Pegasus Take Flight: My Vermont “Jury Duty” Experience

“Satan invites us to preach in Hell.  Is that a trap?  Or is it our greatest opportunity so far?”  Joseph Fiennes as Dr. Martin Luther, addressing the German princes prior to their appearance before the Holy Roman emporer at Augsburg, in the motion picture Luther (2003).

“They’re going to think you’re a Pegasus who just came down from a cloud,” a friend of mine from New Hampshire told me over the phone last summer, when I told him I’d be summonsed for “jury duty” here in Vermont.  “They’ll probably be asking themselves whether you’re going to burn the building down. And I know it won’t be filmed or recorded, but it would be absolutely hilarious to see the answers you give them.”

I wish I could’ve been equally amused with my circumstance, but the truth of the matter was that I was downright outraged and pissed off.  Back in early June, I received a “jury duty” summons from the local county court via the US Postal Service, demanding that I appear in late August.  As I said, I was incensed:  The notion of being shanghaied and dragooned into an appearance before the State – merely to advance and perpetuate their ever-expanding plantation of laws and regulations.  My initial impulse was to simply ignore the mailing.  It wasn’t registered mail (the only kind, allegedly, the courts recognize as absolute assurance that a piece of mail has actually been delivered by the government postal system), and so no one would have any real proof I’d ever seen it.  Then I remembered my past experiences with the IRS, with police departments.  No.  Government agencies, sometimes even especially when snubbed, will retaliate regardless of any lack of evidence.  Unless it’s evidence you’re bringing against them.  Then, of course, it’s they who have no idea what you’re talking about, and dismiss the accusations.

I thus filled out the indicated online questionnaire.  In all the comments sections, I stated quite unambiguously that I was a Voluntaryist, and hence, disagree with the existence of all political governance – and that, correspondingly, I objected to the use of force and compulsion to command my appearance under duress. These objections were met with a generic yellow postcard stating that my request to “delay” my appearance had been roundly denied.  In fact, I ended up getting two of these – whether by bureaucratic (or computer) mistake, or deliberately, I can’t say.  Either way, the message was pretty clear: Show up, or else.

The summer passed, with my anger and anxiety building. The initial appearance date was cancelled due to Hurricane Henri (which turned out to be nothing but a steady rainstorm here in Vermont), and rescheduled for September.  I showed up for an 8:00 AM courtroom appearance that morning, standing in line with a host of other disgruntled people, wherein we were all, one by one, screened with a metal detector wand as we filed in a side entrance.  After a botched attempt at a video orientation presentation (the bailiffs could not get the equipment to work), we were treated to a short speech by the court clerk – who, among other things, assured us that our cancelled August appearance would count in our favor as a “jury draw.” Vermont has a three-draw system, in that a prospective – or even previously selected – juror must stand to possibly serve on as many juries.  The clerk’s assurances turned out to be pure bunk, but more on that later.

Once we were shuffled around from one downstairs courtroom, to a separate upstairs one – and then back again — the judge, a middle-aged woman — entered the chamber, along with both State and defense attornies, and the defendant.  He was a young black fellow, who we were informed had a white girlfriend.  The judge then read all of us the charges, which were seven in total, and ranged from strangulation attacks, to threatening with a firearm, to theft of the girlfriend’s money, to preventing her from seeking medical attention after one of the aforementioned assaults. At this juncture, one of the State attornies began asking us, as a group, a series of questions.

My goal was, simply put, to just get the hell out of there.  Earlier, we were offered IRS W-9 forms whereupon we could request payment for our involuntary servitude.  The amount was $30 per day of stolen State money – an amount which was last legislatively amended in 1970. I loudly declined, without further comment.  One of the bailiffs smirked at that.  I likely caused even further smirks when, with just as much avidity, I began raising my hand to respond to the prosecuting attorney’s questions.  I first told him that I believed police officers were generally disreputable liars interested only in insulating each other from their own wrongdoing instead of testifying to truth.  I later confessed my firm belief in jury nullification – the principle that the law itself is on trial, along with its application in any given instance, before one even approaches the question of guilt or innocence.  That seemed to nix my popularity with the prosecutorial table sufficiently well – even to the extent that I caught one of them giving me a sardonic glare – which I returned with even greater hostility.  He looked away.

Then it was the defense’s turn at bat – if you want to dignify them in such a capacity; they were obviously “public defenders,” and one might’ve well procured better lawyers from the back of a box of Captain Crunch – and so, my turn to pitch some curve balls in their direction, as well.  I ended up relating to this young, still obviously wet-behind-the-ears law school grad that I felt anyone invoking their Fifth Amendment right to not testify, excepting very rare and unusual circumstances, was most probably guilty – but that I also felt perjury was unacceptable under any circumstances. It placed him in an unresolvable jam in which he had no choice but to reject me, along with the prosecution. I can only further say that it was entirely evident he was without any skill or competence as a lawyer, and that I knew his client was going to be convicted.  I turned out to be right – a month later, I learned the accused got 15-18 years in prison.  Great job all around.

At any event, I left the courtroom that day satisfyingly unselected, and I do think the judge saw what I had done, why I had done it, and rather than being contemptuous – like, at the very least, the prosecutorial attornies – she seemed to be almost admiring. That was maybe the sole reward of the day.

Enter October (whereupon I found out about the aforementioned defendant’s fate), and I arrived for another morning’s “draw” – supposedly my third and final one.  This time there was no orientation — or even the botched pretense of one – and so things proceeded right to the case:  A middle-aged guy and his wife had both gotten drunk, started beating on each other in an argument, and the guy must’ve gotten the upper hand and gone a bit too far.  Once the questioning started, the prosecuting attorney remembered me from a month earlier – including my positions on both police and jury nullification – but to my surprise and delight, invited me to extrapolate, in detail, on both subjects, for the benefit of the entire jury pool.  Moreover, I took the opportunity to bring up my 27 years of alcoholism, when he stated that alcohol was a factor in the case.  There was later no need to push this issue with the defense attorney – he made it abundantly clear from the outset of his own presentation that he would push for my disqualification, based on my past with alcohol alone.  Fair enough.

As for that having satisfied the criteria of three “jury draws,” however, in spite of assurances from the clerk of courts a month earlier, the Hurricane Henri cancellation was suddenly of no moment:  We were in for another afternoon “draw,” like it or not.  I went back to my vehicle in the parking lot and ate a sandwiched while it rained.  Then at 1:00 in the afternoon, returned.  Fortunately, in at least a partial stroke of good luck, the defendant in this case, with their attorney, negotiated a plea-bargain that removed the pretense for our presence.  And I got the hell out of there.

Under Vermont law, I cannot be selected for at least two more years, though in practice, people are often not selected again for many years – sometimes never again.  I hope that’s me.

To suggest that it is somehow a person’s “duty” to assist and abet a socialist, tax-financed judicial model designed to enforce the tyrannical will of politicians is a contention so divorced from reality – to say nothing of any sense of actual justice – as to be an act of evil in and of itself.  An unthinking arrogance.  A subintellectual crime.

But that is the sum of political governance itself, isn’t it?  And I fear that only technologically-imposed obsolescence, or the extinction of the human race itself, will ever alter that insidious, simian equation.

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Alex R. Knight III is originally from Groveland, Massachusetts, where he grew up listening to rock and roll, reading J.R.R. Tolkien, and the comic books of the 1970s.  He today lives in rural southern Vermont where he welds, plays guitar, paints abstracts, reads avidly, and writes.  He is the author of the short fiction collection, Tales From Dark 7in addition to the novels The Morris Roomand Empty World.  And, he is a Voluntaryist. Visit his MeWe group here.