Now it can be (legally) told — why I keep getting kicked off of juries

I was called up recently for jury duty for the second time in about a year and a half. The first observation I’d like to make is that it shouldn’t have happened. We have lived in Pierce County, Washington about three and a half years, but my wife Marty has never been called up. Jury duty selection should use “shuffle mode”, like the shuffle mode on your MP3 player, which plays your songs randomly, but doesn’t skip any and doesn’t repeat any until all of them have been played. The county government apparently uses the cheapest, dumbest kind of lottery or “random mode” to select its jurors instead. I have little doubt that this is the norm across the country.

From my snarling, you might think I hate jury duty and would like to shirk it. Actually, I do think jury duty is a duty, and I would be a juror if I could. Unfortunately, I am never permitted to serve on a jury because of my political views, so every couple of years, it seems, I must truck down to the courthouse and endure a series of questions over several days designed to expose people of my political bent and have us dismissed from the jury.

You might think my claim that I’m being rejected from juries because of my political views is patent paranoid nonsense until I tell you what those views are. I support the right of jury nullification, which means that I refuse to check my conscience at the courtroom door, especially if it means convicting a person of an unjust law. Actual jury nullification, not just talk or theory, has a long and noble history in this country and others. For example, during the Civil War, many slaves who escaped and were recaptured were freed again by Abolitionist-leaning juries who refused to convict the slave even though the laws of the time plainly said the slave was guilty and must be returned to slavery. The law was unjust, and the jury simply ignored it, or nullified it.

That is the right I carry with me into the courtroom — the right to reject unjust laws and refuse to convict my fellows of them. But that right and that opinion can’t be borne by judges and attorneys, especially prosecuting attorneys. Free thought has no place in their courtrooms; they’d prefer something slightly closer to the lynch-mob end of the spectrum.

Just so you know, here is the question they ask in Pierce County to flush out the jury nullifiers:

“Is there anyone here who might not be able to fulfill the judge’s instructions for any reason?”

I may support jury nullification, but I also support telling the truth in court, so I raised my hand. Over the next five hours or so, over the course of two days, I was subjected to a flurry of questions, especially from the prosecuting attorney, who even said at one point, “Juror Number 20, I’m sorry if it seems I keep picking on you, but…”

The prosecutor in this DUI case looked prosperous and dressed slickly. The defense attorney wore a rumpled, ill-fitting suit and had a bad haircut. He was Japanese-American (the reason I tell you this fact will become apparent shortly). He was probably a public defender; the elderly accused didn’t look as though he could hire a lawyer himself, and this was apparently his third time through the justice system on a similar charge.

At one point, the prosecuting attorney asked me whether, if I thought a law was unjust, I would vote against conviction even after I had taken an oath to follow the judge’s instructions to the letter. I responded that I supposed I would.

The prosecutor also asked me whether I thought DUI laws were unjust. I said that in general, I thought they were a good thing, but it depended on the consequences. If the punishment for a DUI conviction were the death penalty, that would probably be unjust.

He asked me how I knew which were just laws and unjust laws. Airily, he added, “Is it just that you know it when you see it?” I almost agreed with him automatically, then shook it off. I responded “You need careful deliberation. You must judge the law as you would judge the person.”

After each of these responses, I was asked to sit down.

There was one glorious moment of the jury selection that made me glad I had come, and it paid for all the frustrations. The defense attorney asked us, “How many of you agree with Juror Number 20’s stance on jury nullification and would refuse to convict someone of an unjust law?” No hands were raised.

He went on, “How many of you remember the internment camps for Japanese-Americans in World War II? If I were on trial and about to be sent to an internment camp, how many of you would refuse to convict me?” I was halfway back, but I counted 5 or 6 hands going up out of about 40; there may have been more hands raised behind me.

I began to glow, and I looked down at my knees, smiling. I’ve been rejected as a juror on three jury trials now, every time for more or less the same reason. Never had I felt so good about it. Together, the defense attorney and I were spreading the meme of jury nullification. I felt more like an activist and less like someone who merely caused trouble in the courtroom and got filthy stares from the other jurors.

Ballsy Mr. Defense Attorney, will you marry me? I’d say “God bless you,” but I’m a freethinker, which is how I get into this sort of trouble in the first place.

Of course, later that day I was asked not to return to the courtroom.

***

Wikipedia has a very good article on jury nullification with links for further exploration. I encourage you to check it out.

Advertisements

Why I may be two degrees of separation from Julian Assange fnord

I was writing some Monte Carlo analysis software for the Alpha Word Game System tonight (Tim Schutz wants to maximize the word-making capability of AlphaDice) and I learned that there's a pretty good command-line anagram generator for GNU/Linux already. Even better, I can point it at a custom dictionary like SOWPODS.

So I was reading the documentation (a man page) of 'an', the anagram generator, and I found it lists Julian Assange as one of the two coauthors . A quick search on his then-email address, proff@suburbia.net, shows that he was poking around the Cypherpunks lists et alia discussing occult knowledge related to password cracking, so his interest in anagrams makes perfect sense.

To justify the title of this post, I'll point out that 'an' was written for the Free Software Foundation, and I used to know a few people in that org, meeting and corresponding (briefly) with Richard Stallman, among others. That's no big deal, surely; lots of people know those folks. But it feels cool to "bump into" Assange in this way.

I realise that googlably claiming to be an acquaintance of an acquaintance of Julian Assange is possibly painting a bullseye on what Finnegans Wake would call my "big whide harse," so please don't throw me in a secret prison. For all that, I really admire Assange's work with Wikileaks, nyah.

Some passages from "Wind, Sand and Stars" and why I highlighted them

I just finished reading Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's Wind, Sand and Stars, a book I failed to penetrate on several previous attempts. Now I'm done, I enjoyed it, and I intend to reread it at some point, because I think there is much left to appreciate.

Here are the passages I highlighted in the book, in approximate order of appearance, with brief comments.

Each man must look to himself to teach him the meaning of life. It is not something discovered: it is something moulded.

Well, that's true.

The mail pouches for which he is responsible are stowed away in the after hold. They constitute the dogma of the religion of his craft, the torch which, in this aerial race, is passed from runner to runner.

A nice couple of metaphors, possibly reusable as kennings.

The central struggle of men has ever been to understand one another, to join together for the common weal. And it is this very thing that the machine helps them to do! It begins by annihilating time and space.

To me, in France, a friend speaks from America. The energy that brings me his voice is born of dammed-up waters a thousand miles from where he sits. The energy I burn up in listening to him is dispensed in the same instant by a lake formed in the River Yser which, four thousand miles from him and five hundred from me, melts like snow in the action of the turbines. Transport of the mails, transport of the human voice, transport of flickering pictures – in this century as in others our highest accomplishments still have the single aim of bringing men together. Do our dreamers hold that the invention of writing, of printing, of the sailing ship, degraded the human spirit?

Reminded me of Teilhard de Chardin.

Men who have given their lives to labors of love go straight to my heart.

Moi aussi, Antoine!

You, Bedouin of Libya who saved our lives, though you will dwell for ever in my memory yet I shall never be able to recapture your features. You are Humanity and your face comes into my mind simply as man incarnate. You, our beloved fellowman, did not know who we might be, and yet you recognized us without fail. And I, in my turn, shall recognize you in the faces of all mankind.

I thought it was funny that I had just installed the font Averia and was this was the first passage I read in it. If you follow the link you might see why.

Why should we hate one another? We all live in the same cause, are borne through life on the same planet, form the crew of the same ship. Civilizations may, indeed, compete to bring forth new syntheses, but it is monstrous that they should devour one another.

Reminded me of Buckminster Fuller.

And finally, this passage seemed to me, along with the first passage quoted above, with which it's in tension, to be near the core of the book:

Although we don’t yet know it, we are in search of a gospel to embrace all gospels, we are on the march towards a stormy Sinai…

If our purpose is to understand mankind and its yearnings, to grasp the essential reality of mankind, we must never set one man’s truth against another’s. All beliefs are demonstrably true. All men are demonstrably in the right. Anything can be demonstrated by logic. I say that that man is right who blames all the ills of the world upon hunchbacks. Let us declare war on hunchbacks-and in the twinkling of an eye all of us will hate them fanatically. All of us will join to avenge the crimes of the hunchbacks. Assuredly, hunchbacks, too, do commit crimes.

But if we are to succeed in grasping what is essential in man, we must put aside the passions that divide us and that, once they are accepted, sow in the wind a whole Koran of unassailable verities and fanaticisms. Nothing is easier than to divide men into rightists and leftists, hunchbacks and straightbacks, fascists and democrats – and these distinctions will be perfectly just. But truth, we know, is that which clarifies, not that which confuses. Truth is the language that expresses universality. Newton did not “discover” a law that lay hidden from man like the answer to a rebus.

He accomplished a creative operation. He founded a human speech which could express at one and the same time the fall of an apple and the rising of the sun. Truth is not that which is demonstrable but that which is ineluctable.

Watch this space for more passages from books I like.