The 2 Forces that Work Against You in a Jury Trial

juryA few years ago I received a jury summons. And while I detest the barbaric “show up or else” aspect of it, I do appreciate juries as a last ditch measure against tyranny. (In fact, years ago I spent some time with Larry Dodge, the founder of the Fully Informed Jury Association, and I’ve been a fan ever since.)

I was assigned to a slightly complicated drunk driving case, and since I have courtroom experience, the other jurors elected me Foreman. We heard the testimony in the case, which didn’t take long, and then retired to our jury room to deliberate.

Once we got going I realized, for the first time, what kind of pressures were placed on jurors. More importantly, I saw that in just an hour or two, I could have turned my jury in either direction. It wouldn’t have been hard.

I didn’t do that, of course. I oversaw the jury very loosely and was absolutely as fair as I knew how to be… without diminishing my own opinion, of course. It’s a sobering thing to decide whether a man goes free or is locked in a cage.

But, I could have turned the jury either way, and not because they were weak, stupid people (they weren’t), or because I was overbearing. Rather, I could have manipulated them because they were in a position that lent itself to manipulation.

Why Some Juries Get It Wrong

Mine was composed of ordinary working people. Even the handful of grandpa/grandma types had important things to do, like babysitting those grandkids. That placed all of us in a pressure situation, with two things bearing down on us:

1.We were missing work.

Sure, we got paid for jury duty – a whole seventeen dollars and change per day – not remotely enough to cover our lost wages. All of us were getting hurt financially.

2.We couldn’t leave until we all agreed.

Jury verdicts in the US have to be unanimous. Either you all agree, or you stay for a long time. Sure, if you remain deadlocked for a long enough time, the judge will declare a mistrial, but that could be a few days. Most of us couldn’t afford to lose a few days of work.

So, the jurors had to all agree, and quickly. The pain would keep getting worse the longer they took.

In other words, pressure was on each juror to change their opinion and go along with the rest of the group – or else we’d all have to stay, and it would be their fault.

I’m sure you’ve seen crazy jury verdicts and wondered how sane people could vote for them. This is probably why.

If you put people under this kind of pressure, then give them some kind of half-rational reason to change their minds – without making them look like cowards – they’ll go with the crowd, just so the financial pain will stop.

That’s in direct opposition to the way it was originally “supposed” to be done.

A Lesson from the Founders

In Athens, jurors were paid just a bit less than a working man’s wage. You’d probably prefer to work your regular job, but the difference wasn’t great, and a juror’s pay made a very nice extra income for a retired man. This tended to fill juries with older and cooler heads.

Also, a unanimous verdict was not required, so there was no pressure on anyone to change their minds. Especially so, since no one knew your vote unless you decided to tell them. (Compared to our version, where everyone in the room knows your vote.)

You might think that a simple majority vote might be a questionable thing when deciding something important, but these were large juries, so a 5-to-4 or 4-3 decision would never happen. The minimum size of an Athenian jury was 501. Juries as large as 1,501 were used for the most serious cases.

(As we covered in the FMP Letter #32, governments are very rich, so paying for so many jurors like this was not a problem.)

And, it’s worth adding, juries in Greece were all-powerful. Once it was decided, your ordeal was pretty well over. You’d never have a case languishing in appeals for years.


No matter how much you were taught that your country’s system was the greatest thing ever, don’t you believe it.

Rules – laws – have no magic in them. They do not supply automatic justice. That’s up to us.

Paul Rosenberg

Why the Real Founders of Democracy Would Be Pissed if They Saw What We Did…

democracyThe word democracy is held in awe these days. Mention it almost anywhere and you’ll get instant nods of approval.

People actually believe that democracy gives us harmony and peace, not to mention wealth. They are sure that it is the ultimate and inevitable end of human development, created by the wise and noble Greeks and given to us, the enlightened society that took it to the ends of the Earth!

But if the ancient Greeks could see what we call ‘democracy,’ they would spit at it. They’d probably want to burn it down.

As many problems as they had (and they had plenty), they were not fools, and it wouldn’t take them a day to condemn what the West now worships.

Why would the old Greeks be so upset? Let’s take a look at their (Athenian) system and see how our modern form stacks up:

#1: Greek citizen assemblies met 40 times per year in an open, public forum. Any citizen could speak and any citizen could vote. A vote of those present was final.

Contrast that with what passes for (American) democracy now: Only special people are allowed to attend the assemblies. On top of that, there are far, far more meetings than anyone could hope to follow: General sessions, meetings for dozens of committees, party caucuses and more, running at all hours. No one person can come remotely close to keeping up with it all.

The citizen is clearly unable to participate or even to understand what’s going on. Just this fact would cause the “fathers of civilization” to pronounce our system a fraud, and rightly so. The citizens are non-participants.

#2: Laws were inscribed on stone pillars (stelae) and posted in prominent locations so that everyone would see them.

Greek laws were accessible to every Greek. Not only were they required to be posted, but this requirement also guaranteed that there couldn’t be too many of them.

If you were to take an ancient Greek to see “our laws,” they’d be looking at more than 80,000 pages of almost indecipherable language. (And those would be only the Federal laws.)

Because of this, the Greeks would be insulted when you assured them that we have “the rule of law.” They would say that when people can’t know the law, they are living in a tyranny, and no amount of fancy argumentation would convince them otherwise.

And, again, they would be right. If you are ignorant of the law (80,000 pages of government-speak) but are still subject to punishment under the law, you are living in a tyranny. The founders would have no confusion about that.

#3: A Council oversaw the daily affairs of the democracy. Each of ten tribes provided 50 men. But, only one tribe’s men (50 of them) served at any one time, and only for one month. (The Greeks had ten months in their year.) And once any person served as a Councilor, they were forbidden from serving again for ten years.

Under this arrangement, playing tricks became almost impossible: as soon as the first of the month came along, the next tribe could turn your tricks around and do worse to you.

Contrast this with senators and congressmen who stay in office for decades on end, selling all sorts of favors, amassing multi-million dollar campaign funds, and making themselves rich in the process. Most of them never really go away.

At this point, our philosophical forefathers would be looking for places to buy torches… and they would be ready to beat anyone who called a system that supports such shenanigans a democracy.

#4: Citizens chosen for positions like overseer of the marketplace were chosen completely at random.

Imagine choosing the boss of the IRS at random. We all know what would happen: You’d get a housewife from Portland one year and a plumber from Topeka the next. And they’d act like humans, rather than unfeeling automatons. The sanctimonious abuser state would crumble.

#5: At the beginning of their democracy, the citizens of Athens were divided into ten tribes (and NOT along regional or family lines). This was done specifically to break the power of the aristocratic families.

Have you paid attention to the DC crowd lately? Have you noticed that they never leave? Instead, they slide back and forth between congress, commissions, agencies, lobbying firms, mega-corps and media. Have you noticed how often their children marry each other?

Look at the Presidential lineup: Bush – Clinton – Bush – Obama – Clinton? – Bush?

That’s called “aristocracy.” However, people who are emotionally bound to the system can’t see it. The Greeks certainly wouldn’t be fooled.

Losing Our Religion

Do you remember a haunting song from the ’90s called “Losing My Religion“? If so, cue that up in the back of your mind, because that’s what stands in front of the people of the West.

The majestic “Democracy” that was supposed to be our savior is actually an abusive fraud. It’s time to let it go. That’s not easy, I know, but it needs to be done.

Will you take the first step?

Paul Rosenberg