Ah, it was my first time to sit in the jury box as a prospective juror. I didn't want to waste my opportunity. Which, because I hate jury duty, was the opportunity to not be a real juror.
Yet I'd held my right hand up along with the other eleven people in the jury box (six were needed for the trial) as the judge swore us to tell the truth during the voir dire process of the defense and prosecuting attorneys questioning us prospective jurors about whether we could fairly decide the case (it involved menacing without physical contact).
So I wanted to truthfully say something that would lessen my chances of being chosen for the jury.
That meant I kept my mouth shut as the defense attorney asked people about whether they had close relationships with police officers, whether they felt police were more credible than "regular" people, and so on.
But I was definitely ready to speak up if an opportunity presented itself. My general plan was to look as weird as possible -- meaning, unpredictably out of sorts with the whole trial/jury system that I had unwillingly been drafted to be a part of.
Not a stretch for me. Not at all. Weird is well within my repertoire.
My assumption was that both the defense and prosecuting attorney were looking for predictable jurors, people they could count on to look upon the evidence and testimony in a way that favored their side. I liked what I said, when I got my chance, because it was even hard for me to figure out the precise judicial implications of my remarks.
It was the male prospective juror sitting in front of me who opened up my opportunity. The defense attorney said that the defendant had some sort of mental illness. He asked the twelve of us if this affected how we looked upon his client.
The man raised his hand. The defense attorney called on him. The guy said he didn't believe that mental illness absolved someone of responsibility for a crime. More: he said that even a meth addict was responsible for what they did while high.
That hit my neuroscience button. I felt like I had to say something in response. I raised my own hand. After the attorney recognized me, I spoke along these lines:
Here's a yang perspective to the yin view expressed by the man in front of me. He believes in personal responsibility. I say, free will is an illusion. I'm an avid reader of neuroscience books. It's almost universally agreed by the authors that free will doesn't exist.
Mentally ill people don't have free will. Neither do mentally healthy people. We're all just doing stuff for reasons other than free will. Yet the justice system is based on free will. Retribution is ridiculous given the illusion of free will.
There can be other reasons for a sentence than retribution, of course. But punishing someone for a freely willed action isn't a valid reason, since there is no such thing as free will.
As so often happens, when I stopped speaking I thought, Wow, I make so much sense to me. In my usual grandiose way, I halfway expected the judge and attorneys to applaud. Then, vow that they were quitting the legal profession until legal codes were brought up to date with modern neuroscience.
What actually happened is that the defense attorney said "Interesting..." I then had another familiar thought: My profound pronouncement about the nature of reality is not being embraced by those less enlightened than me.
Which didn't really bother me, since the uncomprehending "thud" with which my dissertation about free will hit the courtroom gave me hope that I'd now be looked upon by one or both of the attorneys as a weird unpredictable intellectual philosophical crank outlier.
In short, poor juror material.
Indeed, after a ten minute break following the voir dire period, I was super happy to see other people called up to fill the first six chairs in the jury box. The rest of us were dismissed. Joy!
I can't be sure that my free will comments helped me get out of jury duty. But I suspect they did. So thanks to Richard Oerton for writing "The Nonsense of Free Will: Facing up to a False Belief" which I finished reading recently.
Oerton is a British lawyer. Several chapters of his book directly address free will and the justice system. Some excerpts:
The idea of free will is central to the criminal law, and the judges quite clearly believe that the offender might, by exercising his own free will, have refrained from committing the offense of which he has been convicted and any other offences on which their view of him is based.
...So don't we have something of a contradiction here? Why does a judge assume that someone who has proved dangerous in the past will go on being dangerous in the future? If he might, by exercising his free will, have avoided his past crimes, why might he not, by the same means, avoid any future ones, so abstaining from behavior which is not only destructive but self-destructive?
...If free will existed it would mean that, although our personality may be determined, this determined personality does not determine our behaviour because free will allows us always to transcend it.
...But if free will did exist, with anything like the implications just described, then it would invalidate pretty much the whole of psychology, psychiatry, criminology, sociology and any other science or system you can think of which concerns itself with human behaviour.
...Of course, offenders differ from one another in their mental states, doing so to an almost infinite degree, and these differences should be reflected in the way in which they are treated by the penal system, but there are causal explanations for the crimes of all of them, free will affects none of them, and retributive punishment is not something which any of them deserves or from which any would benefit.
This reminds me that most religions believe in free will. Otherwise getting rewards in heaven or punishments in hell wouldn't make any sense. But that's a subject for another blog post.
Right now the cosmos' determinism is directing me to go soak in a hot bath with a cool glass of wine and toast my freedom from jury duty today. Brought about by good deterministic reasons, naturally.