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The hard bit of being a juror
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jducoeur
The Casey Anthony thing dredges up a day that still stands as a favorite of mine. Many of you have heard this story, but for those who haven't, it's worth recounting, and I don't think I've told it on LJ before.

The only time I've actually served on a jury was the first time I was called; I was probably about 23 at the time. The case was in Lowell, IIRC -- I was selected, and then randomly assigned as the foreman. It was fascinating getting to see the system from deep inside.

The case was drunk-driving. As the prosecution put it, this kid (about 19, IIRC -- legal at the time) was driving his red Camaro too fast through Lowell late at night, and got pulled over. The cops smelled alcohol. When they took him out of the car and cuffed him, he was "belligerent" and kept demanding (oddly) to see a doctor. When entering the police station, he was staggering. It was a clear open-and-shut drunk-driving case.

And then the defense got to work -- and it was *fascinating* to watch them adding the details that the prosecution conveniently omitted. For instance, that there had been a police report 10 minutes earlier of a robbery, that had an (as it turned out, unrelated) red Camaro as the getaway car. That the police had torn the kid out of the car and slammed him down on the hood, splitting his lip open. That his friend in the passenger seat was, self-admittedly, completely soused. That the police station is down a substantial flight of stairs, and that he was forced to walk down them, cuffed and bleeding, and not allowed to use the handrails.

The prosecution clammed up, and didn't say a word to deny any of it.

The really fascinating -- and not a little distressing -- part was the jury room. Despite all of this, 10 of the 12 jurors wanted to hang the kid, because he *looked* guilty. He even had admitted that he'd had one beer -- surely, he was just lying, and was actually driving drunk?

It came down to two of us -- me, by far the youngest person on the jury, and the oldest one, a guy who looked to be in his mid-60s -- repeating over and over again, "No Evidence". Because, really, there wasn't any. The prosecution had done a fine job of presenting a circumstantial case, but had presented absolutely zero evidence that the kid was driving drunk. Indeed, the defense's largely implicit argument was damned near airtight: that the police had *thought* they were catching a thief, roughed him up, dragged him in, realized much too late that they had arrested the wrong person, and were pressing drunk-driving charges solely for the purpose of avoiding a false arrest case. The fact that they *hadn't* tried to do a breathalyzer, nor even made him walk a line, indicated strongly that this arrest had nothing whatsoever to do with drunk driving.

So after about an hour of haranguing, the older fellow and I won the argument, as the rest of the jury admitted that there wasn't any there there. We acquitted the kid efficiently, and the whole thing was over in about four hours all told.

And y'know, the hell of it is that I still suspect he probably *was* driving drunk -- the circumstantial evidence wasn't trivial. But it was way, way below the standard of "beyond a reasonable doubt", and the verdict *had* to be an acquittal: not only was there doubt, it was screamingly clear that he'd been railroaded in order to cover up a police error. The sense that this is the way it is supposed to work was very strong, and I developed a deep appreciation for why things work the way they do. Presumption of innocence really does matter.

So hearing one of the jurors on Nightline last night, repeating that point over and over again -- that the prosecution just plain didn't present any solid evidence -- has quite a ring of familiarity to me. It's good to see that the system still works, even in this media-soaked age...
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The one trial I served on was interesting in similar ways, though from the opposite side. The defense basically said "She said this is what happened" though her deposition testimony was different from what she said in trial and the prosecution presented quite a bit of evidence to prove she was lying. We had 2 people who were holding out for giving her money (civil trial) because they felt sorry for her, not because of any evidence.

The jury I was on in MN had to acquit also due to utter lack of evidence. It was a case of a father allegedly sexually abusing his junior high age daughter.

My gut feeling says that we did the right thing. I don't think he was actually guilty. A nasty divorce was involved. The fact that there's no way of ever knowing for certain, however, makes me ill.

We all went out and drank heavily afterward. I hope I'm never on another jury again.

And yes, I do know now that it was entirely inappropriate for me to be on that jury with my history, but this was over a decade ago and I was years away from acknowledging those things about my past.

I was on a jury for Lewd-n-Lascivious with a Minor.

We thought the accused did something, but considering some defense information that the prosecution did not deny, we though the girls family ran with it.

Basically they were 2+ months behind in the rent and by the time of the trial, had been in the house for 14 months rent free...

One of the problems in our media age is that everyone thinks he or she is immune to the herd-beast mentality, that he or she is able to watch the dozens of news outlets repeating each other but remain detached from it all. People develop opinions without even consciously realizing how they arrive at these conclusions, then have them affirmed by everyone else around them.

My one jury experience

Was a civil trial where one party admitted liability and the only question in the case was damages.

We were a group of six white men with legal backgrounds (oddly, no challenges). The plaintiff was a black woman. The defendant a white man who had struck her with a car. The matter was a back injury.

We worked the award by taking the medical bills, the plaintiff's evidence with regard to likelihood of further treatment, multiplied over the stipulated expected life span, with a modest addition for pain and suffering and our best projection on lost wages based on the evidence. It was as mathematical as we could make it. The one place where we weighed and rejected evidence was the defendant's claim that he should not have had to pay for both physical therapy and a chiropractor, despite the fact that the plaintiff's doctor had recommended both. We found the implication that plaintiff was somehow attempting to profit from the accident implausible. The only argument we had was over how to weight the variables (none of us being expert and needing to rely on the testimony of conflicting experts).

When we announced the verdict, everyone was stunned. We had apparently returned an award more than 5 times what the average jury returns in such a situation. And jury experts were convinced that every factor in jury selection would have weighed in favor of defendant.

But we were serious legal people who understood about evidence and honestly sought to apply the law. It happens sometime.

The only time I've been on a jury, it really was an open-and-shut case: a purse-snatcher who was caught red-handed less then a block away. The only reason we were there at all is because the idiot's initial plea was not guilty. After the first day (mostly witness testimony), we spent the second morning in the holding room while the defendant changed his plea to guilty, then we were sent home. The only remotely interesting thing about the case was seeing how court translators worked--the victim and her husband were recent Ukrainian immigrants who had been on their way home from an ESL class.

Not for the first time do I wonder whether the media saturation of this trial was on purpose so that people would become more and more dis-satisfied with the current system that we have.

I deliberately did not follow this trial because I had learned my lesson with the *first* OJ Simpson trial, but had picked up enough of this one to glean this: Whether the evidence is enough to convict, or not enough so that there is an acquittal of a murder charge, don't act like life is easy-breezy when your child has gone missing.

With the first OJ trial, there was certainly enough blood evidence, but it was mis-handled by the police, the prosecution was slow on the uptake, and of course there was celebrity and the race card thrown in and used for all they were worth by the defense. In the Anthony case, there was little hard evidence, but the media created the circus atmosphere all the same so that outrage of the acquittal of a murder charge was guaranteed.

"Not guilty" is not the same as "innocent." Yet "innocent until proven guilty" is the basis for the use of our jury system, as opposed to the use of the Napoleonic code, where three judges ask the questions in a trial and the burden is to prove innocence rather than guilt.

Edited at 2011-07-08 12:55 pm (UTC)

A quick jury story (one of many, I think):

I've been asked three times to report for jury duty. Two were civil cases, and I was thanked for my trouble and sent home because I worked for Matthew Bender at the time. The third was a criminal case involving a young man who was trying to look like Eminem. The lot of us were entering a courtroom to be put through the voir dire. When said young man saw us all, his eyes grew wide (Holy @^*%! This is real!), he tugged fast and hard at his attorney's jacket, and said attorney leaned down to listen to him. The defense asked to approach the judge, the judged asked both attorneys to him, and, after a short discussion, the judged turned to us and said we could all go home. A plea agreement had been reached. I wonder how many petty crimes are as quickly and efficiently handled, and whether both sides were counting on the effect our entering the courtroom would have on what was probably a first offense, or at least a first-time-caught offense.

Edited at 2011-07-09 05:16 am (UTC)

Re: A quick jury story (one of many, I think):

Both times I've been called in for a jury I've been sent home before noon with a "Thank you for showing up, your presence in the pool scared all our cases into plea bargains." (One of the times that was pretty much exactly what they said; the other time it was merely implied.)

Re: A quick jury story (one of many, I think):

Now I'm wondering whether you look like a cop or someone's grouchy grandparent. Well, at least you get to go home quickly.

Edited at 2011-07-10 10:09 pm (UTC)

Re: A quick jury story (one of many, I think):

Mostly it was that we collectively looked like a jury. Nobody was even called in to be potentially seated.

I've changed my radio listening habits because of this.

I was on my way to work, and the radio call-ins were from women who said they'd likely attempt to kill Ms. Anthony should they ever see her. The DJs said nothing against this. Then, on the way home, one of the DJs mentioned his own tweet about it was that she got away with murder.

None of these people spent the six to eight hours a day for a month and a half listening to testimony and evidence. They only had soundbites from other media outlets.

And every one of them is protected by "innocent until proven guilty", but apparently think it doesn't apply when they have poorly-founded opinions that disagree with the verdict. I found the station's people to be unprofessional, and the station to be bordering on unethical for how they treated the case. So, I've stopped listening.

It was insipid pop anyway, so no great loss.

Radios can play things other than NPR? hm.

I guess that is why I never heard of this case until LJ exploded.

It's a great lesson on why we should teach more civics classes in schools.

The 3 times I have been called to jury duty, they heard the word psychologist after my name and sent me home.

I am finding this thread more interesting then the trial coverage by a lot.

Thanks for sharing that interesting story.

The one time [1] I was on a jury I was an alternate, so I didn't get to participate in deliberation. That frustrated me, because I heard the chatter in the room during the trial; our defendant also "looked guilty", which I'm certain was code for "is black". I, the youngest person in the room at something under 25, was perfectly willing to challenge that during deliberations, but I didn't get to. (We had been instructed not to discuss the case; others violated that. So rather than getting into it full-on and making it worse, I just kept asking leading questions about what a guilty look looks like and stuff like that.)

[1] Seated twice, but case #2 (civil) was settled between when they seated us and sent us to lunch and when we got back.


I've been called to jury duty several times (and have testified as a witness in a criminal case once -- a story for another time). But I only served on a case once. And, like you, I was (apparently randomly) picked by the judge to be the foreman. Oh joy.

It was a civil case between two guys, one young -- 30's, I'd guess -- and an older gent -- 60's? -- who got into a brawl at a local [ethnic] club, one of the local joints where folks drink beer and watch soccer. Turns out there was bad blood between them, involving a real-estate dispute. I recall a thermonuclear moment when one of the lawyers mentioned "the other" (or maybe "the first") trial. The judge went immediately ballistic, called the lawyers to the bench, muted the mike, and visibly fumed before calling a recess. We were instructed to ignore all that. Oh, yeah, sure we did. I mean, no, we didn't discuss it. But I'm sure we all thought about it. I assume that that case was a criminal case, probably Assault & Battery.

But...whatever. Our verdict still makes me feel a little icky, because it at least smacks of "jury nullification". I mean, these guys did assault and batter each other. Crime did happen. The key was "each other", I guess. It was a quick deliberation. My main job was to get the jurors to deliberate at all, and ultimately we decided that both guys were hot-headed jackasses who were wasting our time, and that led to a finding for the defendant.

The closest I ever got to being in a jury was that I was actually seated (with a group of other people) to begin deliberations on a drunk driving case. As always, I was torn between being interested in the process, and JUST not having TIME for this! (deadlines at work, etc. etc.)

Then during the review process, the lawyer for the defense looked us over, and objected to me and another professional-looking woman of about my age (i.e., not 20). I happened to be walking to the parking lot with her. NEITHER of us had time to be on the jury, but now that we were tossed out, we were indignant. "What's wrong with US?"

The best I could come up with was, there's probably precedent that professional women are "notoriously" against young men driving drunk. I guess. (The other lady seemed to think this could be the reason we were tossed.) And I mean, I DO disapprove highly of driving drunk - *anybody* driving drunk - but I was going to try my best to be impartial and listen to the evidence and judge based on that.

But we got to go back to work instead.

I suspect, if I ever get called to jury duty, they'll hear "studying mediation" and immediately toss me off. (Or once I get to law school, "studying law.")

But I'm wondering what you think of the proposed "Caylee's Law"? To me it looks a lot like "if this situation comes up again it doesn't matter if there isn't enough evidence to convict her of this; we'll convict her of SOMETHING!"

It does, yes. Not *quite* screamingly unconstitutional on the face of it, but the intent does seem to fly in the face of the way things are supposed to work...

And here is a rather nicely-stated set of arguments about why the proposal is a bad idea -- unconstitutional, unnecessary and just plain ineffective...

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