How to Avoid Jury Duty by Going to Jail Instead

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Nobody really likes jury duty, but probably nobody doesn’t like it as much as Daniel Ellis.  Ellis was absolutely determined not to serve on a Massachusetts grand jury, apparently so determined that he wanted to go to jail instead.

Ellis apparently had heard somewhere that potential jurors are sometimes excused for bias, but does not seem to have been entirely clear on what that means.  So he wrote on his jury questionnaire (reviewed by the judge and attorneys as the first step in deciding who should serve) that he was biased against (for example) homosexuals and blacks.  The article didn’t say whether that necessarily has anything to do with the case, not that it really matters.

This was successful in getting Ellis an interview with the judge.

Judge Gary Nickerson told Ellis, "In 32 years of service in courtrooms, as a prosecutor, as a defense attorney and now as a judge, I have quite frankly never confronted such a brazen situation of an individual attempting to avoid juror service."  The article didn’t say whether that was at the beginning or the end of the interview, not that it really matters.  But if it came first, it should have provided Ellis with a clue that his strategy wasn’t working well, yet he stuck by his questionnaire, in an exchange that went like this:

JUDGE: “You say on your form that you’re not a fan of homosexuals."

ELLIS (interrupting, hoping to be jailed more quickly):  “[And t]hat I’m a racist."

ELLIS (finding himself still not in jail yet): “I’m frequently found to be a liar, too. I can’t really help it."

JUDGE: “I’m sorry?”

ELLIS:  “I said I’m frequently found to be a liar."

NICKERSON: “So, are you lying to me now?”

ELLIS: “Well, I don’t know. I might be."

Here, of course, Ellis was invoking the Epimenides Paradox, named after the Greek philosopher from the isle of Crete who made the statement, "All Cretans are liars."  Since he himself was a Cretan, the truth or falsity of his statement cannot be determined:

If one interprets the word "liar" to mean that every statement made by a liar is necessarily false, then the statement "All Cretans are liars," if uttered by the Cretan Epimenides, cannot be consistently true.  Several interpretations and analyses are available, if the statement is considered false. It might be contended that the truth-value "false" can be consistently assigned to the simple proposition that "All Cretans are liars," so that this statement by itself, when deemed false, is not, strictly speaking, paradoxical. Thus, if there ever existed a Cretan (not Epimenides in this instance) who even once spoke the truth, the categorical statement "All Cretans are (always) liars," would be false, and Epimenides might be simply regarded as having made a false statement himself. But if Epimenides’ statement is understood as in essence asserting its own falsehood, then the statement cannot consistently be false, either, because its falsehood would imply the truth of its self-asserted falsehood.

This was likely exactly what was going through Ellis’s mind when he claimed that he might be lying about being a liar, apparently in a last-ditch attempt to escape jury duty and/or punishment by causing the judge’s head to explode.  If so, it failed, as Judge Nickerson evaded Ellis’s ploy by cutting directly to the chase:

JUDGE: “I have the distinct impression that you’re intentionally trying to avoid jury service."

ELLIS: “That’s true."

Judge Nickerson ordered Ellis taken into custody.  Ellis was later released but could well face charges of perjury, among other things.

I’m sorry to disappoint those of you who were waiting for the easy joke about Ellis being a "cretin."  That one has been around at least since Theodore of Antioch used it in 418.  I generally stick with original stuff here.