20 June 2006

Jury Duty

I'm on jury duty this week. Unlike everyone else in the world -- to judge by my fellow servers -- I love it. It's a few days away from work, in a part of town I rarely go to, there's plenty of time to read, and being on a jury is actually very interesting.

"If one person votes not-guilty, then they're not guilty."

"I thought it was by majority."

Where do people get these ideas? Forget Civics class, do they not watch Law & Order?

The jury room is a great cross section of New Yorkers. Old, young, black, white, Hispanic, Chinese. Lawyers, construction workers, retirees, stay-at-home mothers. There are no automatic exemptions in New York.

"Only a few states have the death penalty."

Well, 36 out of 50, but you're close.

During my only voir dire -- I got put on the jury, of course I did; there is very little that's objectionable about me -- when the lawyers left the room, there was frantic chatter. "Please don't pick me," "I didn't sleep at all last night, I was so worried about getting picked," "I can't believe I have to do this." Other people sat stoically reading the paper, giving off the kind of resignation that patients in a waiting room have when the receptionist comes out to say that the dentist is running behind.

Here's the thing: if you consider yourself intelligent and thoughtful -- and who doesn't? -- you should want to serve on a jury. If you were ever accused of a crime, or sued in civil court, wouldn't you want to think that there were people in the jury pool who didn't see it as state-sanctioned torture?

I can understand not wanting to be put on a criminal trial jury. No matter which way the verdict is rendered, it will have a major impact on both victim and accused. I was on a criminal case five years ago, and while I thought the defendant was actually guilty of the crime he was accused of -- molesting his teenaged stepdaughter -- the DA didn't prove her case. The judge was really specific in her instructions, and given those parameters, there was no way I could have contributed to a guilty verdict. About half the panel felt the same way. The other half, minus one, just didn't believe the girl. The minus one was the only one willing to find the man guilty, but she admitted it was only because she believed the girl. She didn't think the DA had done a good job, either.

I still occasionally wonder, though, what subsequently happened to the girl. At the time of the trial, her mother was still with the stepfather, though the girl was living with other relatives. Did the DA follow up with social services? Was there something I could have done?

But while my civil jury yesterday waited, and waited, to be brought into the courtroom, it struck me that people hate having this kind of time on their hands. Most people had a book to read, but every chance they were given, they ran out into the hallway to get on their cell phones. Some were clearly calling their offices. They are very, very important, see. Others were just trying desperately to pass the time, anything not to be alone with their thoughts, so close to the scary events transpiring in the courtrooms around them.

Me, I started and finished "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie" and a crossword puzzle and except for the air conditioning being turned up too high, I could not have been happier.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had a very similar experience on a criminal trial. I thought the guy could easily have been guilty, but no way did the DA prove it beyond any kind of reasonable doubt. After the trial I googled the defendant and it turns out he was a convicted rapist. Nice.

but anyway, I also loved the sitting around and reading part of jury duty. Even better than the airport, since there's none of the anxiety.

1:50 PM  

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