Question #5: Are compulsory juries moral?

I have encountered the following questions many times; writing about it is an old old old to do task on my correct-the-naughty list.  As it has come up again recently, from yet another otherwise reasonable person, let me bang this one out for your edification.

Question:  “Are compulsory juries moral?  Is it necessary and/or proper to compel citizens to serve on a jury?”

This is an invalid question, which demonstrates that it is important to qualify a question before answering it.

The question does not say when or where this problem exists, so it implies here and now.  Note that when others answer this question negatively, they commit the error of accepting an arbitrary attack on our current system of jury service.  It is arbitrary in that there is no evidence to support the assertion.

Further, note that neither the questioner nor the typical negative responders refer to this as a hypothetical case, as in not related to facts in reality.  Yet, it has as much to do with reality as asserting that one opposes keeping dinosaurs as pets.

Many may disagree with me on this point, because they persist in error.  To them I ask for evidence, give me a specific case; for example, “in 2012, Jane Doe of Liberty Square Iowa did not want to be juror and was forced to serve against her expressed will.”  A little investigation into such a case would demonstrate that that Jane Doe was either lazy, ignorant, or mute, because an individual can be excused from jury service with cause.  Further, how did the attorneys allow this potentially biased juror through voir dire?  Or, in the case of a conviction, wouldn’t the case be subject to being overturned on appeal as depriving the defendant of his right to a fair trial?

To be clear (unlike President Obama), I am speaking from the US context; if you live in some backwards country that that does not allow for an individual to be excused from jury service with cause, then please out that barbaric cargo-cultist country in the comments.

The bar for establishing cause is very low.  I was able to be excused from jury service by simply factually saying that I was too busy at that immediate time on a project at work, but would be happy to serve when that project was complete.  For someone ignorant of legal process, a simple Google search would bring to light this cause based option for the individual potential juror.  Further, an ignorant person could simply contact the court with their conflict and they would be given their options to be excused from a jury summons.

However, a person cannot arbitrarily and without a cause opt out of jury duty.  Aside from an attack on jury duty per se, for some, this question can also be a ploy to defend the arbitrary and causeless motivation as valid which is a further attack on justice in this context.

Without referents in reality, the proposed problem to be solved of compulsory jury service is actually an attack on jury service, the right to trial by jury, and on government.  Anarchists and libertarians, but I repeat myself, inventively assert the bugbear of compulsion in jury service where it does not exist so as to defame government even in its legitimate court functions.

As there are not facts in reality that support the idea of compulsory jury service as a problem, how do the proponents support this myth?  They use hypotheticals as if their musings were evidence.  The best reply is to press them for actual facts and real people to be examined in the full context, including cause based jury service deferrals.

Next, while either ignorant or evading facts, the believer in the myth of compelled jury service will propose reasonable fixes that could correct our current “damnably rights violating” jury system.  For example, a pregnant woman should be allowed to decline jury service when she is 9 months pregnant and ready to pop.  The problem with such reasonable “fixes” is that they in fact already exist and the person making the proposal evades, or does not know enough about the subject.

After this demonstration of “reasonableness”, the myth proponent proposes much more radical revisions to our current system as solutions to what is in fact a non-existent problem.  As before, this involves dropping essential context.  Why is the current system the way it is?  That would be a good question for them, especially as their modest proposals could result in axe murderers and child molesters being released from prison based upon a successful appeal of a conviction.  Understanding why would require looking at facts instead of musing detached from reality and context.  For example, see Taylor v. Louisiana, 419 U.S. 522 (1975) for a Supreme Court case directing how the state’s should select a jury pool so as to avoid a jury bias that would overturn a conviction.  In the present day context, it could be argued that an alternative method could be used that would not result in race or sex bias in the jury; however, that is not an issue that myth proponents address, because they drop context.

Finally, the myth adherent will contradict their straw man attack on our current jury system by asserting that they support jury service, just not “compulsory”.  Given the contradiction and the divergence of the myth from reality, this statement of support is as convincing as a Republican claiming that they support free enterprise in a speech full of calls for regulating business.

This case has some important lessons for selfish citizens so that they do not fall prey to ideologues (either statists or anti-government lemmings) that peddle falsehoods:

  1. Qualify the question; what are the facts of reality to which it refers?
  2. As evidence, accept facts, but not hypotheticals.
  3. Validate asserted facts, such as the lack of reasonable exceptions, to see if they are true or not.
  4. When sold change as a panacea, give serious consideration as to why the current man made facts were chosen so that relevant context is not dropped.
  5. Don’t hang on to a favorable statement made by a proponent, and ignore or discount all the other contradicting statements that they made.

Extra Point: Thinking about this post brought to mind something that Robert Metz and Robert Vaughn had recently discussed about the English language…words have multiple meanings.  Consequently, disagreements can result because disputants use the same word in different senses; thus, defining terms can clarify which meaning is being used.  In the above question, the second part makes clear the used definition of compulsory, and also demonstrates a dishonest word trick by shifting the context with an inapplicable definition selection.

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