July 2nd: A Day to Declare Independence (And Celebrate Juries)

Each of the last two years I have used July 2nd as a jury celebration day, as this is the day that the Continental Congress voted to liberate the Colonies from the Crown.  John Adams thought that this was the day that would be “solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shows, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires, and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”

I see no compelling reason to re-invent the wheel and re-write those two posts about why the day is so important to the jury system. So here they are:

July 2nd: A Day to Declare Independence (And Celebrate Juries)

United States of America Declares Its Independence (Jury Trials Are One Reason)

Have a safe holiday one and all, but do take a few moments to read one of the greatest legal documents ever written, which sets forth the reasons our founders felt compelled to revolt against King George…

IN CONGRESS, JULY 4, 1776
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. — And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.

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3 Responses Leave a comment

  • P W Dennis 2010.7.2 at 20:43 | Quote

    I am a firm believer in the jury system in crimimal matters. I do believe though, that the Founding Fathers would be taken aback by what happens with great regularity in civil trials

    The world was much simpler in 1776 and very few things happened that were totally beyond the comprehension of a reasonably intelligent citizen. Not so today, where many civil juries are totally out of their depth in understanding the issues, a situation often directly result of one side or the other (usually, but not always, the plaintiff side) deliberately attempting to “dumb down” the jury during voir dire. What follows from there is a jury tending to either side with a sympathetic plaintiff, or go with the attorney who has more thespian skill, neither a legitmate means of deciding a case.

    Unlike Mr Turkewitz, who may have never found himself on a jury, I have served on six juries (four criminal, two civil) and have seen jury deliberations at work. It’s a bit like seeing sausage made, a process that can turn your stomach.

    I have no doubt that juries try to do the right thing, but in complex situations jurors often do not know what is right. I actually served on one jury with a juror who believed the world is flat – fortunately it wasn’t a complex civil case!

    How do you screen for this kind of ignorance in jury selection? Or should you screen for it ?

    I actually would opt for a random draw for the jury – first twelve names drawn serve. This would be a fairer system than we currently have as it would ensure everyone truly has a chance at a jury of their peers. As it is, if you are a physician, engineer, accountant, barrister, etc. you truly never will see one of your “peers” on a jury

  • Eric Turkewitz 2010.7.2 at 21:03 | Quote

    Unlike Mr Turkewitz, who may have never found himself on a jury…

    Au contraire:

    My Turn In the Jury Room (And Who Should Sit Jury Duty On What Kinds of Cases?)

    And potential jurors are so deeply cynical about lawsuits as a result of effective insurance company propaganda and newspapers that feed on outlier verdicts, that every trial is an uphill battle for plaintiffs just to start with the scales evenly balanced.

  • P W Dennis 2010.7.2 at 22:24 | Quote

    I don’t think that insurance company “propaganda” is the problem at all, and the “propaganda” wouldn’t have occurred at all were it not for the number of parties that have drawn into litigation who are not at all culpable but represented the only available source of funds.

    The problem is that we as a society have lost all sense of proportion. We complain about the home team’s penurious management when the Knicks (or whatever team) doesn’t want to pay star player x’s demand for $20M/yr yet we think it’s okay for ambulance drivers to be paid $40K per year. Or we are okay with Lebron James being paid $100M in endorsements while the company’s paying those endorsements lay off workers and then overwork those workers that are left or outsource the jobs to Timbuktu

    Jurors should be skeptical about damage claims and should be open-minded and judge evidence strictly on its merits. If that were always the case, there would be no need for tort reform

    By the way – it should be an uphill battle for a plaintiff as the burden of proof rests upon the plaintiff to prove their case, not up to the defendant to prove thir innocence (or lack of culpability)

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