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Jury Duty

I’ve been tagged for jury duty, and several scenarios are playing out in my imagination.

My first reaction was “Maybe I’ll get a chance to practice Jury Nullification.” If it’s a case involving drug possession, prostitution, ticket scalping, doing something harmless without a license, etc., I’ll be able to keep the defendant out of jail.

It will be tricky, though. Prosecutors hate nullification, and routinely dismiss any juror who even hints they know about it. If I get past that, and get picked, playing it out during deliberations will be a balancing act. If I bring it up immediately, the foreman may call for an alternate before deliberations get going, so I’ll have to wait. If the jury is headed toward Not Guilty based on the evidence, I won’t need to even mention it. But if they’re heading towards a guilty verdict, can I change enough minds to get a unanimous Not Guilty? I can always hang the jury, but that means the defendant may have to go on trial again; an acquittal would be a much better outcome.

But what if the case involves a real crime? If someone is really guilty of murder, rape, robbery, assault, fraud, animal abuse – anything where there is an actual victim – I want to see them punished, but that brings in a whole different slew of doubts and problems.

My first problem is knowing that cops lie. A lot. They’re trained to lie during interrogations, and all that practice lets them lie on the stand, under oath, naturally and perfectly. There will be no way to tell if the cops testimony is factual, pure perjury, or some combination of the two. I’ll have to dismiss any police testimony. 

Physical evidence presents another problem. I’ve seen dozens of videos of cops clearly planting evidence, and read many articles by former cops detailing how it was done. In some precincts it’s a very common practice. So how can I tell if a piece of evidence is real, or was dropped on the scene by Officer Friendly?

If it is an honest piece of evidence, how do I know the lab processed it correctly? There have been many many cases of labs screwing things up, cross contaminating samples, analyzing samples incorrectly, and in quite a few instances, intentionally lying about the evidence. How can I trust any laboratory findings?

But at least there’s eyewitness testimony, right? Nope. Test after test confirms that eyewitness testimony, especially of unusual events, is often very wrong.

Have you ever told a story about something that happened to you, something you remember in detail, and discovered that you got it all wrong? Me too. Every time you remember something, the tale changes a bit in your head. Your brain plays telephone with itself, and much of what you recall, very clearly, never really happened the way you remember it.

So eyewitness testimony has to be heavily discounted, and maybe even ignored.

The only way I can make a confident decision is if there’s a clear video of the event, something I can see for myself. But that’s pretty rare. Since everything else is suspect, how can I be sure enough of the facts to put someone in a cage? On the other hand, I don’t want to free a dangerous individual who belongs in jail. This is going to be a very difficult decision.

Life would be easier if I were more unaware.

***

I was filling out the jury questionnaire, preparing to mail it, but wasn’t sure where the courthouse was. I called the number, and talked to the woman in charge of all the jurors.

She asked me for the date and my juror number. “Oh, you’re all set,” she said. “That case was settled,  so you don’t need to send that in. You won’t be called again for at least six years.” I asked her what the case was. “It was a civil suit. A slip and fall.”

Damn.

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4 Comment(s)

  1. I’ve served on three juries. Back when I was young enough and alert enough it was an interesting experience. Actually, the first time I was called it was to downtown Los Angeles. I thought I was going to see the wheels of justice turn, but I only watched them spin. I didn’t get selected for a jury that time, but saw some attorneys I was surprised could dress themselves.

    Eventually, in two other sessions, one in Los Angeles and one in Pasadena, I served on two criminal trials and one civil trial. My juries reached verdicts in all three cases. I’m glad of the experiencer, but I wouldn’t want to do it again. At nearly 73, I doubt they would even take me now. And I doubt that I could stay awake!

    Larry Gott | Sep 3, 2015 | Reply

  2. I have been called twice. First time I spent a couple of hours waiting and was stuck back at 50 in the juror pool. They made their selection and I went home. Second time was a case surrounding the Davinci Robot Surgery machine. I was actually up on the platform ready to make it through. The trial was going to last at least 6 weeks though and my boss balked.

    brad tittle | Nov 9, 2015 | Reply

  3. Pretty much everybody in the legal field hates nullification, and if there is any hint that you might be inclined to do it (say, for instance, posting it in a blog that bears your real name and can be pulled up by a Google search), they’ll dismiss you.

    It’s a legal consequence based on the fact that a jury can’t get in trouble for making the “wrong” decision and double jeopardy rules. There’s no actual law that allows jury nullification.

    There’s an actual good reason not to like it either. Sure, it may be used for “good,” such as getting a cancer patient who was arrested for marijuana acquitted. But it can also be used for evil. During the civil rights era, all-white juries would routinely acquit murderers who had killed blacks.

    The reason the legal field does not care for nullification is because it undermines the rule of law. As much as you allow the marijuana smokers and prostitutes to go free, you’re also allowing minorities in certain areas to be victimized by where they happen to live. There is a reason the Constitution gives a representative congress the power to create laws, not a local 12-person jury.

    The way to address these issues is to get the laws changed. That is happening, rapidly, with marijuana. There are also some strides with prostitution legalization. Jury nullification can have some positive effects, yes, but I don’t agree that it should be the prescribed way to change things.

    Brian | Nov 19, 2015 | Reply

  4. P.S. The tactic you described using isn’t jury nullification, anyway. What you planned on doing was simply finding points of reasonable doubt. Jury Nullification is acquitting a guilty person because you don’t like the law. If you genuinely feel there is reasonable doubt and express those doubts to your fellow jurors, that’s not nullification.

    Brian | Nov 19, 2015 | Reply

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