The Surrender Experiment and Juries

I just finished a “book” called The Surrender Experiment by Michael Singer.  I say “book”, because I actually listened to the audio version.

Due to time constraints, I find it time effective to listen to audio books, among other things.  It can be done in the car or while doing certain mundane things around the house.

Overall, I enjoyed listening to the book.  If it were fiction, it wouldn’t make a good story because it would not be believable.  It is essentially an autobiography about a guy who let’s go.  He surrenders.  He does not try to control the things around him that he cannot control.

If you are interested in reading or listening to the book, then I am going to have a little bit of a spoiler here.

Near the end, his company gets raided by the FBI.  The company was previously investigating an employee for fraud.  In an attempt to avoid getting into too much trouble, the man under investigation went to the FBI and admitted some wrongdoing.  But then he said his actions were basically coming from up above.  He implicated all of the big players in the company.

The guy was completely lying, but he knew just enough details to make it sound as though things tied together and that the upper people knew what was going on.  The guy completely lied, but he got the government on his side.

It was a bit frustrating listening to the end of this book as a libertarian.  Singer, as usual, just surrendered to the situation.  And I think that is the important lesson from the book, as an episode like this would ruin most people’s lives.

But the frustrating part was that Singer was saying that the prosecution was just doing its job.  It is fine that he surrendered to the situation.  That doesn’t mean giving up, but just accepting the hand that you are dealt and dealing with it.  But I find it hard to accept that the prosecution and the people at the FBI were innocent.  Some of them were just as criminal as the original guy who made up all of the lies.

The case should have been dropped long before going to trial.  It was a witch hunt.  They weren’t looking for justice.  They were looking for a trial win.  And at the point of settling with the actual criminal guy who started the lies so that he could feed them more lies, it was no going back.  It would have been too embarrassing to admit they were wrong and got suckered by this con man.

It went to trial and the jury convicted the remaining defendants.  If I remember correctly from listening, they only deliberated for 4 or 5 hours.  The jury simply didn’t understand the facts of the case.  They naively thought that it must have been a strong case because the FBI spent so many resources on it and collected so much “evidence”.

As a libertarian, I frequently tout the jury system in the sense that it is an easy way for people to deny their consent to dumb laws.  But this doesn’t work well if you only have a tiny fraction who understand the idea of jury nullification.  It doesn’t work well if most people are easily duped into thinking that the FBI is a force for good in the world.

As a juror, you have the power to decide guilty or not guilty.  You don’t have to give a reason.  You might be better off not giving a reason.  If you just don’t understand the facts, then you shouldn’t convict.  If you think the law is immoral, then you shouldn’t convict if you don’t think the defendant did anything to harm someone else.

Most judges will not inform jurors of their right to judge not just the merits of the case, but also the law itself.  Worse is that jurors are told not to judge the merits of the law or laws.

I am a big advocate of spreading the teachings of having an informed jury.  Organizations that teach about jury nullification are doing a great service.

With all of that said, it is interesting how The Surrender Experiment ended.  There wasn’t really an issue of jury nullification.  If the accused had actually done what they were accused of, then it was fraud.  Libertarians can debate the merits of fraud laws, but that is not the topic at hand here.

The problem in this story is that the jury just simply didn’t understand the facts of the case.  They just assumed the FBI was right.  They just assumed the executives must have been a bunch of greedy crooks, conspiring to syphon off money that wasn’t theirs.  The jurors were completely wrong.

As the story is told, when the “guilty” verdict was read, the judge actually dropped his head into his hands.  He knew justice was not done.

In the end, the judge ended up freeing all of the charged individuals on technicalities.  But this was one judge.  The people accused were lucky that they had a competent and honest judge.  But it never should have come down to this.

This is a lesson for everyone, including libertarians.  First, juries cannot be relied upon for justice.  I would rather have a jury system than having a government panel deciding, but it is amazing how easily people can be swayed.

The second important point is that many judges are more on the side of liberty than we think.  Most of them do not really seek injustice.  They generally do want fairness.  There are some corrupt judges out there, just like in any profession.  It probably gets worse at the federal level.  But at least we have judges who can at least be somewhat impartial.  Most cases do not look like the political debates we see in the U.S. Supreme Court.

At the end of the book, Singer said that the American justice system prevailed.  But I view it exactly opposite.  It ended up turning out ok for the people accused, but even that is a long stretch.  This was after 6 long years and tens of millions of dollars in attorney fees later.  And for Singer, he resigned from the company, part of which he originally started.

It just shows how out of control the FBI and federal prosecutors are.  And unfortunately, in this instance, the jury system didn’t work.  They just happened to have a good judge who did the right thing.

The Surrender Experiment

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