Tuesday June 27, 2006

Notes on Jury Duty

I just finished my second and final day of jury duty.  I was in the juror pools for two criminal trials, one serious and one minor, but got peremptorily excused from both.  They explicitly tell you not to take that personally, and I'm almost succeeding.  (What was it?  The over-education or the hair?)  After the jump, I've written down a few disorganized thoughts about the process.

  • The first judge was nearly a clone of a professor of electrical engineering I know at Unspecified University.  She even sounded like her.  Creepy.
  • Both prosecutors were young, which must be a disadvantage.  On the other hand, both defense attorneys came off a little weasely, which must be its own kind of burden.
  • On the one hand, ten dollars a day is a pittance, a little insulting, and clearly not enough to compensate anyone for their time.  On the other hand, I wasn't very sympathetic with the people who thought they should be excused from a two- or three-day trial because they worked hourly or were self-employed.  Are we supposed to have juries made up exclusively of people with salaried jobs?
  • Similarly, I think the few people who said, "I should be excused because I can't be impartial on this matter" were being total slackers.  (Note that I'm not including the people who had had terrible experiences strikingly similar to the alleged crimes and broke down crying—that's a legitimate reason.)  We all have strong feelings about crime and punishment—your duty as a citizen is to be a grown-up, get a grip on yourself, and decide impartially based on the evidence.  Maybe you shouldn't be voting, either, if think you might fly off the handle and do something rash...
  • Both judges commented on the high turnout of teachers and students in the juror pool, presumably because, like me, they deferred their service until after the end of the school year.  I wonder if there are other uneven distributions of professions over the course of the year, and whether lawyers try to delay trials until they think the juror pool might be more sympathetic to their clients.
  • The first judge made a linguistic point I appreciated, but then dropped the ball.  The good point was that the definition of the term voir dire in English is actually 'jury selection'—that is, she acknowledged that it's a loan word with a particular technical meaning.  Yes!  Etymology is not destiny.  Unfortunately, she then went on to explain the etymology anyway, claiming the term comes from French and that voir means 'say' and dire means 'truth'.  That's backwards—voir comes from Latin verus 'true' and dire from dicere 'to say' (and it's from Norman French rather than Modern French, but let's not quibble.)
  • When I walk into a room of ordinary, non-purple-haired citizens, I think I immediately become The Freak for a lot of people.  This usually lasts only until I open my mouth and turn out to be a perfectly reasonable fellow, but it's still a little annoying.  So, I was thrilled when another guy, unkempt, geeky, and with that indefinable but unmistakable open-source air about him, came into the room after I did wearing his six-inch carabiner keychain as an earring.  When he showed up, he became The Freak, selflessly provided me with camouflage, and so he was My Hero.  (I do wonder, though, if he has to bend down to unlock a door.)
  • Even though it was a sad story, when one prospective juror said that his son suffers from Asperger's, half a dozen people heard it wrong then couldn't stifle their snickers.  (Think about it.)  I heard it that way too but successfully stifled, if you're keeping score.
  • One way to get excused from a jury: be a former employee of the court, know the judge and the prosecutor personally, and currently work as a clerk for a federal judge.  Dude, no matter how much you're "interested in seeing a trial from another perspective", you are so totally excused.  (Not for cause, though, peremptorily.)
  • Another way, apparently: have purple hair and agree with the statement "I think drugs should be legalized" (along with about half of the room), then watch the prosecutor jump to the wrong conclusion and excuse you post-haste.  I guess he was working on limited information and obviously didn't want to end up with Captain Trips on the jury for a drug-possession case, but I suspect, based on my sense of the room, that he probably ended up with somebody less law-and-order friendly than me.  Whatever.
  • I read a post on the Volokh Conspiracy a few months ago about a  guy trying to get out of jury duty by bringing along a copy of Mein Kampf.  In a related move, a guy in the second trial was carrying around a copy of Atlas Shrugged.  Now, I don't mean to imply that those books are at all in the same league, but both pretty openly advertise a particular political point of view.  Or possibly not: when asked what he would do about drugs, the guy said he'd legalize them, then tax and regulate them.  Tax and regulate?  WWJGD?

I am The Tensor, and I approve this post.
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I drew a waste of a peremptory because I was too young (20, at the time). It was a medical malpractice case, and the defense didn't want any idealistic younglings on the jury. (That's an inference, of course, but there was a second data point.) There was probably no one in that room more sympathetic to them than I would have been. But I didn't mind being excused from a two-week competing-scientific-experts case.

Posted by: Andy B at Jun 27, 2006 5:47:46 PM

Mr. Purple Hair - I used to have blue hair so I understand your experiences.

Even though it was a sad story, when one prospective juror said that his son suffers from Asperger's, half a dozen people heard it wrong then couldn't stifle their snickers. (Think about it.) - I'm being dense here and cannot figure out what would make people snicker, please fill me in.

Posted by: EFL Geek at Jun 27, 2006 5:55:14 PM

Aspergers...ass burgers...

Sounds like slang for really bad hemhorroids.

Posted by: The Wife at Jun 27, 2006 6:05:02 PM

another guy, unkempt, geeky, and with that indefinable but unmistakable open-source air about him

This made me laugh.

Posted by: dagger aleph at Jun 27, 2006 7:20:20 PM

Asperger's... ass purgers... and there I imagined you all snickering at the thought of the gentleman's poor son having just eaten a few too many laxatives!

Posted by: Jonathan at Jun 28, 2006 7:40:18 AM

EFL Geek, are you by any chance a Nukee? Just trying to see if certain haircolours goes along with certain professions.

I primarily wrote to agree with the guy, who were in favour of drugtaxation. I've been saying that for years. Round here the taxman if usually far more efficient than the police. And wasn't that the way they got Capone as well?

Posted by: Sili at Jun 28, 2006 7:58:47 AM

Drugs and prostitution too. We'd probably be doing everyone a favour - not only the addicts and dealers, prostitutes and johns but also the general public - if these activities were regulated and taxed instead of prohibited and punished.

Posted by: Jonathan at Jun 28, 2006 8:05:21 AM

I'd guess it was the over-education rather than the drug stance. I managed to get on one jury (indecent exposure, no less) prior to the Ph.D., but none thereafter. Last time, I got dumped from a murder trial in Oakland by the prosecutor when I'd assumed that it'd be the defense team who'd waste a peremptory on me.

Posted by: Mertseger at Jun 28, 2006 12:05:07 PM

Reminds me of the time... In a murder jury selection when I revealed under voir dire that I was a retired Marine, the Prosecutor loved me. I could see the Defense preparing their peremptory challenge. Until under Defense voir dire, I revealed that I was opposed to the death penalty. Suddenly, the Prosecution decided that I wasn't his guy after all.

Incidentally, is it overly pedantic of me to ask: In the sentence, "On the other hand, both defense attorneys came off a little weasely, which must be it's own kind of burden." shouldn't "it's" be "its"? Being an apostrophe phreak, it seems to me that you are describing a possessive condition rather than abbreviating "it is". No?

Posted by: NelFin at Jun 28, 2006 12:35:08 PM

...shouldn't "it's" be "its"...

Absolutely right. I've fixed it.

Posted by: The Tensor at Jun 28, 2006 1:59:13 PM