Friday, October 04, 2013

Professional Jurors

I have always felt a bit uncomfortable with the concept, as it is not quite the citizen participation the system originally designed for, but I have always felt I would be very good at this, and if such a thing ever came to pass, I would gladly sit through boring hearings in the interest of improved justice for my country and its citizens.  I can listen to unpleasant information without being traumatised;  I understand general principles of law;  I can and have overruled my own prejudices;  I understand information quickly.  What's not to like?

But these would be government positions, and it occurs to me that some government agency would start keeping tabs on whether I convicted or acquitted group A or group B more than I should. It is not hard to imagine a world in which professional jurors were warned, retrained, and eventually let go because the outcomes were not what some agency thought was right, regardless of the merits of each individual decision.

While I think there is a conservative/liberal issue here, I don't think that is all of what is in play.  My brother, who is quite liberal, would have much the same problem, I suspect.  He would attempt to decide each case on its merits, and be relatively immune to counting up whether he was in proper parameters this year.  Eventually a year would come when he would be accused of evil.  He would know this was not so.  He would refuse to back down.  He would not be re-offered a position the following year.


jlbussey said...

And when all the professional jurors get furloughed (like I am at the moment), then the whole court system will grind to a halt. Would that be a bug or a feature?

Sam L. said...

And you might have to join the Union (AFSCME or SEIU).

Donna B. said...

Odd you should post this just now, as my husband just received a notice to report for jury duty and my daughter (a lawyer) and I were discussing how very unsuitable he would be as a juror.

She did say that not all lawyers would automatically dismiss him as at least one juror is needed for comic relief for the attorneys on all sides. And the judge.

(He won't serve because his physical health is not reliable enough to assure he'd show up. He's also old enough that he's not required to serve.)

After having served once as a juror (on a rather complicated civil case lasting over 2 weeks) I have a lot of good things to say for the citizen participation aspect.

We were not sequestered outside the courthouse, but we essentially were once we set foot inside. The only people who were allowed to speak to us were the judge and his bailiff. And they coddled us.

We asked for cookies, we got cookies.

The other rule was that we were not to speak to each other about the case unless we were officially deliberating. Since several hours of each day had us waiting in the jury room (or an empty courtroom) we had a lot of time to get to know each other.

The case involved a wreck with 2 fatalities and one person severely injured with multiple permanent disabilities. The first question we decided was whether the policy of the vehicle owner/driver was purchased fraudulently. Fortunately for the injured person, her medical bills were initially covered by Workmen's Comp as she was driving a delivery truck and was obviously not at fault.

If we'd decided the policy covering the other driver was purchased fraudulently, the case would have ended there. On day 2.

We didn't. It continued and the lawyers for the insurance company (after their agent was cleared) managed to piss off 9 out of 12 jurors. The other 3 were just laughing at them... and their client's representative. Even the judge couldn't keep a straight face occasionally.

The jury was a diverse group. All had at least a high school education, several had further technical training, several had degrees and 2 had advanced degrees. All but 3 retirees were currently employed.

Occupations included middle school teacher, secretary, bookkeeper, accountant, engineer, electrician, construction worker... and, beauty pageant exec (one of the two with an advanced degree: MBA).

(As a result of knowing her, I ended up as judge for one of her pageants -- one of the most difficult and odd jobs I've ever done.)

It is difficult to explain the relationships that evolved among the jury members during those weeks. Several leaders of opinion emerged, and the elected (on the first day) foreman was not one of them. He did do a good job of corralling us and making us make decisions though, so his selection was a good one.

It was an experience I am glad I had, but I wouldn't want to repeat it. I do think that the decisions we made were the right ones and I do not think a group of "professional jurors" could have done the job as well as we did.

I didn't want to serve and tried to get out of it with my answers during the selection interview. Looking back, those answers that I was sure would disqualify me (they were truthful -- I couldn't lie!) were the ones that got me selected.

While I wouldn't mind AVI or his brother on 'my' jury if I was ever brought to trial over something, I would definitely mind having a professional jury. Those are not my peers.

james said...

You have to bring Twain in.

There've been quite a few incidents over the past few years where I've looked at the facts available, and thought that if I were on the jury... Meditating on this attitude persuades me that professional jurors would be plus ungood. Maybe even double plus. But I understand their attraction.

The only petit jury I was on addressed a minor offence which the defense attorney fought tooth and nail (insulting our intelligence in the process). It was carefully concealed from us that this was part one of a two-pronged attack on the defendant, and that a guilty verdict on this would make penalties on the other case much harsher.

The defendant was guilty, and a jerk to boot, but even so the offense was a very minor one and I suspect we'd have let him off if we'd understood the setup.

(At least two of my fellow jurors seemed to have trouble with the concept of minor inaccuracy in testimony; possibly from watching too many detective shows.)

Dubbahdee said...

I served on a jury in an armed robbery case in the early 90s in Detroit. 2 things stick out in my mind. 1) The sense of very quickly concluding "oh yeah, he's guilty" but then realizing that I had just jumped to a conclusion without really truly listening to *ALL* the evidence and weighing it. That realization of my tendency to jump was a dash of ice water in my face. 2) The weight of responsibility knowing that my decision could send a man to prison (whether truly guilty or not) for 15 years. I felt a strong sense that I had better get this thing right.

I sat through until the wrapping of closing arguments. Then my name was pulled out of a hat, and I was dismissed as an unneeded alternate. I never found out how the jury decided.

Sam L. said...

I was called for a murder trial. I was the 3rd juror selected, and the 1st dismissed. Maybe it was the "have you ever carried a gun on duty?" question.

I also sat on a drunk-driving case. Defense lawyer kept going around the mulberry bush, and irritated all the jurors. Had no case for the defense.