Friday, August 10, 2018

Jury Duty and the Duty of Jurors

Yesterday, I received the "dreaded letter" in the mail - a summons to report for Jury Duty. This is the second time I've been summoned this year. The first time resulted in me being seated as a juror and delivering a verdict in a civil trial.

My first service as a juror was in federal court and dealt with corporate negligence vs a family who had lost their child, ostensibly because of said negligence. It was a very difficult case on an emotional level. Besides having a great deal of empathy for the family, and feeling their loss deeply, I think the worst part of it was not being able to talk about it at all with anyone - not even my wife - while the evidence was being presented. It took a lot to keep it all inside, and at the end of the two-ish week trial, I was emotionally exhausted. While I'm glad to have had the experience, I'm not exactly chomping at the bit to do it again.

This time, I've been summoned for a Michigan state court. Of course, I have no idea if I'll get picked again or what the case will be about, and even if I did, I couldn't discuss it at all. However, at this point, all this jury duty stuff has driven me to blog about an aspect of it that I think is very important, but not very well-known: the right of jury nullification.

Judges and prosecuting attorneys really don't like jury nullification. They rarely, if ever, inform jurors of the right. In fact, most of the time they will tell jurors that they do not have the right and must find solely based on the facts of the case.  This, however, is not entirely true.

Juries also have the right to judge not only the facts of the case against the defendant but also the justness of the law itself, and whether that law is being applied justly in the case. In other words, a jury may refuse to convict an obviously guilty defendant who's only crime is breaking a law they believe shouldn't exist in the first place, if they believe the law is being applied unjustly against the defendant, or if they believe the defendant was justified in breaking the law under the circumstances.

For example, a sympathetic jury could acquit a person accused and obviously guilty of stealing food to keep his family from starving to death - this would be an instance of a just law being applied un-justly to the defendant. For another example, a jury who disagreed with marijuana prohibition laws could acquit the guy caught "green handed" with a bag of weed. In this way, juries - composed notably of randomly selected, ordinary people - stand in judgment over the laws and activities of the state and the exercise of its power.

In my mind, this makes the right to trial by jury, the right and duty to serve on a jury, and the right of jury nullification some of the most important safeguards of liberty we, the people possess. It's also probably the same reason our government doesn't want us to know we have them. I'm not even joking about this - people have actually been arrested and thrown in jail for nothing more than distributing copies of the US constitution and pamphlets on jury nullification to potential jurors on their way into the courthouse. These actions by the state are in flagrant violation of the right to free speech, among other things, but far too few seem to care. It's getting pretty scary out there, folks.

So, my dear readers (yes, all 12 of you, ha ha), you may now consider yourselves informed. If nothing else, it may provide you with an easy way to get out of jury duty if the case is a criminal one and involves a controversial law.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

An Open Letter from an NRA Member to those Marching Today and their Supporters

Dear March For Our Lives participants and supporters:

We have a common goal. We want to see an end to gun violence just as much, if not more, than our detractors. I firmly believe that every time a firearm is used for evil, it is an affront not only to civilized society but also to the rights and freedoms we have in this country. We want it to stop, too. We do not want to see one more drop of innocent blood spilled. Every time one of these horrible tragedies occurs, we hug our own children a little tighter and long for a day when we, and of course you, can not only feel safe but actually BE safe.

With that in mind, I ask you to consider a few things.

First, we stand ready, capable, and equipped to protect you. There are hundreds of thousands of us out there who would gladly stand between you and those who would do you harm, risking our lives to save yours. We are parents, teachers, first responders, engineers, etc. While being willing to take a bullet on your behalf is a noble sentiment, we feel our efforts to protect you would be far more effective if it was the criminals who were taking the bullets, and that is the beginning of our ire over these things.

Yes, we stand ready, willing, and equipped to protect you. But, by law, we are not able to do so. You see, federal law prohibits us from being where we would need to be while we're equipped to protect you. Think for a moment about that. The reason you don't see stories in the news of people like me stopping these school massacres is that, by and large, we aren't allowed to.

Think about that for a while as you wave your "NRA blood on your hands" signs today.  The fact is that the NRA has done more than anyone else to actually try to halt gun violence in this country, and we desperately want to do more.

You can argue that our ideas may not work. The fact is, though, that gun control hasn't worked - in fact, it has arguably made things worse.  We did not see school shootings with nearly the frequency and high body counts that we see recently until the "gun free schools" act was passed in 1994. Once people like me were no longer allowed to have their self-defense tools in schools, the killers knew they wouldn't face resistance. The fact is, gun control has made you sitting ducks, and our ideas have largely been dismissed.

Now, there are some places, some schools, where teachers and staff are allowed to carry their guns. Two things should be considered in those cases. First, you may not have known that those places exist - why?  Because the dire predictions of what would happen there have not come to pass, and so it is not news that fits the agenda. Second, consider that you have not heard of mass shootings at those places since those policies went into effect.

Third, consider what did actually happen recently in one such place. An armed school resource officer was able to stop a school shooting in Maryland, and the only person who died was the perpetrator. What stopped him?  Did Maryland's strict gun laws stop him?  Did their ban on weapons like the AR-15 stop him? Did their waiting periods and age restrictions and countless other restrictions stop him?  No. An armed and NRA-trained person with his own gun stopped him.

Further, consider why we always hear calls for MORE gun control after a school shooting. I suggest it's not because it works, but it's because gun control itself is the agenda. It's not about saving your lives, it's about keeping people like me from being able to do so in the future. It's about stripping you of your freedoms now so that you won't be able to resist while this country moves closer and closer to fascism.

Think about which side actually has more of an interest in ending gun violence. I suggest that it's not the side who's political agenda gains more strength and traction for every one of you who dies in this manner. I submit to you that the gun control crowd - at least those at the "top" - don't actually want to stop these things from happening. Why would they?  The more of you die in mass shootings, the more their political agenda benefits. Think about that for a while.

Conversely, people like me who support the right to keep and bear arms most definitely have a strong interest in stopping gun violence, and for much the same reason. We grow weary of being blamed for things we haven't done - for things we abhor and would never consider doing. We grow weary of being blamed for things we could and would prevent if we were only allowed to do so.

Now, I do want to acknowledge that there are many March supporters who are on board purely out of concern for their kids' safety, and I do not want to vilify you. What I do want to do, though, is educate you about what will actually make your kids safer and what won't. What I want you to ask yourself is, "who is volunteering to actually stand in harm's way to protect your kids effectively? What is preventing them from doing so?"

Instead of vilifying the NRA and the second amendment, you should be demanding that your parents and teachers' right to protect you be restored.  Instead of demanding that your own freedoms be taken away, you should be demanding that your rights to protect yourselves and your own children be sacrosanct.