3.06.2009

Jury Duty: Week 1

Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to Thomas Paine, 1789: "I consider trial by jury as the only anchor ever yet imagined by man, by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution."

Thus begins my first jury duty experience. I'm in the middle of a two-week stretch. I tell you, I find it the most fascinating thing I have done in a while. We first gathered together in one large room, called the "Jury Lounge" not to be confused with the "Jury Room" which is the room off from the court room that the jurors meet in. There were approximately 200 of us in the Jury Lounge the first morning. It was buzzing with quiet chatter as we waited to begin. We were shown an orientation film that clued us in on what would be happening and it started with the quote above from Thomas Jefferson.

A judicial assistant (JA) came in and said she was going to call 30 people. As she calls them up, they are assigned a juror number and line up according to the numbers. And off they go. Than a JA came in and called out 10 names and they were assigned numbers and off they went. 30 more were called and the room was still fairly full. Finally a JA came in and said she was going to call 90 people. That was astounding to me. 90 people is a lot of people to narrow down to a 12-person jury. I was #52. I have since learned that the lower the number, the higher the chance you have of being picked for that jury.

It was an amazing process that took nearly three whole days. Finally a jury was picked from the first 24 or so people and the rest of us were released to go back to the Jury Lounge and get new assignments. We were also given today off.

I really wanted to be on this jury. I think that I am very good at impartial thinking and that I could be fair and objective. But one question gave me pause: If you have heard of this case, have you formed an opinion? Well, I had heard of the case – I won't talk of it now until it is over. And I said no, no opinion. Later in bed, I thought about it some more and thought, gee, who wouldn't have formed some kind of opinion? And unfortunately, our opinions are based on the media output. Another question was asked: How can you tell the credibility of a person's statement? And there is no good answer. I knew this had to do with testimony. How can you tell if a witness is credible in what he is saying? All you have are his or her words. And I am thinking that it is very subjective. Would it be his tone of voice? His posture? His body language?

We were constantly cautioned to not read the paper, not watch the news, and not go on the internet. This was so we would be pristine in our thoughts and so we would not have a pre-conceived mindset of what this case involved. The judge asked each of us to define our interpretation of what we heard as "news" on the case. And it brought to mind a question: How often has the news media inadvertently interfered with justice and a fair and impartial jury? We are no longer getting the facts. We are getting conjecture and assumption.

The juror has a monumental responsibility of first wiping his mind clean of anything he has learned through the media prior to the case. I wonder how much that is like being told NOT to think of a pink elephant in chartreuse tennis shoes.

Anyway – a fascinating experience. I am enjoying every minute of it.

Could you be impartial and objective and just gather the facts and evidence presented to you in court and to clear from your mind any tidbits of gossip or tales heard outside the court?

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2 comments:

al said...

You pose an interesting question. Could I clear my mind and gather facts? Sure. Would I? I doubt it. I have thought many years about how I might judge another for their actions. Simply put, I couldn't unless I had been there and witnessed for myself what those actions were. Even then I would probably only be able to take my observations in the context of the moment, not being privy to what events have lead up to those actions. Other then that I am only weighing my decisions of guilt or innocence on which lawyer swayed me one way or the other, and any of my own deep seated, perhaps hidden bias.

I have also questioned the subjective concept of due process. When a case goes in and out of the hands of police, prosecutors, witnesses, defense attorneys, court delays, blah, blah, blah... due process becomes a joke.

Then there is the other concept of a trial by your peers. Unless I've got a jury of bald, pudgy, 50ish, reclusive computer programmers, how are they my peers? What on earth do I have in common with a soccer mom, or a republican? I sit next to a woman at a community orchestra who was called sometime last year. She had the defendant convicted long before the trial was over.

All that being said, I'm complaining without having an alternative solution. The worst type of complainer.

It's not the best system, but it's what we've got. I just hope I never get called, and gods forbid that I ever get selected. That would be one hung jury.

MarmiteToasty said...

I would be no good on a jury..... I would take one look at the person and decide there and then GUILTY YOUR GOING DOWNNNnnnnnnnn lol

d