Monday, August 11, 2008
Jury duty is an interesting study in human nature. Today I witnessed all kinds of interesting and curious behavior on the part of prospective jurors as well as a defendant. Strange stuff!
Nobody wants to be on a jury
Ok, maybe I’m generalizing here, but I think most folks can come up with a thousand other things they would rather do besides sit on a jury. It’s inconvenient, the pay stinks, it’s boring, and the responsibility is huge. I get it! Still, it always amazes me the lengths people will go to in order to be excused from service.
Prospective jurors are instructed to answer all questions honestly. The idea is to weed out bias, prejudice, and life experiences that may prevent one from being fair and impartial. Makes sense to me. The judge today was very clear on many occasions that we were to answer honestly, but if there was sensitive information we would rather not share publicly, we could indicated a “yes” answer, then state that we’d rather discuss details privately with the judge and attorneys. Sounds fair, right?
Well, I was horrified by the number of individuals who openly answered questions about extremely personal information almost gleefully. What the heck??!! Your dad is locked up and awaiting trial for ten counts of exploitation of a minor? Uh, I’d probably want to discuss that privately, thank you very much. Oh, you were raped? Well, thanks for sharing!
Don’t get me wrong…I’m in no way suggesting these folks should be ashamed of things that happened to them, or that were perpetrated by friends or family. I’m all for owning your experiences and moving forward in a good way. But still, I found it really uncomfortable in such a public setting. If your goal is to get out of jury duty, please take the confidential disclosure option. In my humble opinion, anything else is just some weird exhibitionism. This was not a support group or therapy session. It was jury selection!
A man who defends himself has a fool for a client
The jury selection process I participated in today was for a criminal case. The defendant was an older man who had elected to defend himself. I suspect he was a doctor or other highly educated professional. He has been charged with a pretty nasty offense involving physical violence and law enforcement. Sounds messy!
During the entire questioning process, I was having this internal dialog. Yeah, I wanted to get out of service as much as anyone else in the room, but I kept hearing this little voice in my head say “I can be fair, unbiased, and impartial!” I was in full Girl Scout mode, answering questions directly and honestly. It was time to perform my civic duty, and I was stepping up to the plate, by golly! I was totally convinced I could be a great juror (ok, I was having fantasies of being elected foreman and being the one interviewed on 60 Minutes…), right up until we reached the part of the process where the judge allowed the attorneys to ask questions of individual jurors.
Keep in mind, the defendant was representing himself…
When it was his turn to interview jurors, he stood up and addressed a middle aged woman who was employed by a local law enforcement agency. In a harsh, abrasive, loud, and confrontational tone he barked, “Juror number 15, am I innocent or guilty?” She sat in stunned silence for a moment before he repeated his demand. This time the startled woman replied that she didn’t know. His angry response was a monologue about the fact that in a court of law, he was innocent until proven guilty and nobody had the right to presume otherwise. I guess he had a point, but it was not the time or place to be making that point. At that moment I made up my mind that there was no way I could now be fair and impartial. This guy was definitely guilty…of being a jerk with a big ol’ chip on his shoulder!
Fortunately I was not selected for service and was dismissed in the late afternoon. Whew!
And I didn’t even have to publicly confess any deep, dark family secrets.