I have been summoned for jury duty in a few weeks. I haven’t really thought all that seriously about it until tonight - an argument about jury nullification with my wife yesterday got the wheels turning in my head. I insisted that jurors have the power to rule however they like (and I’m not wrong). This made me realize - since we have that power, to some degree we are ethically complicit to a convicted defendant’s punishment.
As an informed citizen, I understand issues of our the prison system: it is the the biggest in the world, much of it is for-profit, it is punitive and based on retribution, rather than rehabilitation or transformative justice, and honestly, it’s a place that will mess anyone up in ways the rest of us probably can’t imagine. As a Christian, I obviously can’t go for the death penalty (once I had bumper sticker which said “The death penalty is a hate crime,” too bad I couldn’t drive up to the court in that). But can I send someone to prison, when I say I follow someone who saidThe Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free…
I’ve found that during the selection process, if they find that you know about jury nullification, they will boot you out as fast as possible. On one hand, this is probably because they don’t want people abusing the power. On the other hand, most trial lawyers would probably rather have a cooperative jury than an informed one.
So now I’m stuck between my ideals about democratic socialism, where we participate and encourage all means of self-determination, including jury duty which is one of the last refuges of direct democracy in the country… and the inevitability that I will become responsible for the punishment of someone, should we find them guilty, without any say in that punishment or assurance the wrongs they commit will be resolved by anything other than punitive measures.
If your key value is love, compassion, and respect for everyone, how do you serve on a jury?
What do you think?