Jury Duty: A Teachable Moment

Okay, I explained in the last two posts about my jury duty experience. It probably sounded a lot like complaining, because I did complain a lot. I do not like to complain without offering a way to remedy my grievances; here is my attempt.

Now, here is what I can teach my classes about my experience. First and foremost, every employee I encountered at the Lawrence County Courthouse was helpful and seemed like a truly nice person. The were polite and professional, and they did their best with the situation at hand. I do not have anything but compliments for them.

My issue is with the process jury selection process itself. There have to be more eligible prospective jurors in the county than what they call. Please do not say it is a “Civic Duty” when it is not required that everyone show up in a cycle. That also goes with my premise that it is truly not a random selection process. There may be a bit of randomness to the procedures, but in today’s world, it should not be that complicated to expand the list of people to draw from.  It was also not a very diverse panel of potential jurors. The male to female ratio may have been close to being even, but ethnically there was no diversity whatsoever.  Use the county computer records to expand the juror pool to ALL eligible jurors. Cycle us through with everyone having to possibly show up before you go back through the list. People may still not have to go to the courthouse, but at least they are on the list.

The next issue is the selection process.  Prospective jurors are sent a questionnaire to fill out and send back. They then go into the courtroom, if on the list of possible jurors. They are then asked the questions again, and respond by standing up if their answer to a question is yes. Then the jurors can be called up the the sidebar to explain their answers to the Judge and attorneys.  We are already required to explain in writing why we answered the way we did. It may be petty, but why do it twice, especially if the first response does not count.  It reminds me of busy work, which I despise. Do it once, when we are called into the courtroom. Make people stand up for their convictions, if they truly are convictions, they will not mind standing up in front of others.

By the end of today, I do not believe a defendant would have had a fair trial.  The jurors all seemed like nice and rational people, but they had had enough. They did their duty yesterday, were told they did not make the cut, then were told the rules changed, we were not done with our “Civic Duty.” We had one more case then we would be done. Well, that case was settled on a plea bargain, yet we were not done, we had one more case. That is not right, even if they hold all the cards.  If I were to be called for duty, then do as I pleased, I could and probably would be charged with contempt of court.  Those with the authority must not abuse that authority if they want to be respected.  They played patriotic music in the movie we watched on Day One, quoted Thomas Jefferson, stated how important jurors are to a free society, then blew it all up with changing the rules as they went along. This goes back to including more jurors in the prospective pool, the more jurors, the less recycling jurors who did were pushed off of an earlier case.

I guess my main point of information for my students is, DO NOT choose a jury trial if you ever go to court.  You have no idea what the jurors have been though, or their frame of mind due to their experience.  A trial under the supervision of a judge takes out the variable of a group that may not be in a very objective mood through no fault of their own.

Once again, the court employees were very kind and very professional, they worked with a system I feel is inadequate in the 21st Century.  Adjust the system and the jury becomes what it was meant to be, an impartial panel of peers to view the facts and pass judgment on a situation based on the rules of a society.

On a personal note, I have only reinforced the fact that due to my family, friends, and working with “At-Risk” students for a number of years, I am not a good fit for a criminal trial. The court knows this by now, and if they do not, they can read my responses.  If that is not of any help, I stand up to respond yes to the questions, again, then I explain my answers on the sidebar. If I am turned away, why in the world would I be made to go through the process again.

Judge Piccione made a very good point and made me rethink my answers during the sidebar on Day One. He asked if I could put my biases aside due to my life experiences. I answered that I was reasonably sure that I could. He reminded me that it was a yes or no answer, not a matter of degree, which is true. I honestly cannot say that I could keep my personal experience out of my judgment of a case.  There is no rubric to use like I have for my class projects.

Because of this, I am toxic to a criminal defendant.  My grandparents were in a car accident caused by someone who was driving while impaired. I have many friends and family who are in law enforcement. I am a throw away juror, no competent defense attorney would choose me unless they were gunning for a mistrial.  By keeping me around, there is one less possible juror who could be unbiased to a defendant. That seems a bit unfair to the defendant. By pulling in all of the rejected jurors to another trial, you seriously cut the chances of an unbiased jury for a defendant. That just does not seem right. That seems to be against the spirit of Thomas Jefferson and the United States Constitution.

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