Monday, July 14, 2014

I Was A Potential Potential Juror

Jury duty would be fantastic if it weren’t for the people.

I don’t actually mind jury duty.  In most cases I would probably be selected if it came down to it.  I don’t have a lot of traumatic events in my life that would emotionally color my view of evidence.  I understand how judge instructions work, and I’ve been a debate coach/judge for the better part of 20 years.  I can set aside most of my personal biases and weigh a case based on the arguments presented.

But the people.  Good lord, the people!

First, there was Overly-Pedantic English Teacher.  On day two, when the judge gave instructions (for a solid ten minutes) about personal relationships and potential bias, and then asked the jury pool if
anyone knew the prosecuting attorney, everyone said no except Overly-Pedantic English Teacher.  He said yes and raised his hand.  The prosecuting attorney looked at him funny.  The judge looked at him funny.  Everyone in the room looked at him funny.

The judge asked, “Overly-Pedantic English Teacher, you know Mr. Prosecuting Attorney?”

“Yes,” replied Overly-Pedantic English Teacher, “we were introduced to him yesterday.”

The entire room groaned.  The judge went back over his instructions about personal relationships.

Thank you, Overly-Pedantic English Teacher, for taking up a good half-hour.

But Overly-Pedantic English Teacher wasn’t the worst.

There were also two people with obvious (and understandable) biases.  First was Oversharing Mother Whose Son Has Legal Troubles.  When asked if she could set aside any bias for or against a uniformed officer, we got to hear all about how her son was street racing, and even though the car was registered in her name, it was still impounded and every single officer or employee at the police station was rude and overly sarcastic.

The judge asks, “Oversharing Mother, do you think you could put aside those experiences and weight the evidence you heard without being biases for or against the uniformed police officers?”

Oversharing Mother replied, “It would be hard.”

“But could you do it?” the judge persisted.

“It would be really difficult because—”

And then Oversharing Mother told us more about her woes and raising a teenage boy who likes to drive fast.

Ladies and gentlemen, if a judge asks you if you may have trouble believing anything a uniformed officer might say, and you have a clear emotional bias, YOU SAY YES.  You don’t tie up the proceedings with a long diatribe explaining the nuanced details of your life.  YOU SAY YES.  When the judge asks you why, you simply say, “Based on my experience I believe there is a culture of bias among uniformed officers that would emotionally compromise my ability to judge the worth of their testimony.”

That’s it.  That’s all you have to say.  Done.  Out.  Peace.

But the gentleman who will forever remain ingrained in my life as having wasted a good twenty minutes of the courts time while the judge repeatedly tried to get him to answer “yes” or “no” to straight-forward questions was, Adamantly Not Your Man.

Adamantly had a personal bias that was very understandable.  A family member has suffered eerily similar circumstances to the charges against the defendant.  Here’s what happened when the judge asked him if he had any biases:

“No your honor,” Adamantly adamantly stated, “but I can tell you right now I’m Adamantly Not Your Man.”

“Why is that, Adamantly?”

“Because, I have a family member [insert five minute long terrible story of suffering eerily similar to the charges against the defendant here].  So you see, I’m Adamantly Not Your Man.”

“But,” the judge pressed, “while that’s a horrible story, it has no direct bearing on whether the defendant is guilty or not, correct?”

“Well, you see your honor, my family member [more of the terrible story inserted here], so I’m Adamantly Not Your Man.”

“But again,” the judge insisted, “while I sympathize, you understand that the defendant wasn’t part of your family members terrible story.  The defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty.  That’s why we have a trial.”

“But you see, your honor, I’m Adamantly Not Your Man.”

“So you have an emotional bias that won’t allow you to hear the evidence and weigh it to arrive at a verdict of guilty or innocent?”

“No, I’m not biased, your honor.  I’m Adamantly Not Your Man.  No bias or bigotry whatsoever.”

Yes, Adamantly, you are biased, and that’s ok.  You’re biased because of a very personal, very traumatic set of events that happened to someone extremely close to you.  If you weren’t biased, I’d be more concerned (such as Miss Don’t Worry It Didn’t Affect Me Long Term).

But why, for the love all that is good and decent and kind in the universe would you make the judge spend ten, fifteen, twenty minutes trying to get you to say, without caveat, that you are or aren’t biased.

My friend, your response is this: Yes, your honor, despite my best efforts, I’m emotionally biased toward any victims, alleged or otherwise, and I would have a hard time weighing any contrary evidence.  I understand this shouldn’t be the case, but it is.  I am biased in this case.

Imagine my shock when all these people were released from service.

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