Thursday, November 22, 2018

Jury Duty

Texan99 commented below how difficult it is to get some potential jurors to understand that the trial is going to be about whether the accused actually committed the crime, not whether the act is a crime serious enough for punishment.  My wife recently finished jury duty, and noted that other jurors were distracted by how difficult it was going to be for the young woman who caused the accident to pay the damages. In my own experience over twenty years ago, I felt the jury had come to the correct conclusion but was uneasy about how they had arrived there.  The prosecution had to prove three things about him, and all had to be in place to convict.  I felt the first two were adequately proven but the third one was doubtful.  I also felt the man was guilty but the prosecution hadn't done its job proving it.  One bit of physical evidence hinged on whether he had given a false ID (an expired Maryland driver's license) to the officer who stopped him at a club. It had a different first name than his - he said it was his middle name.

So lets get to the bottom of that Mr. prosecutor.  Do the birthdates match up?  Is there a birth certificate to check this?  I was pretty certain he had borrowed an older brother's or cousin's ID in order to get into clubs.  But the prosecutor hadn't followed up on this.

My co-jurors believed the prosecutor had not proven any of the three pieces and that the policeman was just trying to hassle the boy, so all subsequent accusations should be disregarded. It was disquieting, but I felt the correct overall verdict had been reached.

My second case was going along uneventfully until the information came out - who from I don't recall - that the defendant had moved to a town in Florida several years before and had gotten in trouble for stealing a car.  The town and the incident rang in my head, and I realised he had been my patient at the hospital just after that time. Because he had been cleaned up for court and his name was unremarkable I hadn't recognised him.  I passed a note to the bailiff, everything came to a halt, the jury was taken to another room and I was separated from them. I told the judge my story and that I could no longer be objective, because I knew the man had lied frequently while with us.  The judge told me I had done the right thing and I was asked to exit out a back door.

Juries in the very old days in England were locals who knew the events and could present them to the king as he went on rounds passing judgement.  We have come far from that.  Is this really as good a system as we were raised to believe?

You can comment on the question or tell your jury stories.  Both are fine here.


james said...

Simple 1-day case of whether a man had been violating game laws. During voir dire, when the lawyer found that both Bob and I knew each other (we worked together), he was excused.

I was not impressed with the man's lawyer, who seemed to be to be trying to insult our intelligence by harping on about a careless statement about tame geese ("_This_ is a picture of a tame goose!"). I was startled that the prosecutor was pursuing what seemed a fairly trivial case. I suspected that the defendant, who seemed a pretty arrogant piece of work, had been egged on into getting in tried in court rather than a plea bargain--I _really_ didn't like his lawyer.

One witness (a colleague of the defendant) started out sounding interesting and then the lawyers went up to the bench for a while, and we left, and when we came back the witness was gone, never to return.

When all was done and we went for deliberation, it took a while for everybody to internalize the notion that testimony was never going to be perfectly exact. Was it 4 geese or 2? Either way he was guilty, but it took till nearly 9 at night to get that squared away.

On the way out of the courthouse I finally learned why the defendant had wanted a trial--with the guilty verdict in the first case, now he _really_ had to bargain for the second one that we weren't aware of.

I got a call from the lawyer the next week, asking if I would answer some questions about how we'd come to that verdict. I declined.

james said...

When the peremptory challenges were all exhausted, a jury of twelve men was impaneled—a jury who swore they had neither heard, read, talked about nor expressed an opinion concerning a murder which the very cattle in the corrals, the Indians in the sage-brush and the stones in the streets were cognizant of! It was a jury composed of two desperadoes, two low beer-house politicians, three bar-keepers, two ranchmen who could not read, and three dull, stupid, human donkeys! It actually came out afterward, that one of these latter thought that incest and arson were the same thing.

The verdict rendered by this jury was, Not Guilty. What else could one expect?

The jury system puts a ban upon intelligence and honesty, and a premium upon ignorance, stupidity and perjury. It is a shame that we must continue to use a worthless system because it was good a thousand years ago. In this age, when a gentleman of high social standing, intelligence and probity, swears that testimony given under solemn oath will outweigh, with him, street talk and newspaper reports based upon mere hearsay, he is worth a hundred jurymen who will swear to their own ignorance and stupidity, and justice would be far safer in his hands than in theirs.

Further at