12 Scared Men: Is Jury Duty Always Ethical?


El leavy

America’s Jury Act allows courts to excuse a juror from service at the time he or she is summoned on the grounds of "undue hardship or extreme inconvenience." What constitutes, “undue hardship” has never been made clear, and, with excuses for jurors being granted at the discretion of the court – excuses which cannot be reviewed or appealed to Congress or any other entity – we can only speculate as to how understanding this clause is. In this sense, if sitting on the jury will put a life in more danger than if that life had never sat on said jury, can anyone or state ethically ask that they sit on it?

Mexican drug kingpin Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán has unanimously been found guilty on all 10 counts at his drug-trafficking trial at a federal court in New York, and is doomed to spend the rest of his days in the United State’s only Federal Administrative Maximum prison: Supermax ADX Florence. Guzmán now joins a comic-book style roster of super villains ranging from the UNABOMBER to Tyler Bingham of the Aryan Brotherhood, in what has become known as Colorado’s Alcatraz.

The trial is now over, the courtroom has been adjourned, and twelve members of the jury are about to go back into their everyday lives as if it was nothing happened. But of course something did happen, as, over the past 2½ months, they have sat through testimony about unspeakable torture and ghastly murders, epic corruption at nearly every level of Mexico's government, narco-mistresses and naked subterranean escapes, gold-plated AK-47s and monogrammed, diamond-encrusted pistols. This is a lot to take in for your average Joe.

Not only have these individuals been privy to some details many would have preferred left unsaid, they were also instrumental in bringing down a man whose loyal goons have a reputation for killing and who have broken out Mr. Guzmán not once, but twice over the years. El Chapo may be locked up, but his Sinaloa Cartel is still at large. In fact, the co-founder, Ismael Zambada Garcia, still evades justice to this day.

Mr. Guzmán did kindly state that there was no need to hide their identities, as he had no plans to have them killed, yet prosecutors filed a motion to keep their identities anonymous during the proceedings anyway. This seems admittance on part of the prosecution that by putting these individuals in such a position, they are endangering all of them, condemning the group to lives lived with one eye over their shoulders or more simply a death thanks to a bullet between both.

Now I am on the view that jury duty is what is owed by a citizen (or in my case subject) of a country. There is, however, a Libertarian stance on jury duty, which seems to support the idea that jury duty is in fact unethical – yet more fundamentally rather than contextually.

Libertarian’s generally support jury nullification – the concept where members of a trial jury find a defendant not guilty if they do not support a government's law, do not believe it is constitutional or humane, or do not support a possible punishment for breaking the law. Yet jury nullification doesn’t address the physical danger that standing in a jury such as El Chapo’s brings upon a juror, and to me simply seems like a child-like tantrum in the face of responsibility.

What this case highlights is that there is perhaps good reason to reevaluate some of our jury practices in the midst of cases which are of the size and (almost) grandeur of El Chapo’s. In an era where everything and everyone are connected – can we ever guarantee a sequestered jury for example? The same can be said for jury anonymity, and the subsequent risks that this impossible promise raises in cases such as this one.

Jury duty ultimately acts as a effective mode of engagement for citizens in their governmental systems and serves as a bulwark against tyranny, corrupted judges and the unfair trial. In this sense, is serving on a jury of a high profile case that can hold such a potential for harm or ‘undue hardship’ simply the price a select few of us on the ground have to pay? I am no philosopher, but 'perhaps’ may be the answer.

Thomas Fuller, the seventeenth-century English churchman and historian, once wrote that, “A fox should not be on the jury at a goose's trial.” My question is should a goose be on the jury at a fox’s trial? The jury’s maybe not out on this one, but perhaps it should be.

I believe in the jury system’ - OJ Simpson