Is Free Speech Dead?

Erick Emmanuel Haubenstricker appeared for jury duty in Michigan earlier this week. He is a convicted felon and could not serve on the jury as a result. Rather than simply answer the questionnaire and have himself excluded like a compliant citizen, he decided to scrawl all over the jury questionnaire and include a series of expletives and protestations about the system in general. You can find his questionnaire here.

As you can see, it is not particularly thoughtful or articulate. It is fairly distasteful. It largely expresses a disgust and distrust with the legal system and process. He was, after all, previously convicted of a crime so he shockingly felt disillusioned by the system. It is disrespectful to the court system, but not disruptive. He received three days in jail for the questionnaire. Put me down for thinking that was excessive and unnecessary especially after Mr. Haubenstricker apologized.

Under the First Amendment, we are allowed to express displeasure with our system. This man likely felt like this situation was one of the few times where he could directly let people in charge know that he had issues with the system and jury service. I personally would not have chosen to express myself this way because I think you're unlikely to be taken seriously. Still, giving him three days in jail has resulted in significant coverage and perhaps attention to his displeasure with the system in a way it would not have otherwise.

Although I think what he did on this questionnaire is fair free speech, even if you disagree I do not see how three days in jail is warranted. What real harm did he cause here? He likely only offended a judge and maybe a few lawyers. He then apologized for that offense. A fine seems like it would have been more than enough. Jailing the man for three days is just a waste of money and does nothing other than show him that the judge and system is "in charge," likely resulting in further distrust of the system by Mr. Haubenstricker and anyone else who thinks that the system is just looking to crush dissent.

 

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