Trial And Error

Have you ever noticed how jury selection is pitched to the proletariat the same way timeshares are sold? "Hey Bob, you’ve just won the county lottery and you may have won the chance to be on a jury. To claim your prize, just pop along to the county court house."

Julie was lucky enough to get her jury duty notification letter a few month back. She’s always been pretty lucky with these things. She gets her call up papers once a year. Me, on the other hand, I don’t have to worry. As a non-citizen, I can’t serve on a jury. I think this should extend to not appearing in court as a defendant either, but I could be on my own with that one.

Well, just like with the timeshare pitch, Julie’s response to the notification was one of annoyance and irritation, which seems to be pretty much the common reaction with everyone. I can’t say I’m any different. I can think of many other painful ways to spend my time than serving on a jury. Not only that, there’s a lot of pressure on you as a juror. You have to pay attention for a start. The hardest thing is that you have to decide the fate of another person. That’s some scary responsibility and power.

Considering all that lawyers have to learn, are we (the general public) the best people to preside over a court case? What do we know and understand of the law? And saying you watch Law & Order on a regular basis isn’t good enough. In what other venue do we allow unskilled personnel to take control of such a serious undertaking? I don’t see nurses yanking people off the street to do brain surgery or airlines picking a passenger at random to fly a 747, so why have the decision of guilt or innocence placed in the hands of laypeople?

Combine that with the fact that most people consider jury duty to be such a hardship, I don’t fancy anyone’s chances of a fair and well-reasoned trial. Any of us could end up in court fighting for our livelihood and the last thing any of us want is twelve pissed off people who couldn’t come up with a decent enough excuse to get out of jury duty. It’s not exactly the justice system our forefathers imagined.  Remember, the judge won’t save us. All he’s going to do is slap a number on the proceedings. To me, a jury is a bigger deterrent not to commit crime than the various crime prevention programs the police currently have.

This is my script for a TV commercial to be broadcast nationally to scare us straight. Here it is:

"Trial by jury is a right of everyone in this country.  You’ll be tried by your peers–objective people who have nothing to gain or lose from your case. Meet your jurors:"

"Juror #1 was meant to be in Maui this week."

"Juror #2 didn’t get beyond 5th grade and needs help tying his laces."

"Juror #3 thinks J-walking should be a capital offense."

"Juror #4 will go with the flow and agree with the majority."

"Juror #5’s car was stolen last month and no one was caught. This is payback."

"Juror #6 knows you did it just by looking at you."

"Juror #7 will base your guilt on a coin flip. Heads or tails?"

"Juror #8 thinks evidence is overrated. It’s all about gut feel."

"Juror #9 has fifteen cats and doesn’t think you look like a cat person."

"Juror #10 hopes to hook up with Juror #9."

"Juror #11 hasn’t been listening."

"Juror #12 and foreman is the actual perpetrator of the crime you stand accused of and isn’t in the mood to confess."

"Now, you’ve met your jury. How confident are you they’ll do the right thing?"

If this ad went out, crime would cease in a week.

I know the court system is a symbol of our democracy, but can’t we palm the responsibility onto someone who likes this sort of stuff? Justice, she may be blind, but the rest of us, we’re just blinkered.  🙂

Yours tried and tested,
Simon Wood

10 thoughts on “Trial And Error

  1. B.G. Ritts

    And the flip side is the juror who had said, “I’ll uphold the law” and then doesn’t want to convict because “but he didn’t get anything” when the accused had been caught red-handed coming out of a house (through a window) and the other eleven jurors had voted to convict on the first show of hands.

    You just never know.

  2. Pari

    I don’t want to tempt the gods, but I’d actually be interested to be on a jury. Though it would be both inconvenient — and probably tedious — I have all of these theories about juries and would like to see if some of them are true.

    Perhaps it’s because I’m fascinated by group dynamics and how people can influence others . . . that’s what I loved in grad school when I trained as a therapist.

    Anyway, from what I’ve read and seen, the system is definitely flawed — but so is letting judges decide everything, too.

    The only jury I’ve ever served on is a “mock” jury for law students in their last year of school. And, still, the 12 of us wanted to rewrite the law and the sentencing . . .

    The most difficult part was following the judge’s instructions because we couldn’t ignore the comments and ideas we’d been told to delete from our brains.

    It was kind of like telling someone: “Don’t think of a white unicorn.” That’s the image that will come to mind.

  3. Beatrice Brooks

    Whenever I get bummed out over the US jury system, I watch the movie TWELVE ANGRY MEN.

    I’d like to serve on a jury that tries someone accused of political corruption!

    I’d also like to serve on a jury where Nancy Grace is the defendant.

    Deni Dietz, who has been watching the new TV show “Justice.” Interesting…

  4. Lorraine T.

    I can’t agree with any of today’s posting. I’ve served on jury duty several times throughout my life and always my fellow jurors, dispite personality quirks, tried their best to be accurate and fair in their assessment of the evidence.Most amusing was one for statutory rape. The victim was a very precocious 14 year who revelled in her “rapes.” Her parents forced the arrest. Funny, was when we had to read the evidence in the jury room and a hoity-toity CT matron balked at the language. An 80 yr. old retired lady librarian took over the reading and read every 4-letter word in a clear and audible voice.Hardest was a murder trial that went on for months. I was an alternate juror, who listened to all the evidence but got sent home at the end. A kindly juror agreed to phone me at trial’s end and give me the one word verdict. They voted the way I would have if I’d had to fill in for one of the regular jurors.Should I run afoul of the law, I’d welcome a trial by a jury of my peers.Lorraine

  5. simon

    A lot of the comments made in my essay were actual remarks made at Julie’s jury selection hearing and by the selected jury itself. The trial was for a murder and it quite scary the attitudes people brought into the jury room.

  6. Beatrice Brooks

    You can agree with my posting, Lorraine. TWELVE ANGRY MEN is a very positive movie about a jury. It also has an exceptional screenplay.

    My husband (an Aussie/Canadian) and I have lots of “interesting” discussions about the US legal system. My answer is always “It’s the law, honey, and if you don’t like a law, change it!”

    As far as Simon basing his essay on real comments, I have to say that I heard similar comments while waiting (in an overheated, overcrowded room) to find out if I’d be selected for a jury. I wasn’t, but I caught one humdinger of a cold/flu and my car caught a parking ticket.

    Deni Dietz

  7. JDRhoades

    Simon, anyone who would actually “like this sort of stuff” i.e. being on a jury, would have something SERIOUSLY WRONG with them. Actually being eager to sit in judgment on the fate of a fellow being…man, how twisted is that?It’s supposed to be hard. It’s supposed to be unpleasant. Freedom and justice, like democracy, are not for wimps.

  8. Terri

    I wouldn’t make a very good jurist. I have a short attention span…plus I’d be too busy plotting my next book. :-)I’ve been lucky that each time I’ve been called up, my kids were under the age of ten..unfortunately, they aren’t anymore.


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