Aug 232007

On Monday I received a rather frightening envelope in my bill-laden mail. The return address was-

Office of the Clerk, U.S. District Court
Northern District of California
450 Golden Gate Avenue
San Francisco, California 94102
Official Business


My mind raced through my latest activities pondering which were federal violations and which could possibly have been tracked back to me so readily. Then I tossed the envelope aside to be dealt with later. This evening I was cleaning off my daughter’s bed before her weekend visit and rediscovered the letter. Probably not a good idea to open it in her presence, so I bit the bullet and tore the paper. As I’m sure y’all have already figured out, it was a jury summons. No big deal, but full of irony and rife with opportunity for mockery.

First, the irony…

Despite being an anarchist I do vote regularly. My reasoning for doing so is complex and under regular investigation, but that’s for another post. What I find humorous here is that when I register to vote I always choose the “Other” box and write in: Anarchist. So the state is aware that I do not believe in the validity of their existence, but they still want me to judge whether or not a fellow human being should be punished for violating their “laws”. I’ve completed the form and will be sending it in despite my general policy to ignore government forms (more on this in a future post as well). I’ll surely keep y’all updated as I work through the system as well. Advice is more than welcome via comments or email.

On to the mockery…

The form I need to complete and return is one of those computer scannable forms like we used for standardized tests back in school. The only problem – you need to complete it with a No. 2 pencil. I don’t use pencils. I find them useless as they’re difficult to read, smear, etc. So I had to go to the store and buy a pencil to fill out this form – doing my “civic duty” is already costing me money.

The standard demographic questions are a bit annoying considering I already answered them on my voter registration form. If they can pull my name and address, surely they can pull my citizenship status (shouldn’t this be obvious?), age, primary residence, occupation, race/ethnicity, etc.

A word on Race/Ethnicity. I usually check “Native American”, not because I’m one of the millions of people who claim to be 1/64th Cherokee (or whatever), but because I realize that tracking race is just another form of racism – oh, and because, being born in California I am, by definition, a native American. Race is irrelevant to everything, except how other idiots treat you. I chose to always go with “Native American” because they’re the smallest ethnic group in America and I’d love to see what happened if more people adopted my strategy and the number of Native Americans actually started to grow. So next time you’re filling out some ridiculous government form, go with Native American/American Indian/Alaskan Native/Eskimo.

Under the heading of Exemptions, there are three parts to the question “Are you employed on a full time basis as a:

  • Public official of the United States, state, or local government who is elected to public office or directly appointed by one elected to office;
  • Member of any governmental police or regular fire dpt. (not including volunteer or non-governmental departments);
  • Member in active service of the armed forces of the United States.”

Okay, the last one I get. The logistics involved in getting active military personnel back to their hometown for jury duty would likely be horrendous. But the other two make absolutely no sense whatsoever. Who should know the law better than the people whose job it is to create, debate and enforce it? Elected officials are frequently referred to as “civil servants” or “servants of the people”. How can they not have a “civic duty” to serve on a jury? Don’t most cops have the motto “protect and serve”? If jury duty is “service” for me, why not for them? And what’s with the (government only) fireman exemption? Either their jobs are too important to be called away for jury duty or they aren’t. Radio talk show host Mark Edge of Free Talk Live regularly cites a statistic that 98% 93% [edit: to correct number, see comments] of fire departments in the US are volunteer. This is simply the perfect example of the true definition of both “politics” and “government”: n. A system to reward one’s enemies while simultaneously punishing one’s enemies.

Aside from these (apparently automatic) exemptions, there are also 6 standard “Grounds For Requesting Excuse”:

  1. Over 70 years of age (wouldn’t want to have our wisest elders judging guilt or innocence, would we?);
  2. Served on jury duty within the last year (understandable);
  3. A person serving without compensation as a volunteer firefighter, member of a rescue squad or ambulance crew for a federal, state (including DC and territories of the U S), or local government agency (emphasis mine – again, reward your friends…);
  4. A person essential to the care of children under 12, or of aged or infirm persons (I could probably qualify here, but don’t want to);
  5. A person residing more than 80 miles from the place where the court will be held (a rather arbitrary number, but understandable);
  6. A person who would suffer extreme hardship or extreme inconvenience (evidence required)

Three of the questions dealt with criminal history, following the theme that those most familiar with the court system are not permitted to be jurors. To wit: “One is disqualified from jury service only for criminal offenses punishable by imprisonment for more than one year, but it is the maximum penalty, and not the actual sentence that controls. [sic]”

Just a little insight into who will be determining your fate should you ever face charges in a U.S. District Court. Hopefully I can make it all the way through the system and continue to report back my discoveries.

  2 Responses to “Anarchy In The Jury Room?”

  1. I think I said 93% of all stations are volunteer and another 4% are mixed. However, I interviewed Chief Stittleburg to get new statistics.

    • The majority of fire departments in the United States are volunteer. Of the total 30,542 fire departments in the country, 21,671 are all volunteer; 5,271 are mostly volunteer; 1,582 are mostly career; and 2,018 are all career.2

  2. Thanks for the correction, Mark. I skimmed a few episodes but couldn’t find the direct reference. And thanks for the update as well! I’ve edited the post to reflect your statements more accurately.

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