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Santa Clara County Hall Of Justice 1008

My Recent Jury Duty Experience

Too few of those called and eventually serve on a jury are selected because of their knowledge of the law. Our current judicial system seems to prefer those who are ready to follow instructions rather than adjudicate true justice based on their heartfelt beliefs.

Andrea G. Schwartz
  • Andrea G. Schwartz,
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I have received six jury summonses in my adult life. Once I was excused because of my responsibilities; twice I was on call if I was needed, which I was not; twice I made it to the voir dire stage, and once I served on a civil case through deliberation and verdict. I cannot say that for any of these instances was I eager to serve on a jury. 

I think my reaction is similar to many others, since most of us tend to value our own time and find interruptions unwelcome. Yet, if any of us found ourselves in need of justice, we would want competent and informed people to sit on our jury. 

Jury service is a duty, for sure, but it is also a privilege when you consider how many times throughout history pagan versions of so-called justice ruled the day. The system incorporated into the Bill of Rights (Amendments 5-7) was based on the Biblical principle that the people have the responsibility to determine whether the accused is guilty of the crime or not, in addition to determining whether the law under which a person is accused is just or not. The sad part, based on my experience, is that too few of those who are called and eventually serve on a jury are selected because of their knowledge of the law. Our current judicial system seems to prefer those who are ready to follow instructions rather than adjudicate true justice based on their heartfelt beliefs. 

My most recent experience confirmed for me that officers of the court (judge, assistant district attorney, and defense attorney) do not want a person on the jury if he comes with prior knowledge of the law, or has definite religious, moral, or ethical perspectives. Moreover, if you come close to asserting that a jury can judge the law, you become persona non grata. 

The assistant district attorney in the case for which I was being interviewed repeatedly asked prospective jurors whether or not he should pick them, based on criteria he had laid out.  Included in his presentation were hypothetical situations he framed that, in my view, were not consistent with constitutional safeguards.  In a very authoritative manner he asked, “Do I want you as a juror? Can you promise to abide by what I just outlined?” It was obvious that many of those being addressed were flustered by his polished interrogation and answered timidly or with uncertainty. 

I share this because I believe I was able to be free from his intimidation because I have been a student of Biblical law for thirty-four years and have taught it for twenty. No Christian should respond to a jury summons ignorant of the law of God and unfamiliar with the entire process.[1] Rather than attempt to get out of serving on the jury, believers should come ready to let their light shine and have the Lord determine whether they are selected. Thus, jury service preparation is as important as being prepared for any other responsibility of citizenship. 

Some say, keep your views close to the vest, and do not tip your hand, so that you can be selected. Others say that you should be upfront about being a Christian who follows God’s law and immediately be excused for cause. My view is whichever course of action you pursue, be sure you are doing it in obedience to the law-word of God and ask that His will take precedence over your schedule or preference. 

As I was in the midst of this recent jury experience, I sought some guidance from Rushdoony’s writings and lectures. I found this gem on the Chalcedon site, a lecture from Our Threatened Freedom, and appreciate how it helped me the following day when I actually sat in the jury box for the voir dire questioning. Ready to do the Lord’s will fueled my honest answers and I was grateful for the opportunity to give a reason for the hope that is within me. As it turned out, because I challenged the prosecuting attorney’s claim that one witness was sufficient for conviction, and explained my perspective on the basis that God’s word calls for at least two, I was excused. 

The inconvenience of having to re-arrange my week for jury duty turned out to be a wake-up call, encouraging me that if I value my God-given liberties I must be diligent in guarding and advancing them. Moreover, as an educator, I realize how important it is to include the judicial process, how it is supposed to function and how it currently functions, as a vital area of study. 

[One final note:  I know many students in Christian schools or in homeschools who actively participate in debate clubs and compete in debate tournaments. I think this can be excellent preparation for future jury service. However, in too many cases, winning the round takes precedence over being Biblically sound. It would be advantageous for those in these competitions to examine the subject of a particular debate, primarily, from a scriptural perspective. Christian students should be experts in the law of God before they attempt to formulate an argument, especially if the “winning” argument violates the law of God.] 

[1]] Organizations such as the Rutherford Institute and the Fully Informed Jury Association are helpful resources.