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Randy Alcorn: Jury Duty and Judicial Servitude

Most of us fulfill our obligation to turn out as potential jurors, but just who is it who really benefits?

For both criminal and civil law, the U.S. Constitution guarantees trial by an impartial jury, however, the accused or the parties in a civil suit can waive that right. While it is an essential civil right, trial by jury can and does result in a form of involuntary servitude for those summoned for jury duty.

Although conscription of any kind is the antithesis of freedom, it is arguably a necessary evil in the provision of impartial justice. Necessary or not, it is still an evil in as much as a summons to appear is a command by government authority to interrupt your life, relegate personal priorities to secondary status, forgo freedom and income, and conduct yourself to confinement at a place and for a period of time that government dictates. You are even told how you must dress during your confinement.

As with all government mandates, if you refuse to comply with a jury summons you are subject to punishment — fined up to $1,500, or even jailed for contempt of court. Ultimately, all government power is backed by lethal force, and that is one powerful reason why government should always be limited.

Conscripts to jury duty are paid $15 per day and 34 cents per mile for travel; however, they are not paid anything for the first day of internment. By most standards those are slave wages and a tiny fraction of what most people would be paid for the day of work they are forced to forgo. And, even if your employer pays you in full for days missed for jury duty, someone other than the court is paying for your forced service.

Whenever I hear of a judge or an attorney scolding a reluctant conscript about the duty to serve, I can’t help but wryly wonder how much that judge or attorney is being paid to be in that court room — certainly far more than $15 per day. Easy for them to be preachy about civil duty, no one is forcing them to be in the courtroom.

While I resent the intrusion of jury duty, I always comply with the summons, as do my family members, my fellow employees and most everyone I know. We all complain about the inconvenience and how we are imposed upon year after year, like clockwork, pulled out of our daily lives to serve the interests of justice, but we report as instructed.

But, is it always the interests of justice that are being served by our involuntary servitude?

Our courts are always swamped with pending cases and thus demands for jurors. Why? Are there really so many crimes being committed? Well, yes, there are because there is so much that is illegal now that almost anyone can be guilty of one thing or another. About 80 percent of the jury trials in California’s superior courts are for criminal cases.

Any law that criminalizes a victimless choice like drug use or prostitution is an unjust, repressive law. The law-enforcement industry is making a fine living from these oppressive laws that are filling our prisons, clogging our courts, straining government budgets and fostering violence across much of the Western Hemisphere. If I am summoned to be a juror for a case involving the infraction of these unwarranted laws, I will acquit the accused no matter what the evidence.

About 20 percent of jury trials in California’s superior courts are civil suits. Our country is infested with predatory trial lawyers always looking for tort victims with which to gin up some claim for damages.

These legal jackals can haul in millions of dollars from these trials. Great, but if a tort trial involves a jury, then the parties bringing the suit should pay for the jury, and not at $15 per diem, but at $200 per diem for each juror. Why should individuals or their employers pay for the enrichment of ambulance chasers and their clients?

California’s superior courts heard 11,047 jury trials in 2010. That means about 155,000 people served on a jury that year, while about 1 million more were summoned to be on call to serve. That’s a lot of inconvenience and personal cost for a lot of folks every year, but worthwhile and necessary where true justice is being served.

But, where the legal and law-enforcement industry is being served for their own selfish profit, it is not justice, it is iniquitous greed that intrudes on and temporarily enslaves the rest of us.

— Santa Barbara political observer Randy Alcorn can be contacted at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Click here to read previous columns.

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