It was recently reported that a New York Federal Judge had handed down a sentence of indefinite jury duty to a woman who appeared to have answered her juror questionnaire in an intentionally provocative manner to get herself excused.
Yesterday, the judge calmed down a bit and found his senses, saying
“My ruling was not based in any way upon whether or not you held any racist views. It was apparent you did not tell the truth … You were the only juror who indicated that you had every form of bias imaginable. You were lying to the court in order to be excused.”
The woman spent most of yesterday sitting by herself in the jury assembly room, until she was called in by the judge. He released her from jury duty, docked her $40 per day juror pay, saying finally
“The purpose of this order was to attempt to create some consequences or disincentive for people who intentionally obstruct the court’s ability to empanel a fair and impartial jury.”
We see above that he admits to legislating from the bench – an admission that his ruling was a deviation from the spirit of the law, the letter of the law, or both. Because he is a judge, I will assume that he was wise enough not to deviate from the letter of the law.
In an ideal world, Judicial and Legislative powers are separate – Legislators (congress, parliament, etc) pass laws with associated consequences for deviating, and the Judicial branch merely enforces the spirit and letter of those laws as written. In every case, the Judicial branch ought to be citing a specific act that was in violation of a specific law and award punishment within the bounds defined by that law. If the Judge believed the woman to have been guilty of fraud, then he should have looked at the range of punishments outlined by legislators for that. If he believed her guilty of contempt of court, he should have looked at the range of punishments outlined for that. Whatever the case may be, I sincerely doubt there is any law in the United States that defines Jury Duty as the appropriate punishment for breaking the given law.
So, as we can see here, we do not always live in an ideal world.