Jury Duty and a Death Sentence for Newt

Turns out I LOVE jury duty. Everybody talks about it as if it were this excruciating thing, but there is something about being me that goes really well with being a juror. Maybe it’s my thirst for justice, maybe it’s that I feel like there aren’t that many opportunities to feel like I’m “doing my civic duty” by taking part in a flawed legal system that is trying do the right thing, maybe it’s that I like the change of pace from work, maybe it’s the pleasure that I feel going mad with power when I feel like someone’s fate is in my hands…. Whatever the reason, when I got a jury duty notice last year, I was not the least bit disappointed. I was giddy.

Homer breaks his jaw after watching a movie called "Shenani-Goats" starring Tim Allen. It was rated PG-13 for brief rudeness and appearances by Garry Shandling

Next thing I knew, I was sitting on a jury in a medical malpractice case. It was me, three other guys, and eight ladies (on a side-note: In regards to the whole referring to juries as “12 Angry Men,” it has been my experience that the women on juries are far angrier than the men. Especially when you say things like “Settle down, sweetheart.”). The cool thing is that in order for a case to make it to a jury, things are not clear-cut. And I love it when things are not clear cut. I revel in grey areas, so I was in heaven. Also, in normal life I tend to speak before I have worked out my entire thought (this habit has, on more than one occasion, led to hurt feelings. Usually mine, when people call me a “horse’s ass”), but while sitting on that juror’s chair you can’t just blurt out questions. I felt like Homer Simpson when his jaw was wired shut and all he could do was ask questions by writing them on a chalk board, and all of the sudden he became a good husband and father. One thing became clear to me, while sitting on that jury: Asking the right question is way more powerful than having the right answer.

It was like this, only more luxurious leather and less luxurious hair. Later, in the deliberation room, I tried to explain that I was making sure I wasn't in the middle of an Inception.

The only hard part about sitting on a jury (for me, at least) is the actual sitting–I cannot sit still. My ADD necessitates that I’m always crossing my legs, uncrossing my legs, tucking one foot under a leg, switching legs/feet, and taking my shoes off to sit “Indian Style” (Is this okay to say? Referring to this way of sitting as “criss cross” is like a grown man ordering a “Shirley Temple.” Go ahead and just call it what it is…. A Redskin Soda). They were really nice chairs, though–leather and wood that swiveled and leaned back–very comfortable. Unfortunately, during a particularly intense part of the trial, I was leaning back and it felt like someone was pushing down a bit on my luxury chair. A moment later, my feet were up in the air and the chair had fallen over–the bolts were ripped right out of the ground. I made two jokes, and nobody laughed at either one of them: I rubbed my belly and made a comment about the size of the sub I ate for lunch…. Not even a smile. The other was holding my back and threatening to sue…. Crickets. I even tapped an imaginary microphone and said, “Is this thing on?” Nothing. Tough crowd….

Juries hear two sorts of trials: Civil (where someone pays money as a consequence for messing with someone else’s stuff) or Criminal (where a crime was committed and the consequence is loss of freedom/liberty or even loss of life for a capital case). I live in one of those states where, if you kill someone on purpose, they might just go ahead and kill you right back. I’m really happy that my trial was a civil trial and not a case where someone might lose their life as a consequence for the crime they committed–Mostly because if it were a capital trial I would not have been able to be on the jury.

America likes its death row prisoners like it likes its John Coffey--Black.

Turns out they don’t allow people who don’t believe in the death penalty to be on capital trial juries. I’ve been thinking about this, and I’ve decided this is really messed up. The only people who are allowed to sit on these jurys are people who agree that killing someone is an appropriate repercussion for killing someone. This is basically a system (follow me here) that insures that the only people allowed to serve on a capital jury (where the person on trial killed someone) are people who believe that killing people is okay. Does this make sense? It seems to me that by only allowing the sort of person who would say “Yes–Let’s kill that person for the crime he committed” to be a juror, the legal system would be limiting the jury to contain only certain types of people. It would seemingly exclude a very large people-group from capital trials–Namely, followers of Jesus Christ.

Surprisingly enough, though, it seems that even in states that claim to be overwhelmingly Christian, they have no trouble finding people to sit in juries on capital murder trials. How can this be? Maybe not so coincidentally, the states with the death penalty are also states that have higher rates of illiteracy–Maybe the “Christians” in these states can’t read. For example, maybe they weren’t able to read the part of the Bible that says:

   “You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too. If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles. Give to those who ask, and don’t turn away from those who want to borrow.
“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.

Of course, if they couldn’t read that, they wouldn’t be able to read my blog either…. Maybe, if you know an illiterate Christian who mistakenly believes that followers of Jesus Christ should be for the death penalty, you could do a service project for them and read them the New Testament. Or my blog. Whichever.

So I’ll just say it: If you call yourself a Christian and you believe that killing a person is an appropriate punishment for committing murder, you are misrepresenting Jesus. There is NOTHING is Jesus’ life or words that would lead his followers to believe that we have any place sentencing another person to death. We have all already received a death sentence, and Jesus took care of that when he accepted his own.

"Alright, who let out the Honey Badger? Someone's ass is getting stoned.... No, not that kind of stoned. The BAD kind of stoned"

“BUT WHAT ABOUT THE OLD TESTAMENT!?!?!” the pro-deathers yell in unison (ironically, most of the “pro-death” group also identify themselves by a seemingly contradictory name–“Republican.” Just kidding. It is paradoxical, though, that so many pro-life people are so pro-death penalty). Well, the Old Testament does justify the death penalty for some heinous crimes–like murder. Among the other crimes for which death is prescribed: Cursing a parent, Failure to confine a dangerous animal, Sex with an animal (any animal–not just the dangerous one that got out), Working on the Sabbath, Perjury, False claims of virginity, Incest, and Adultery (just to name a few). If we were still working off of this list, Newt Gingrich would deserve the death penalty about three different times. And that’s not even counting the adultery!

Raise your hand if you're an adulterer....

Speaking of adultery, The Bible tells a cool story of a woman who is about to be killed for committing adultery (like the Old Testament commands). Jesus looks at the people with the stones and says, “All right. Whoever hasn’t sinned, go ahead and throw the first one.” And they all left. Jesus also tells a story about a guy whose huge debt was forgiven by a king, but that same guy can’t forgive a small debt that is owed to him. The king says to the guy, “Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?” When Jesus tells stories about God getting REALLY angry, most of them seem to be about stuff like this–people just not getting it and demanding justice when they have been shown such amazing mercy. And then God is like, “You want Justice? I got your justice right here….”

Also, somewhere in this car, an idiot is missing his teeth.

And the people outside the church seem to get it. The cars with the “Why do we kill people who kill people to show that killing people is wrong?” bumper stickers are always the ones with the COEXIST stickers, while the Jesus Fish all seem to be surrounded by a Yellow Ribbon, an NRA sticker, and some form of a NObama sticker. It’s the exact opposite of what it should be. I mean, apart from Jesus, “an eye for an eye” makes sense. It’s a natural reaction, but what use is Jesus if we have embraced the same reactions we had before we knew better. I talk to my kids about it every day–“She hit me first!” he yells. “Listen, little man, because of Jesus, we are operating by a different set of rules.” Killing people is wrong, y’all. It doesn’t suddenly get right just because they did it first.

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4 Responses to Jury Duty and a Death Sentence for Newt

  1. Let’s go so far as to say that most people, with or without the ‘benefit’ of certain religious convictions, know the difference between right and wrong, and are as passionate about Justice for the same right reasons.

    • theboeskool says:

      Fair enough. We all have “right and wrong” inside us… But to some people, “an eye for an eye” (or even a life for a life) is the definition of justice. You might need to appeal to some sort of “higher moral authority” it you’re discussing this with someone whose idea of justice is different than yours.

  2. Eric Guroff says:

    Chris,

    I think the root of the issue is a philosophical difference in people’s view of the justice system. Currently, the justice system is set up as a means of punishment to those that break the rules society creates. Instead of this perspective, I think it would do America good to view the sole purpose of the justice system as being this: to keep the general public safe, and nothing more.

    Conservatives often discuss the importance of limiting the roles of government (not to mention being “pro-life”), but the authority to punish seems above and beyond the basic requirements of a governing body. Prison is necessary for two reasons: (1) as a disincentive towards committing crimes and (2) to keep people that are a danger to society away from situations where they can continue to pose a danger to themselves or others. Together, these make up the sole purpose of keeping people safe.

    It is dangerous when legality and morality become confused. Capital punishment is an example of when government becomes a moral authority, not just a legal one as it was intended. If someone can give me an argument that capital punishment significantly reduces murder (it doesn’t–if you’re going to kill someone you aren’t going to decide not to based on whether you will be executed or spend your life in prison), then I would be willing to hear them out. Otherwise, I’ll vote for smaller government authority in this conversation.

    Eric

    • theboeskool says:

      Well said, Enrique. But who is “the general public?” And is prison a safe place for that part of the general public that ends up there?

      But mostly just well said.

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