I expect that many freedom-loving individuals would answer that question in the negative; but some would aver otherwise, pointing to the power of a jury as a (perhaps “the”) remaining check on the state’s dominance. I’ve pondered that issue for some time—wanting to be convinced by the arguments, truth be told, but never making it that far. The primary obstacle is the vanishingly small role juries directly play in most people’s lives. How many adults are tapped for jury duty? Out of those who go, how many actually serve? How many times does an average person sit on a jury? I have no numbers to pin to those questions, but it should be clear that I am skeptical that an activity that at best probably commands only a few hours of a person’s life is going to be seen as enormously important to him.
Another assertion that would likely be offered is that juries can make or break laws—and that does affect many people, as we all live under the burden of the laws of our jurisdiction. But again, I have problems ... Jury nullification depends upon at least one informed, courageous person; and the voir dire process actively seeks to eliminate such individuals from juries. That person must also keep his intentions secret until deliberations, else a mistrial could be called. Even that doesn’t guarantee that a mistrial won’t happen.
But—and here’s the heart of the matter—all the jury power in the world won’t make a bit of difference if the judge plays fast and loose with his power in the courtroom. A judge has a variety of means by which he can skew a trial, including what he allows as evidence, lines of questioning the lawyers are allowed to pursue, and the instructions he gives to the jury before they retire for deliberation.
Some judges have apparently become so brazen that they will not allow the jury access to the actual law(s) under consideration in a case. Pete Hendrickson says that’s what happened to him in his recently-concluded trial with the IRS.
The details of his trial’s conclusion are sobering. In addition to the usual shenanigans, the judge is quoted as stating in court that he wouldn’t allow jurors to see the actual statutes under consideration because seeing the law “might cause them speculate as to its meaning”. Silly us, in the freedom tribe: we thought that is part of the jury’s responsibilities.
Later in his update, Pete offers a story as metaphor for his situation (emphasis his):
There is an old story that I’m sure you all know, about a group of mice being preyed on by a cat. One day, one of the mice has the bright idea of hanging a bell around the cat’s neck, so that the mice will all hear it coming, and thus avoid being consumed. Everyone agrees that the plan is brilliant, but then comes the question, “Who will be the one to put the bell on the cat (and surely die trying)?” Faced with that, no one acts, and the mice go on as abject victims of the hungry cat.
However, there IS a solution to that conundrum: If all the fellows of the mouse doing the belling act together in his support, the cat can be overwhelmed and the job can be done.
I like to be inspired as much as any optimist, but I’m sorry to say that I think the analogy is a little off this time. It seems to me it’d be more appropriate if the “cat” were a tiger. That’s not to say that mice cannot bring down a tiger: but clearly, it would take many more mice, much harder work, and likely, some mistake or flaw in the tiger itself for it to fall. And despite a growing awareness amongst Americans that the state is not as beneficent as they’d been encouraged to think, the IRS—as well as a few other agencies, such as Homeland Security and TSA—provoke such thoroughgoing dread that few are willing to even consider trying to tackle such tigers.
It’s a very hard choice for a freedom-loving person to consider. Oh, sure, being an income tax outlaw may seem to be a fairly straightforward step, but to actually accomplish it such that the IRS doesn’t chase one takes a lot of time and energy. If one wants to live any semblance of a typical life, it almost always means having to rely upon someone else, who’s in the system and will put property and vehicles in his name for the outlaw, or will handle banking transcations for him ... you get the picture. Pauper or dependent upon someone else willing to play Good Citizen—those are the choices as I see them. And either course does not guarantee that the IRS won’t come calling someday—what a sword of Damocles that is. And how is it freeing to be dependent upon another person’s ongoing good will?
Perhaps I’m wrong; perhaps our society is closer to critical mass than I realize, and it’s a sense of that imminent inflection point that has me uncertain and somewhat cynical. Perhaps I’m feeling a little guilty after reading Pete’s update, in which he assures his readers that he will appeal the verdict ... I’ve been wondering if my own course has been worthwhile, and whether I should keep at it. Being a mouse trying to dance between the tiger’s paws is very fatiguing; and I question if that’s a wise use of my energy.
All this should not be taken to mean that I don’t support Peter: I do, and I admire his unwavering conviction. I just wish I had more of it these days. But the field, rules, and referees all seem hopelessly, heavily tilted.