My son was once sentenced to 3 years in prison in a particular case. The individual(s) that took him to court had deep personal connections with law officials in our small county. This seems to have resulted in an unjust outcome as described above.

One of the individuals who was responsible for that sentencing now serves as a judge in our county, and I’m being selected in jury duty in a case where this judge is likely to preside.

Even though it is my civic duty to serve as a juror, I would have a very difficult time respecting this judge or their word or action. Would this be wise to bring up during the selection process of jurors? Or should I just keep my mouth shut?

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    And miss out on jury-nullification?
    – feetwet
    Commented Oct 7, 2016 at 21:34
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    So this is why the movie was called 12 angry men. Commented Oct 7, 2016 at 23:26
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    If it affects your ability to be an objective juror in a case, it certainly should be brought up during any interview. No one will be particularly offended since it's reasonably common for half of all parties to be upset by verdicts/sentencing. Commented Oct 8, 2016 at 4:22
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    Just say something like this, "I do not feel I can be impartial because I have a family member who was in a trial that involved a current member of this court." AKA past contact with someone connected to this trial.
    – mkennedy
    Commented Oct 8, 2016 at 15:57
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    Even if the court does not discharge you, the prosecutor will probably assume that you are biased towards acquittal and use a peremptory challenge to exclude you from the jury.
    – chepner
    Commented Oct 8, 2016 at 22:58

5 Answers 5

  1. If this judge is truly biased, won't the litigants be all the more glad to have a jury of their peers? You are proposing to abandon your duty to others. At trial you serve the community, not the judge.

  2. Back on scope for Law SE: If you refuse to serve on a jury, that could be a separate offense or general criminal contempt, for which you (this all depends on your jurisdiction) could get 30-90 days in jail. Edit: like several others have pointed out, I would not expect much trouble if you politely told the court that you felt you would be biased b/c of past connections. Even if the judge doesn't dismiss you, one of the litigants is likely to strike you.

P.S. In most states, no one except a prosecutor (sometimes another state employee) can "take someone" to a criminal court. Individuals can only take someone to civil trial, where one cannot be sentenced, only ordered to pay a judgement.

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    Upvoted for point (1) especially Commented Oct 7, 2016 at 23:05
  • I am not sure your PS is 100% correct, some states do permit private prosecution, though I believe it is indeed impossible in federal court.
    – Vality
    Commented Oct 7, 2016 at 23:25
  • @Vality true, i forgot user specified no state. Now that i look up, fed law used to allow prior to linda v. Richard
    – Aidan
    Commented Oct 7, 2016 at 23:53
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    While the question title does mentioned refusal, the body of the question just asks whether they should bring it up during jury selection, not whether they should actually refuse to serve. Bringing up a potential conflict of interest during jury selection isn't any sort of offense as far as I'm aware (but I'm not a lawyer.)
    – reirab
    Commented Oct 8, 2016 at 21:04
  • @reirab youre right. If done respectfully that is
    – Aidan
    Commented Oct 8, 2016 at 21:12

If you honestly feel that your personal relationship with any of he court officers will affect your ability to be impartial and unbiased in the case then you have a duty to inform the court of this. The reasons are largely irrelevant, however, you might be asked to explain them - do so in a neutral manner and make it about you because it is. It is your ability to act as a juror that is impaired: the judge is perfectly capable of acting as a judge your feelings notwithstanding.

It is quite likely you will be discharged - a juror who has declared at the outset that they are impaired is grounds for an appeal no matter who wins. If not, you will just have to do your best.

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    Note that jury selection usually involves asking the prospective jurors "do you know/do you have any relation with anyone involved in this case?" -- and yes, the judge counts as "involved".
    – Mark
    Commented Oct 8, 2016 at 17:57

The question, IMO, is what the consequences of your lack of respect would be. If you actually express your contempt out loud, you could end up in the slammer, since contempt of court is one of those limits on expressing your opinion, despite the First Amendment (there's a time and place... which is not in court). A limited expression of your contempt could lead to being dismissed for cause. There is actually some chance that you'd be dismissed for cause, if the judge asks about any prior entanglements with court – you do not want to perjure yourself and pretend that e.g. no member of family has been subject to court proceedings.

The basic legal question is whether your attitude towards the judge will influence your behavior as a juror. The judge will tell you how to decide the case, which means you have to actually follow his instructions. You can't (or, are not supposed to) just make up your own definition of "aggravated assault" or whatever the chargeis, and if the judge says that you must disregard something that a witness said, then you should do that, rather than think "Who are you to be telling me what to pay attention to and what to ignore?". If you can't follow the judge's instructions, you are supposed to simply say that you believe that the judge is scum and you can't take him seriously, and you will be excused. If you don't tell the truth about your attitude, and they find out (not hard to do), there could be serious consequences because you lied about one of those questions about whether there is any problem with you following instructions, or however they ask it.

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    @phoog - that sounds like a good question to ask here! My guess is the answer will be, "It's like pornography: The judge 'knows it when he sees it.'" But I bet there are some good answers to be had on the subject!
    – feetwet
    Commented Oct 7, 2016 at 21:58
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    One can make clear that there is underlying contempt, without using objectively contemptuous terms. Legal contempt is about a contemptuous act, not a contemptuous inner feeling. Only acts can be punished in the US, not feelings.
    – user6726
    Commented Oct 7, 2016 at 22:02
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    You could say “Decorum prohibits expressing my opinion of the judge's character.” If you are then advised otherwise, your problem goes away. Commented Oct 7, 2016 at 23:43
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    "Who are you to be telling me what to pay attention to and what to ignore?" - Isn't that exactly a right of a juror ... jury nullification. I don't mean it's OK to unilaterally ignore the judge's instructions without reason, but if you truly disagree with the judge over a specific issue. Commented Oct 8, 2016 at 3:05
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    @phoog You seem to be confusing the concepts of "contempt of court" and "feeling that somebody in the court is contemptible." "Contempt of court" has a specific meaning Commented Oct 8, 2016 at 16:01

Under all Common Law (derived from British law) jurisdictions, US included, you are entitled to submit a formal request to the Court to be excused jury-duty for the reasons you cite in your OP. Indeed, to do otherwise runs the risk of the Defense making an application to the Bench to declare a mistrial and/or an appeal to a higher court should this situation become known. You should not fear any adverse consequences for your situation is neither a failure of your civic duty nor a breach of a juror's oath. I would write in good time to the Clerk of the Court (or US equivalent/terminology) requesting to be excused jury service in this judge's court. You will need to cite the reasons given in your OP.


Here is a story I heard second-hand. While I cannot promise that it is true, I could see myself taking a similar approach if I found myself in a similar situation.

During voir dire:

Attorney: Is there any reason why you would have any conflict of interest in this case?

Juror: Yes.

Attorney: And what would that be?

Juror: Ten years ago this judge railroaded my husband, who was innocent of the felony charge against him, prevented him from receiving a fair trial by excluding witnesses and evidence in his favor, and sentenced him to hard prison time. I could never find any defendant guilty who was tried in this judge's court.

Attorney: Move to dismiss this juror.

Judge: You are dismissed.

And the woman was not penalized in any way. So I heard.

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