Sunday, November 13, 2005

Jury Duty

UPDATE (or further study): In the comment(s) on this post, TS makes the point that only question 45 should be asked. I share his disbelief and dismay about the other questions I have to answer. But back to question 45, I wonder about this too-and would appreciate the opinions of others. Mrs. Curley and I have been batting this back and forth all day.

Scenario: You are doctor (or a nurse) in a hospital. You walk by a room where a doctor is just about to perform an abortion. You clock him to prevent the abortion at that instant. You are arrested and charged with assault and battery. I am on the jury. The judge, in his instructions, says that no matter how you feel about abortion, the jury's job is to determine simply if the You, the defendant, is guilty of assault and battery. (Or would he instruct us to dermine simply whether YOU clocked the doctor or not-two different determinations). I, on the jury, say no criminal assault and battery took place as YOU were defending the unborn baby. The law says otherwise. Yet can I send someone to prison for doing what I think is right? And if I am predisposed to find YOU innocent in this case than my answer to Question 45 would be no and therefore am theoretically excluded from any jury service.

I note that judges themselves are not bound by this as they can be activisit in making law rather than interpreting law. So why can't juries do the same when unjust laws are being challenged?


I received summons for jury service on Friday in the mail. I have served on a traffic court jury once, but this is for the United States District Court of South Carolina-that is Federal Court. They ask you to fill out a questionaire and apologize in advance for its invasiveness. Not only are they invasive (what's that about a right to privacy???????-Ah Ha! only when it suits the forces of death....) Let's see what you all think of some of these questions:

17. What are your hobbies, special interests, recreational pastimes and other spare-time activities, including sports?

18. What magazines and newspapers do you regularly read?

20. What social, political, civic, religious, and other organizations do you belong to or are you assoicated with?

22. Have you displayed any bumper stickers on you automobile in the last twelve months? If yes, please list each bumper sticker.

There are also many questions about the kinds of jobs you, your spouse and your family members (father, mother, brothers, and sisters) have held, and about any criminal offenses committed by any family members. There are also several questions on whether you could be unbiased against different in numerous situations.

Question 45 is very interesting: Regardless of any opinion you may have concerning a particular law, would you be able to set aside your feelings and follow the law as stated by the judge?

This last questions brings up many thoughts. I seem to remember reading somewhere in the last 2 years or so a lengthy article or debate about how juries should be able to nullify unjust laws. This purpose of question 45 would seem to be asked in order to disqualify anyone who had this notion. Haven't decided exactly how to answer Question 45 yet-honestly, yes-but the exact wording....

How about the others? Is it just my imagination or do these questions have nothing to do with impartiality and everything to do with trying to predetermine a verdict by ruling out certain members of the public for jury duty? I mean really, how would raising chickens or making wooden cabinets, or playing football with my kids bear on my suitability for jury service? Would like to hear the thoughts of others. Perhaps someone from Southern Appeal would weigh in?

From Bethany, the small holding in Bethune...Oremus pro invicem!


TS said...

That is so depressing. Asking for bumper stickers! You really can't make that stuff up. The ONLY question they should've asked was number 45.

William Luse said...

The perpetrator was acting in self-defense of an innocent third party, and there are laws that protect such action. Problem is, murder of certain innocents is legal in this country. But since that law is manifestly unjust, you have as much right to be an activist as any judge. Vote your conscience.

Jim Curley said...

Mr. Luse-Ah yes! But how then does one answer question 45 in this case? Because I am almost positive that if answered in the negative, you will be eliminated for jury consideration.

TS said...

Well, "set aside your feelings" is easy (that abortion=murder is not a feeling but a fact). "Follow the law as stated by the judge" is more difficult. Sir William Blackstone asserted that "no human laws should be suffered to contradict" the natural law.

Ramesh Ponnuru on NRO made a distinction between a judge and a legislator; a judge can impartially rule strictly on the law while a legislator like John Kerry has no excuse to be voting pro-death. In the case of juries, they would be more like the judge than legislator so I assume fellow Catholic Ponnuru would say jurists should rule to the letter of the law and thus 45 would be valid question to which we should be able to answer 'yes'.

I think this may be it:

Tracy Fennell said...

I have always more or less supported jury nullification as an effective way to use common sense. We are supposed to uphold the law at any cost? Come on, we have the gift of common sense, let's use it. Such a case I could see this come into play would be something that involves a zero tolerance policy, etc. I'm not sure how a school throwing out a student because they had Tylenol in their backpack would make it to a jury trial, but what better way to use our God-given sense to vote the student not guilty even though they are technically in violation.

Anonymous said...

I disagree with Ponnuru. Neither judge nor jury member may rule (or vote) in furtherance of a manifest and egregious evil. As TS says, that abortion is murder is a fact. In other cases the facts might not be so clear. A judge might rule to uphold the recent Supreme Court decision in Lawrence v. Texas, because it is less clear that doing so lends one's approval to the evil, or facilitates it in any way. (I believe a Christian judge should not uphold that ruling - cf. TS's Blackstone reference - but it is at least debatable.) It is not required that all evils be prosecuted. But in the case of abortion, in which each and every case of it is diabolically unjust, we are Catholics first, judges and jury members second. So in answer to 45 you can either lie or tell the truth: I can follow the law as stated by the judge in most cases. How important is it, in other words, to be on the jury? Is it worth your conscience?

Anonymous said...


I have never served on a jury and I imagine I never will. I tell everyone that I will not be able to follow the judge's directives if they compromise the truth of the case. I hold the truth to be a virtue, and unfortunately our justice system does not. If evidence is presented and I am told to ignore it, I will not. If motive is given (ie I stole a loaf of bread because my family was starving) which takes away culpability, I will not ignore that as well. Our system is completely bankrupt. The liberals say favor the accused, the conservatives say favor the prosecution, yet how many say favor the truth? Does a guilty man have the right to hire a lawyer to so confuse the jury that he gets off? Does the prosecution have the right give a completely one-sided prosecution and exploit the fact that a defendant has a bad lawyer? To be honest I would take the ecclesiastical inquisition system over our system any day.

And finally as for NRO, they unfortunately are not thinking as Catholics. They have never studied what the Church has taught regarding the law, and they pretend that at a judge’s judgment, the judge will be able to say he was following the law when he ordered the state prison to provide the means for a women to kill her unborn children. Same defense the certain Nazis used, and I think that the verdict at the last judgment of the judges will be the same as the Nazis at Nuremburg, only with more lasting consequences.

Jim Curley said...

Interesting discussion. I think I come down on the side with Mr. Sarsfield. As I indicate in my latest post above, I will answer 45 with qualifications. If this precludes me from jury duty-which I fear it shall, then so be it. I find this unfortunate because I would wouldn't mind serving on a jury. I find it unfortunate because it appears we are excluded from participation in this society. This questionaire really opened my eyes (again!).

TS said...

I got around to actually reading Ponnuru. He writes:

A re-affirmation of Roe based on the sincere view that abortion rights are really in the Constitution or that precedent is binding wouldn't be formal cooperation with evil.

That seems problematical to me. Isn't that holding the Constitution (i.e. common law) above the natural law? That seems problematical to me, and it does seem to parallel the Nazi case. But perhaps I'm missing something. I'm not as sanguine as some in saying fellow Catholics aren't thinking like Catholics.

Unfortunately our blog host has demolished his chances of being on a jury (i.e. more salt removed from the world, another lamp hid under a bushel basket). But so be it. I think Catholics have to be like St. Thomas More, who tried desperately to find angles & loopholes in order to influence the political process, but without compromising their conscience.

Anonymous said...

Dear TS,

First, the Constitution is statutory law not common law. Common law is not recognized in this country. A Catholic should find this problematic as well.

Second, with regard to Catholics not thinking as Catholics. I stand by the comment. I have spoken to many conservative people about this and they fall into two groups. The first have never even bothered to read what the Catholic tradition has given us with regard to the law. These people profess to be good Catholics, yet when it comes to their life's work (lawyers, judges, etc.) they could care less what the Church has to say about their chosen vocation. The second group has read what Catholic tradition has left us regarding this subject, and has decided to reject it in favor of the theories of men operating from false/Anti-Catholic principles. I believe in both cases the thinking of these people (at least with regard to the law) is being influenced predominately by Anti-Catholic philosophies, and therefore they are not thinking as Catholics.

Jim Curley said...

TS-I would like to find that loophole as I think it is important that even someone like me sits on a jury. Yet I can't seem to find it. I would have to disregard the judge if he wanted me to follow a law which contradicts natural law. I gave the exact wording of the question to see if a loophole could be found. For instance, I can put aside my feelings about a lot of things. I can't put aside my convictions or my conscience. So where does that leave us?

For instance, if the law is simply stupid in my opinion, I suppose I could reluctantly follow the judge's guidelines.

Try this (since especially the law is about playing with words - I know this from my days in working in patent law) maybe there is an out. The question says "Regardless of any OPINION you have about a particular law, would you be able to set aside your FEELINGS and follow the law as stated by the judge." If a law violates natural law, then it is not a law we obligated to follow and it would not be my opinion or a matter of opinion about such a law, but an objective fact that the law was not to be cooperated with. It has nothing to do with my feelings. So is this an out?

I restate the question thus: "Regardless of whether a law is a just law or not, would you be able to set aside your conscience and follow the law as stated by the judge"

This the question I need to answer no to. Is this same as the question I am being asked?

Thanks TS for prodding me to think more by the light and bushel basket reference.

(And re: Mr. Sarsfield comments on Catholics not thinking as Catholics: I think it is more the former case, that is ignorance (albeit often of their own fault sometimes) of traditional Catholic teachings on law, government etc. We have been so protestantized/Americanized, even if we went to Catholic schoools in the 50's or before.

Anonymous said...

Because I am almost positive that if answered in the negative, you will be eliminated for jury consideration.

For me this one is perhaps puzzlingly easy. Don't lie. If God wants you on the jury you will be there; if not, not. In either case do the right thing.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jim Curley said...

Zippy-No question about (not) lying. But we can (T. More is the great example) try to find loopholes to try to stay "in the game" as it were. The questionaire is clearly formulated to put certain people on juries and eliminate others, based on their values, beliefs and life experiences. This is an outrage. No I won't lie. But if I can get around the injustice I would like to.

Anonymous said...

But we can (T. More is the great example) try to find loopholes to try to stay "in the game" as it were.

But did St. Thomas More really try to find loopholes to stay in the game, or did he just follow his conscience unwaveringly? The questionnaire is surely an outrage and it surely has the purpose you say, but I expect St. Thomas More would just represent his own natural law jurisprudence honestly nonetheless, and leave the question of who fights which particular battles up to God.

TS said...

Thomas More was often accused of sophistry and majoring in semantics, so I guess (like the word "is") it depends on what the word "loophole" means. But we can all agree that one can't lie.

What I don't like to see is people throwing themselves out of the game prematurely or, worse, getting a self-righteous bit of pleasure out of taking themselves out of the game. I am certainly accusing no one here of that, but it does happen sometimes.

As for the hypothetical, off the top I'd be willing to convict someone of battery in that case, just as I'd convict the guy who killed abortionists. Civil disobedience, even when just, cannot come without consequences.

Anonymous said...

This discussion reminds of the time I first watched the movie "Sounder" with my children. It is about a black man put in jail for stealing a ham, because his family was literally starving. My children, who had just finished a good first communion program, had no trouble in telling me that the people that were taking him to jail had committed a mortal sin and were in danger of going to hell. Out of the mouths of babes.

And as for St. Thomas More, I always preferred the way John Fisher handled it better. Thomas More basically denied the faith. If the King would have accepted More’s statement that “in law silence is considered consent,” I think More would have committed an objective mortal sin. Obviously, God had other plans for More. But the way he handled himself has always troubled me. For example: if someone put you in jail and asked you to sign a paper that said “Jesus is not God,” and you said that according to the law my silence is deemed as giving my consent to the statement, and you were released from jail, I would think that would be a mortal sin. Although, you did not actually deny Christ, you made it look to the world as if you had denied Christ.

Jim Curley said...

Re: Thomas More, I don't know if you have read one or more of the accounts of the life of T. More or the commentary by H. Belloc. (Or for that matter the commentary by Rev. Bede Jarrett (sold by yours truly Requiem Press: "Relation of C&S in the Middle Ages"). But it was not so clear to everyone then as it is to us about papal supremacy. This explains some of Thomas More's actions and attitudes.

I would/could write much more on this. I have studied Thomas More's life and writings a lot if not thoroughly-and would love to do so sometime.....

TS: I do believe assaulting a doctor about to perform an abortion to save the infant's life is much different than assasinating a abortionists-if I am getting your meaning correctly. I would aquit the former and convict the latter...

Cathy said...

Wisdom appears in contradiction to itself, which is a trick life plays on philosophy of life.
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