Yohannon (yohannon) wrote,

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The Jury's Out

I mentioned jury duty being thrust upon me for the fifth time since moving to California some 15 years ago, and then didn't chronicle the whole mess.

I'm a weird sort of problem when it comes to Jury Duty. I think I wouldn't have any trouble serving, but either the prosecution or the defense thinks the fact that my father is in the NYPD, regardless of the fact that the last time I spoke with the sperm donor was 1989. No, really. Well, I do have several in-laws married to various female siblings who're cops, and I've had friends here who are as well... but again, it's not like I'm hanging out with any of these people on a daily basis.

Last time I was actually seated in the box it was for a rather spectacular murder trial, complete with Tony Serra doing the defense dance. He once offered to defend the Unibomber, and recently defended some guy who killed his wife, a photographer for the San Jose Mercury. In one of those strange coincidences I heard him being interviewed on KCBS on my way to the city Thursday... apparently he lost. He lost the other case as well... not an impressive track record. He seems to get a lot of press, though.

Any way, I wound up being "thanks and excused" by the prosecution that time. I think that was a blessing in disguise... it can take DAYS to get through these things. As it was, this time it was a simple (relatively speaking) robbery and threats thing with a husband and wife. The kicker was they each had separate counsel, which meant, with the prosecution, there were THREE legals questioning jurors... and since there were two people on the defense, the prosecutor got twice the time to question people.

A solid day and a half of legal maneuvering. You can't read, as you're expected to pay attention to the proceedings. The judge was this great old guy who was really good about letting people stretch ("I've got a bad back myself... I know how bad it can cramp if you sit too long!") and things went pretty smoothly, albeit slowly.

Most amusing moment was when some kid who was attending UC Santa Cruz decided to run back to school mid-morning for some crisis WITHOUT clearing it with the judge first. We all got to see him pull out the glamour and nail the kid with a stern lecture about proper procedure, and how one person who wasn't there for the roll call was already brought to the courthouse in cuffs, and who did he think he was...

He then told the kid to go to the Jury Commissioner and to sign up for jury duty the following week. Numb nuts came back to say he had signed up for January... and we got to watch him get reamed again.

I admit that the whole thing made me sad. No, not for the kid... based on the system, he was just being egregiously ignorant. But for the fact that the system is not only broken, I fear that it is beyond all hope of repair.

Many people natter on about "civic responsibility" being an important part of our freedoms, and I agree to a point. Yet the fact that jury duty, something that really should be something embraced by any competent citizen, is compulsory under the threat of arrest means we are no longer a free people. It is a part of a pattern of systematic abuse by a government that has set itself over the people, and is no longer of or by the people.

But I digress.

Anyway, I FINALLY got out of that place and spent the evening in Hayward, getting some happy bonding time with lovingstones, and hanging out with lavendersage and their new roomie and girlfriend penguin_goddess. I was damn relieved that I wasn't going to have to practically drug myself immobile for up to two weeks that I explosively decompressed somewhat. Yes, I believe in serving -- it's why I don't just go to Dr. Gross and ask for a note to get out of it based on the fact that forcing a moderate to severe ADHD sufferer to hold still for the long could be considered cruel and unusual. At the same time I have to be honest with myself that I would be shredded at the end of it.

I did hear something that made me think a bit. There was one gentleman (later excused, no surprise) that was asked the generic "Have you ever sat on a jury before, and if so, without saying what it was, did you reach a verdict?" He had, and they did... but there was something that bothered him about it. Apparently, he was bullied into changing his vote because people wanted to get out of there. He *really* regretted that.

I suspect that he was removed because you could just see this guy hanging up the jury to the point of mistrial. But it makes you wonder... if you truly believe that someone is, say innocent, would you have the guts to face 11 very, VERY cranky people who voted guilty?

Roni and I discussed it at length. My take is, if I was convinced one way or the other, I was the kind of stubborn east coast irish asshole who wouldn't budge without some sort of clear reason. Like instant replay in the NFL: There has to be something so clearly counter to my conclusion that, for whatever reason, I missed while in the same box everyone else was.

I don't know what the solution is. Part of the problem is that people have lives that are seriously disrupted by the whole process. We're not just talking inconvenient, we're talking financial ruin and kids starving. The compensation for serving is a joke... 15 bucks a day plus mileage? Hell, there are beggars who make more than that panhandling.

To pick 13 people... 12 jurors and one alternate... it took two days and a starting pool of 75 people. When the dust clears that's 75 people no longer available for duty for two years. The issue there are the preemptory challenges (when a juror can be dismissed for no reason... in this case 20 between the two sides) even before dismissals for "cause" (like the one poor woman who burst into tears when one of the defense attorneys asked if anyone had experienced any sort of sexual assault. Apparently she had been raped. They exhibited some class and took her, the court reporter and the attorney's into the judge's chambers. When she came out she was clutching some kleenex... I would like to think the judge got it for her).

Personally, I think juries should be staffed by professional jurors, pre-screened individuals sworn to hear cases as juries should. This could be a voluntary pool, much in the way the US armed forces are all volunteer. Pay would be based on some sort of free market for a juror's service, like any other contract employee.

You could still dismiss a juror for cause, but the bar for such dismissal would be substantially higher. The whole goal, after all, is to streamline the process and to reduce the risk of an incompetent or biased jury. Even if this only resulted in saving, at minimum, a single day for every jury trial in the country, the money saved would more than off-set the cost of a professional jury.

That's before the whole administrative cost of trying to get jurors to show up from the general public is deducted. Of course, I suspect a lot of that would be eaten up by a different system to develop and maintain the professional pool, but since that pool could deal with multiple trials (perhaps dozens, if not more) in the same two year period, the pool can be MUCH smaller, and easier to administrate in the first place.

Damn it, I'm digressing again.

Anyway, one of the last to be selected when they wanted to seat the alternate was the winner of the Most Unfortunate Name award in that room... a Mr. Jonathon Schmuck. No, really. And I thought "Halbig" was bad.

Ok, one last digression... when telling this to my mother later in the week, I discovered that it had never occurred to her that name could be... well, abused. As in "So, Halbig is it?" (insert snide snickering here). She also didn't realize that I've voted in every election since I was 18. Hell, she even thought I was a LIBERAL. A social libertarian, sure, but that's to the right of the republicants, at least technically. I always thought of liberals of being to the left of the democraps.

Anyway, so endeth the look into our nations rather bizarre idea of criminal justice.
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