defendant not guilty. A jury must be independent from the judge, the prosecutors and even fellow jurors. This interpretation comes from a pretty good scholar of constitutional law – Thomas Jefferson.
I can picture myself jumping up in the jury box and yelling “You can't handle the truth!” I can see myself getting into an argument with the judge when I declare the trial null and void because the law under which the defendant is being tried is unconstitutional. I will lead my fellow jurors into uncharted legal territory. Viva la revolucion!! OK, maybe I'm getting a little carried away here . . .
Many years ago, I read The Trial by Franz Kafka and I'm still haunted by it. Unrestrained government authority is a frightening thought and you don't have to look very far in the world to see what that can mean. And so, in January, I will report for jury duty, raise my hand, swear an oath and then sit in judgement of my fellow citizen. I will watch the prosecutor and judge carefully, mindful of my duty to protect the public from predatory lawyers. I will listen carefully to all of the evidence and I will be prepared to debate the facts with my fellow jurors and, once we have all agreed on the disposition of the case, we will prepare our verdict for the judge:
Hang the bastard . . .