Trial by Jury

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The Judicial System of the United States and its method of trial by jury is a vital asset for the protection of justice and freedom to its citizenry. While Christians look on this system and conclude that it is both good and biblical, we need to evaluate our involvement. First, we conclude this system is good because our freedoms are protected when others invest interest in protecting their own freedom and when court decisions are thus influenced. Second, we conclude that this system is good because the state is following the biblical command to punish evil. romans 13:3 states "For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then be afraid of the power? Do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain; for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil." Some countries are doing just the opposite. They leave the criminal run free because they are the criminals themselves.

If we say then that a judicial system of trial by jury is both good and biblical, then why do conservative Anabaptists refuse to participate? The New Testament upholds two main doctrines providing us with guidance. They are known as The Doctrine of Separation of Church & State or The Two Kingdom Concept and The Doctrine of Nonresistance. These doctrines go hand in hand and if only one is given to the court as an objection, a person leaves himself vulnerable to challenge. For example: If one testifies in court that he cannot serve, only offering nonresistance as the reason and quotes Romans 12:9 "Avenge not yourselves" or Matthew 5:39 "Resist not evil" he could be challenged that:
a. The criminal has not done anything against him personally and thus his participation in bringing justice would not be retaliation. retaliation is for the victim not for the jury.
b. Therefore the court could conclude to only require a person to serve on the civil case juror panel.

John 18:36 ("My kingdom is not of this world: If my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight") is a better reference because it ties together both doctrines.

Matthew 5:40 is another good verse to use, "And if any man sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also." The fact that this Scripture pertains to a civil case should help eliminate questions about whether Christ viewed civil or criminal cases differently. Jesus taught that we are not only to refrain from resisting evil but that we are to return good for evil. This goes beyond the capability of "this world's" courts. ‘Letting him have the other cloak' is a choice made by the victim. The state cannot force a person to express this love nor can it provide the desire to express it. Furthermore, this Scripture makes it clear that justice is not our business even when we are the victim!

Yet another conflict facing the Christian if he involves himself in court is the request to swear by oath, which Christ in matthew 5:38 forbids.

What to Expect
The burden of this article is to provide insight and awareness concerning our response to jury duty summons. It reflects positions and requests from the court systems of Lancaster, PA. Both local and state courts over the United Sates may vary in their positions taken on dealing with those who conscientiously oppose jury duties. Variances may be similar to the way military units in different sections of the country functioned regarding CO's during the world wars. Some were more lenient than others. However, it is my perception that the Anabaptist position will be increasingly misunderstood as this nation slips away from its JudeoChristian foundation.

If you are summoned for jury duty in Lancaster County, PA, the court sends you a summons in the mail with a juror number and date to appear in court. The summons instructs you to complete the form included and return it. You can request religious exemption at this time but you should not assume it to be granted. Pennsylvania may summon you as often as every three years, if you serve, and at any time, if you were exempted from your last summons.

Pennsylvania law only grants two legal exemptions and "religious" is not one of them. one is for military personnel and the other is for individuals upon which jury duty would caused undue hardship. The court determines what "undo hardship" is! An example is a doctor's written excuse for maternal leave which may qualify sisters for exemption by "undue hardship". One of our sisters shared that while her group was going through pre-qualification; an older man raised his hand and informed the judge that he can't hear well. The judge asked him if he could lip read and when he answered "yes" he was told that he would serve.

Jurors are requested to call a phone number the night before their court appearance. It appears that each week a fixed number of jurors are summoned even though the actual number needed is determined by the trials scheduled for the week of summons. Jurors are summoned sequentially starting with the lowest number. When you call into the system, you may be dismissed if your number is higher than the amount of jurors needed that week.

If you are called to appear, you need to pass through security at the courthouse entrance. This experience is similar to airport security. Cell phones, laptops and books can be used in waiting rooms. People wearing jeans are required to return in proper attire and courtroom policy requires electronic devices be turned off, no gum chewing, no newspapers or books.

Your next stop will be the bailiff's desk. You will be given a form to fill out and asked to submit it to the officer when entering the designated courtroom. The form is "Juror Information Questionnaire". This form is available for anyone interested in reading it. You might be intimidated when they put a nametag on you that reads "Juror" because you're thinking to yourself, "But I'm not a juror"!

The next step is orientation. If someone has accompanied you to the courthouse, at this point your partner must stay behind. All jurors are shown a film familiarizing them with how court is conducted, what the judge does, what the defense and prosecution lawyers do, who the defendant is, etc. After the film a judge comes and speaks to the group. The judge will present the trial schedule for your jury panel, i.e. the week of March 3, 2008, there were 130 criminal cases including 3 homicides. The size of a jury group may vary but will be around 240 people. If you feel inclined, you can share your testimony at this time. During the orientation an officer reviews the list of jurors failing to appear before the bailiff. If the court determines that more jurors appeared than are needed, they will dismiss the highest juror numbers when they return from orientation.

After orientation you will be called to the courtroom by smaller groups of about 20 for the process of Voir Dire examination. Voir Dire is the process of introducing you to a case and then selecting 12 jurors from your group to try the case. It is my opinion that this is the best time to offer your religious objections. Even after sharing your objections to serve, you will not be dismissed but will need to sit with the jurors the rest of the week. Some individuals have been selected to serve even after stating their position. If this happens you will need to share your testimony at the trial and will probably be rejected at that point and be replaced by someone chosen as alternate juror during your Voir Dire.

Don't wait for other Mennonites to ask for exemption! You will discover that some will not ask for exemption if you have been assigned a civil case. Others will even serve on some types of criminal cases.

May the Lord give us wisdom to do our part in checking evil by meeting the needs of men's souls rather than using the arm of force. We are called to do the former and the state is called to do the latter.