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called as juror (fwd)

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---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Sun, 3 Sep 95 17:50 EST
From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
Subject: called as juror

[email protected] (L. A. ANDERSON)


Don't worry!  Be happy!  Look at jury service as an opportunity to "do good"
for yourself and others.  It's your chance to help the justice system
deliver justice, which is absolutely essential to a free society.

Also, you can do more "political good" as a juror than in practically any
other way as a citizen: your vote on the verdict is also a measure of public
opinion on the law itself--an opinion which our lawmakers are likely to take
seriously.  Short of being elected to office yourself, you may never
otherwise have a more powerful impact on the rules we live by than you will
as a trial juror.

However, unless you are fully informed of your powers as a juror, you may be
manipulated by the less powerful players in the courtroom into delivering
the verdict they want, instead of what justice would require.  That is why
this "kit" was written--to give you information that you're not likely to
receive from the attorneys, or even from the judge.

_ Justice may depend upon your being chosen to serve, so here are some
"words to the wise" about how to make it through voir dire, the jury
selection process: You may feel that answering some of the questions asked
of you would compromise your right to privacy.  If you refuse to answer
them, it will probably cost you your chance to serve.  Likewise, if you
"talk too much"--especially if you admit to knowing your rights and powers
as a juror, as explained below, or that you have qualms about the law itself
in the case at hand, or reveal that you're bright, educated, or are
interested in serving!  So, from voir dire to verdict, let your conscience
be your guide.
_ Nothing in the U.S. Constitution or in any Supreme Court decision requires
jurors to take an oath to follow the law as the judge explains it or, for
that matter, authorizes the judge to "instruct" the jury at all.  Judges
provide their interpretation of the law, but you may also do your own
thinking.  Keep in mind that no juror's oath is enforceable, and that you
may regard all "instructions" as advice.
_ Understanding the full context in which an illegal act was committed is
essential to deciding whether the defendant acted rightly or wrongly.
Strict application of the law may produce a guilty verdict, but what about
justice?  If the jurors agree that, beyond a reasonable doubt, the accused
did act as charged, then "context becomes everything" in reaching a verdict
you can live with.  Credit or blame for the verdict will go to you, so be
sure to ask the judge how you can pose questions to witnesses, so that you
can learn the complete context, should the lawyers fail to bring it out. 

_ When they believe justice requires it, jurors can refuse to apply the law.
Jurors have the power to consider whether the law itself is wrong (including
whether it is "unconstitutional"), or is being applied for political
reasons.  Is the defendant being singled out as "an example" in order to
demonstrate government muscle?  Were the defendant's constitutional rights
violated during the arrest?  Much of today's "crime wave" consists of
victimless crimes--crimes against the state, or "political crimes", so if
you feel that a verdict of guilty would give the government too much power,
or help keep a bad law alive, just remember that you can refuse to apply any
law that violates your conscience.

_ Prosecutors often "multiply charges" so the jury will assume the defendant
"must be guilty of something".  But one of the great mistakes a jury can
make is to betray both truth and conscience by compromising.  If you believe
the defendant is not guilty of anything, then vote "not guilty" on all counts.

_ You can't be punished for voting according to your conscience.  Judges
(and other jurors) often pressure hold-out jurors into abandoning their true
feelings and voting with the majority "...to avoid the expense of a hung
jury and mistrial".  But you don't have to give in.  Why?  Because...

_ Hung juries are "OKAY".  If voting your conscience should lead to a hung
jury, not to worry, you're doing the responsible thing.  There is no
requirement that you must reach a verdict.  And the jury you hang may be
significant as one of a series of hung juries sending messages to the
legislature that the law you're working with has problems, and it's time for
a change.  If you want to reach consensus, however, one possible way is to
remind your fellow jurors that...

_ Jurors have the power to reduce charges against the defendant, provided
that "lesser included offenses" exist in law (ask the judge to list and
explain them, and the range of potential punishments that go with each).
Finding guilt at a lower level than charged can be appropriate in cases
where the defendant has indeed victimized someone, but not so seriously as
the original charges would indicate.  And, if it will be up to the judge to
decide the sentence, it's within the power of the jury to find the defendant
guilty of a reduced charge which will, at most, entail the amount of
punishment it thinks is appropriate. 

_ The Fully Informed Jury Association (FIJA) hopes the above information
helps you to find a verdict that you believe is conscientious and just, a
verdict which you can therefore be proud to discuss with friends, family,
legal professionals, the community or the media, should any of them want to
know what happened, how, and why.  If you have further questions, or want a
hard copy of this article and others contained in FIJA's "Jury Power
Information Kit", phone 1-800-TEL-JURY, and leave your name and address on
tape.  The office phone number for FIJA National HQ is 406-793-5550.