Jury Duty

BlindJustThe one thing I learned on the first day of jury duty is that people are idiots. This is not exactly a new revelation, but it is yet another reason to avoid the criminal justice system at all costs. You do not want to place your fate in the hands of these people.

And it’s not just the clodheads who can’t follow simple instruction. Or the people so self-absorbed that they have lost all ability to listen. Though you’ll find both strains in full-force throughout the potential jury pool.

What really galls me are the scum who are so selfish that they think jury duty is, or at least should be, all about them: their needs, their desires, their schedule. No, it’s about the person on trial. It’s about the victims. It’s about justice. For christ’s sake, you filthy shithearts, have a little compassion for once in your life!

Serve Someone Besides Yourself
I’m happy to serve as a juror. Sure, it’s inconvenient. But, like I said, it’s not about me. It’s my duty to my fellow citizens, to my community, to my government, and to our way of life.

Unfortunately not everyone feels that way, as I have noted above. They bitch and whine like high school drama queens.

But if they had an ounce of intelligence in their little pea brains, they’d realize that it’s actually quite easy to avoid being selected as a juror. All you have to do is present yourself as an unquestionably biased person. And that shouldn’t be such a challenge for anyone willing to take such a selfish, inconsiderate approach.

Among the Select
Not only do I always show up when called for jury duty, but I also typically end up on an actual jury. It seems I’ve never met a voir dire I didn’t like. Once I’m in a courtroom, once I’ve been called up to that jury box to be vetted, I always get selected to serve on the jury. And this time around was no exception.

Maybe I’m just inherently trustworthy. Or glaringly open-minded. And I take great pride in that. Just as I take great pride in serving as a juror.

For most of us, serving as a juror is one of the most important jobs we’ll ever do. Someone’s life is at stake. And so is justice.

As if that weren’t reason enough to serve as a juror, someday you, or someone you care about, may need the services of a fair, intelligent, and engaged jury. If you aren’t willing to help deliver justice for others, how can you expect it for yourself?

Besides, jury duty here in New York City is so much better than it used to be. It used to be a mandatory two weeks, whether or not you were selected for a trial, and that was served on wooden benches every two years. These days, if you’re not selected for a trial, it’s only two days in a padded chair with free Wi-Fi and then you’re done for another six years.

Trials and Tribulations
I had a particularly tough trial, though. It was supposed to be two weeks but dragged on for a third week – and it certainly didn’t have to.

In fairness, it was a complex case with one defendant, multiple charges, and not a lot of physical evidence. To make matters worse, the defense attorney was excruciatingly annoying, stooping to desperate, shameless lengths in an effort to tarnish the prosecution’s witnesses.

Opinions vs. Facts
But the real problems didn’t arise until our jury started deliberations. The foreman, designated as such because he happened to be the first juror picked, began by telling everyone that we cannot put a lot of stock in the testimony of witnesses. In fact, declaring that he was an expert on the matter, he instructed everyone on the jury to categorically disregard the testimony of all witnesses because they are inherently unreliable.

This, of course, was a direct violation of the judge’s instructions. And without the court declaring him an expert witness on such matters, our foreman was only stating his personal opinion – and that of some sociology professor who teaches online night classes at a community college. The court had instructed us to consider all testimony as evidence and weigh its credibility based on the witness offering it and the manner in which they do so.

Sadly, it seems, some of my fellow jurors took our foreman’s advice, at least in part. They dismissed the testimony of three police officers, each of which contained some minor inconsistencies (which you’d expect with three people recalling events that happened five years ago). However, they treated the testimony of the defendant (which was riddled with inconsistencies, including outright lies from his grand jury testimony) as gospel.

Their excuse for this hypocrisy was that the defendant is innocent until proven guilty. Which is true, but his testimony should also be subjected to the same rigorous standards applied to the testimony of the three police officers.

They should have also taken into consideration that the defendant already had two convictions and therefore a lot more to lose than the police had to gain in this case. And the tale the defendant spun was a bizarre fantasy, which could only have been true if the NYPD had a secret mime division.

Judging People Instead of the Evidence
The inconsistencies certainly didn’t end there. One of our jurors said that he dismissed everything one of the detectives said simply because he didn’t like the guy. He also argued for the credibility of one defense witness despite her obvious emotional frailty (she was sobbing on the witness stand, recalling screaming she said she had heard through a closed metal door downstairs five years ago) while at the same time arguing that the defendant couldn’t possibly have been expected to hear any of those screams outside of his open door because of his fragile emotional state.

Yup, the hypocrisy deepened as the objectivity waned. It was bizarre to watch how people would selective apply arguments and rationalizations to defend their positions despite the obvious double standards.

Juror Misconduct
Eager for more impropriety, our foreman started the second day of deliberations by reading his definition of the law, which he claimed to have looked up online the night before, as opposed to the official definition offered by the court. Again, this was all in direct violation of the judge’s instructions and therefore could be considered as grounds for a mistrial.

Despite the judge clearly reminding us each time we left the courtroom that we are not supposed to look up anything regarding the case online (they also took away our consumer electronics during deliberations so we wouldn’t have Internet access), this online night school professor went ahead and did just that, claiming that he still wasn’t clear about how the judge had defined the charges. But we have no way of verifying the accuracy of what he shared, and the fact that he was our foreman may have added a degree of credibility to it for some of the jurors, as it likely had for his earlier insistence that we discount eyewitness testimony.

When I raised concerns about all of this, the sentiment of the majority of the jurors – or at least the most vocal of the group – was that I was being a stickler for the rules whereas they were “thinking outside the box.” This was compound by the fact that I was a holdout on two of the charges, believing the defendant to be guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

After hearing a clarification from the judge of how the court defines robbery, I withdrew my opposition to one of the charges (the lone opposition at that point). It seems you have to have intent to keep an object for it to be robbery. So if I take your car and drive it across town, with the intent of abandoning it there instead of keeping it, then I’m not guilty of robbery in New York. It seems strange, but I confirmed this with an attorney I know after the trial.

More Juror Impropriety
I and a few of the more reasonable people held out on the final charge, insisting that the defendant was (and he indeed was) guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. I knew it would end up a hung jury because there was one juror (another man who claimed to be a professor, though this one wasn’t teaching anywhere) who simply couldn’t understand the concept of reasonable doubt.

He kept insisting that we didn’t know anything for certain, that we couldn’t be 100-percent sure. Of course, despite that, he was still 100-percent certain of everything the defendant testified to. Once again, it wasn’t just a willful dismissal of the judge’s instructions, but it was also the selective application of those instructions in favor of the defendant.

And during our final effort to break the deadlock on this last charge, that of attempted assault, we asked if anyone had any new arguments to offer. This juror did indeed have a new argument, but it was one of dubious legality.

He said that I should consider the defendant’s future, and how – despite already having a felony and a misdemeanor conviction by the age of 23 – the defendant was trying to turn his life around. To clarify, I said “Are you asking me to ignore evidence as a favor to the defendant?” And, much to my surprise, he said, “Yes, absolutely” – as if that was a perfectly appropriate request.

Equally surprising is that several people around the table seemed to agree with that request, or at least not see anything wrong with it. I was stunned. I was even tempted to report it to the judge. But, frankly, I wasn’t sure if jury tampering – someone approaching a juror to ask them to ignore evidence as a favor to the defendant – applies when it’s being done by a fellow juror.

In hindsight, though, I probably should have raised the issue with the court, because maybe that juror was acting on behalf of a third party when he made the request. After all, we weren’t sure if a hung jury on one charge would result in a retrial but we knew for certain that finding him innocent of all charges would ensure that he walked free. And that certainly could serve as a motive for the juror who wanted us to ignore the evidence and do the defendant a favor.

It would also explain how a grown man, supposedly an educated one at that, could continually fail to grasp the concept of reasonable doubt. The judge repeatedly explained it – as did we, his fellow jurors. In fact, this one juror seemed to ignore all of the judge’s instructions as to our role as jurors. It was baffling, and yet bizarrely infectious for some.

A Fair Trial Requires Fair Jurors
Which brings us back to the first lesson of jury duty, which is to avoid the criminal justice system at all costs. Yes, you should serve when called. After all, if you believe in giving people a fair trial, then you need to be fair and answer the call – as well as play your part impartially.

But it’s that impartiality, or the lack thereof, that makes the system so dysfunctional. Despite the court’s efforts, not every juror selected listens with an open mind and follow’s the rules designed to provide both parties with a fair trial.