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MARIN COUNTY'S NEWS MONTHLY - FREE PRESS
(415)868-1600 - (415)868-0502(fax) - P.O. Box 31, Bolinas, CA, 94924

January, 2006

 

When I was called for Federal Court Jury Duty
By Charles L. Smith, bibliographer

I went on the appointed date to the Federal Building in San Francisco. It was a simple case, until the judge started asking prospective juror questions, specifically trying to find if there were any reasons why a person should not be on the jury.
I was well prepared when he asked me. I did not tell him of all the times I have been tricked by Clerks of the Court who did not give my case the proper attention, making certain that my suit had been considered by all the judges, often giving me noncommittal answers to my pleading of a case.

I felt that I should be honest with the judge about a book I had read. It was titled "The Ordeal of Edward Bushell," by Godfrey Lehman, published by Encounter Books of Sacramento

Edward Bushell was on another jury in 1670, which heard a case involving a street corner speaker who was arrested for the horrible crime of contradicting the Church of England, who freely admitted to committing that crime. The prisoner was named William Penn. He faced Life in Prison.

The judge gave a directed verdict of "Guilty" which the jury pondered over for quite a while. They were in a room with no food. water or toilet facilities. Only men were allowed and they had been rounded up at random off the streets in London. The had to urinate out the window, which wasn't much appreciated down below.

Two of them, including Mr. Bushell, were familiar with the Magna Carta. They decided to put its provisions into effect.

Mr. Bushell argued that the prisoner was an honorable man, who had the conviction of his beliefs, and should be acquitted. The other jurors finally agreed. But when they came into court with a not guilty plea, the judge threw them all in jail, which was a horrible place in those days. Their relatives, who were very worried, brought them food, blankets, and money, which they shared with the other prisoners and jailers.

The end result was that they appealed the case and won. It was one of the first cases ever of jury nullification, at least in England, although there may have been some in Greece.

Mr. Lehman did a very good job of researching the case for the book. He went back to England to examine old legal journals, the discussion in British newspapers, and some of the other cases on Bills of Attainder. The bibliography in the book lists most of the sources, plus others on jury nullification.

I happen to believe that the instructions judges give to juries should include the possibility that they may have a case that deserves contradicting the judge's own instructions, that their moral outlook of life does not have to rule as the judge had suggested or directed.

I believe that another improvement will be made in our legal system: that everyone from the lowest police office, all the way to the highest judge will be required to formally certify that all the procedures of law were fully and completely performed regarding their actions in each case being considered. A checklist of those steps should be on the back of any citation issued. I call this the Reverse Proof of Service. (I did not get on the jury that day, and was quickly dismissed.)


Charles L. Smith retired traffic engineer, planner & Researcher, (as well as bibliographer)residing in Berkeley, California


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