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.