Jury Duty: Reclaiming Your Political Power and Taking Responsibility

Jury Duty: Reclaiming Your Political Power and Taking Responsibility

Jury Duty: Reclaiming Your Political Power and Taking Responsibility

Jury Duty: Reclaiming Your Political Power and Taking Responsibility


Written by a legal scholar for the general reader, this book demystifies the institution of the jury and validates its political power, providing valuable insights for the more than 30 million Americans who receive a jury summons each year.

Jury Duty: Reclaiming Your Political Power and Taking Responsibility presents an accessible account of the origins and development of the jury system as well as a comprehensive, stage-by-stage description of a jury trial and of the sentencing procedure in a criminal trial. The work also provides a unique estimate of the cost of the jury system, which is particularly relevant in this continuing era of budget constraints.

Rejecting the justifications usually given for the jury system, the work explains how the political roles of the jury constitute the chief value of the jury system. The basis of these political roles is the unquestionable power of the jury to acquit even a guilty criminal defendant, which allows juries to prevent the enforcement of unjust laws and the imposition of unjust punishments. Accordingly, the book challenges a range of practices that the judiciary has developed to obstruct the jury's exercise of this power. Most people—even including many lawyers—remain unaware of these practices, but they undermine the value of the jury system to our society. Finally, the book offers an original, thought-provoking analysis of the responsibilities imposed on criminal trial jurors in cases of compelling injustice.


A young man committed a battery on a younger boy in the street and was prosecuted for it. He demanded a jury trial, but was refused this and convicted in a trial before a judge alone, who sentenced him to serve sixty days in the parish prison and fined him $150. This might not sound very significant. Yet this apparently insignificant case drew the attention of the Supreme Court of the United States, which insisted that the young man had a right to a jury trial after all.

The incident occurred in Louisiana in the 1960s. the young man was black, and he saw two of his younger boy relatives conversing with four white boys. He didn’t like the look of the encounter—there was extreme racial tension in the area—and so took his young relatives peacefully away in his car. As he left, he either touched (by his own admission) or slapped (as the prosecution alleged) one of the white boys on the elbow.

There was no injury, not even a mark on the boy’s skin. But still, the young man’s own admission would have been enough to make him guilty as charged. the reason is that the exact charge, which was simple battery, has a very broad scope in law. Intentionally touching a person on the elbow without his consent can be enough to meet the legal definition of simple battery. But prosecutors generally focus their limited resources on more serious crime. the vast majority of the insignificant day-to-day incidents that technically constitute simple battery are not prosecuted. Normally, battery is prosecuted only when it is a more serious violation. However, even an insignificant, technical violation of . . .

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