I showed up for jury duty yesterday. I recieved my summons to appear at the Downtown Phoenix City Courthouse a few months ago. The last time I was called was in 2005 in which I would have served in the West Mesa Justice Court.
In 2005, the court date was on a Friday but the parties involved agreed to post pone the trial until the following Monday so I, and the others called, were sent home early. This time was another matter.
Like the West Mesa Court, the Phoenix City Court handles criminal Misdemeanor cases involving prostitution, D.U.I. and shoplifting. I was part of the group of jurors called to serve on a jury to judge a D.U.I. case. It was very interesting to say the least.
I and the other jurors were seated in a courtroom to go through the Voir Dire process. I was juror number 6 and after the judge took his seat on the court bench, he introduced himself, the city prosecutor, the defendant and his attorney to us.
After the introductions we were asked a series of questions by the judge related to what criminal law is, D.U.I., etc.
During the questioning when asked by the judge if any of us had moral issues related to the case, existence or enforcement of D.U.I. laws, I raised my hand.
When questioned individually about my answer in the affirmative, I elaborated by saying that the purpose of law is to protect individual rights, in other words the protection of a person's right to life, liberty and property.
In terms of D.U.I. laws, I pointed out that if a defendant is driving under the influence of a substance, such as alcohol, but has not done harm to anyone, rather than being prosecuted, he or she should (if stopped by a police officer) be pulled over and picked up by a family member or friend and brought home.
In the case of a person who has done damage to someone's property or life, then the subject who committed the act should be required to give restitution.
I neglected to point out, but do feel, that if someone under the influence of alcohol or drugs violates a person's life with bodily harm or death during the course of an activity, such as operating a motor vehicle, while under the influence of drugs or alcohol then the person who committed the act should be charged with murder or assault and prosecuted depending on the level of harm done to the damaged party.
I explained to the court that I understood the reasons for the law's existence but disagreed with their premise. I further pointed out that, based on my research, D.U.I. laws are geared more towards controlling human behavior. They are another form of prohibition and are not being used for the prevention of potential harm, crimes, or early intervention.
Based on my conclusions, I said, I would have ethical issues in regards to serving as a juror on cases that involved D.U.I. for such reasons. I was thanked by the judge for my forthrightness and, after quickly consulting the defense attorney and city prosecutor, was excused.
Prior to my being chosen, city employees explained to us the jurisdiction of the court. I hoped that I would serve on a jury for a shoplifting case and not one for D.U.I. or prostitution. I knew that if assigned to a jury for a prostitution or D.U.I. case that the possibility of my being excused was likely.
I have no doubt that I will either never be called for jury duty again or won't for quite sometime.
I also do not condone actions by anyone, such as the accused in question, who drives under the influence of mind-altering substances. I believe during the judge's explanation to jurors of the D.U.I. case, the defendant had been caught driving while intoxicated before.
If a defendant is a repeat offender and has not committed bodily harm to anyone in either instance, he or she should be condemned morally, but not legally.
This incident, however, does not diminish my view about government's existence, the jury system and courts of law.
Far from it.
In terms of juries, for as many bad verdicts handed down by them, I can point to numerous instances where juries acquitted defendants whose rights were violated, accused of crimes they did not committ or where the jury refused to convict a defendant because they disagreed with the law the defendant was charged with violating.
My excusal from jury service for my views is indicative of a culture (in this case legal) not ready to embrace the very ideas I espouse and the libertarian vision I subscribe to.
Last September, author Michael Giuliano made some interesting observations in an article published in The Freeman.
In his article, Giuliano gives a damning account of the influence of utilitarianism in our legal system and what happens when a legal culture prefers consequentialism over natural law and rights stating:
Within the English and American legal and constitutional tradition, there are assumed to exist personal liberties that either preexist or supersede government power. The “greatest happiness of the greatest number” rule is, in contrast, a principle declaring that the ends justify the means. This elevates a consequentialism that invents responsibility for attenuated effects and thus removes all limitation on the scope of law’s coercive reach. The trek toward greater utilitarianism was in avowed opposition to the natural rights that, in the words of legal scholar Edward Corwin, once “morally exonerated the humblest citizen in defiance of the highest authority.”
The moral bankruptcy the results from embracing utilitarianism leads to results like what is seen today. A pragmatic approach to law where law is lead to manipulation and control rather than preserving and enhancing liberty.
Giuliano goes on to point out:
The law’s traditional requirement of "mens rea", or an evil mind, was the legal foundation of an act’s criminality. The corollary to this is the necessity of an overt act, or "actus reus", comprising the evil deed. The criminal-lawmaking mindset today legislates toward an external standard that judges results and not internal malice. The concept of negligence and the motivations underlying its use in tort law have bled into the criminal law. Freedom is greatly diminished when individually blameless, private, and nonmalicious conduct is so routinely punished rather than subjected to civil remedies.
The problems seen in America's legal system today is the result of cultural influences (such as embraching utilitarianism) that have lead to the moral bankruptcy seen in government now-a-days. I think it is incumbent upon libertarians to turn back the tide through continuous education of the populace in public institutions and at large.
Embracing ideas, like Michael Giuliano suggests, is a good place to start.