Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Can a Christian Serve on a Jury in California?

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I was recently summoned for jury duty in Los Angeles Superior Court. As I always do, I reviewed the history of juries and the reason they exist. I also researched as best I could the current law and precedents related to jury service. While I have never yet actually been allowed on a jury -- this time was no different -- I always do my best to arrive prepared.

One requirement in California that struck me as morally questionable was to ignore the sentence in deliberations. A few potential jurors asked the judge about this and were told that it was not the jury's concern. The jury must simply bring back a verdict and imposing sentence is the job of the judge. That started me thinking if the two can really be separated ethically.

For example, if I fire a gun at a box and the bullet strikes and injures a child that happens to be playing in it, I am responsible for that person's injury: I know that bullets are dangerous and that children play in boxes so the hypothetical injury was a reasonably foreseeable consequence. This make shooting at any box without first checking if it is safe an irresponsible act and if there is an injury it is a criminal act.

A person who believes in God would, I think, also believe that God will call me to account for the injury or any other foreseeable consequence of my actions. Even if I am never caught, in the Christian worldview God is still supposed to do something even if I have to wait until I am dead.


So how can it be different in a jury deliberation? If the juror agrees to not consider the possible sentences he is, effectively, divorcing the action of supporting a guilty verdict from the consequence of a sentence. It's not enough to just say, "Well I didn't know the sentence would be so harsh." He knows there will be some kind of sentence and to deliberately remain ignorant is no different than not bothering to check what's in that box before I shoot at it. Nor is it enough to say, "Well, the judge told me to do it." Last time I checked on the hierarchy of things, God is supposed to outrank a judge.

I'm not so egotistical to think that many Christians are eagerly flocking to read a blog entitled "Atheist with a Gun." At least that wouldn't fit my stereotype of Christians. However, if there are any out there, I'd like to hear your thoughts.

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