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Dana Martin Writing

Jury Duty: Why only dumb people are jurors

If all the smart people keep avoiding jury duty, guess who's left to serve?

jury dutyI received my jury summons in the mail, and I have discovered that I may be the only person on the planet to react
excitedly.

“Guess what came in the mail?!” I asked my husband with the verve of someone who just learned she’d won the Publisher’s Clearinghouse Sweepstakes.

“What?”

“A jury summons! And my group number is low, so I’m totally gonna get called.”

He looked at me over the top of his sunglasses and shook his head. “You can’t serve. You have the perfect excuse: You own your own business and won’t get paid if you serve,” he said with a smile, certain he’d offered me a great ‘out.’

“Are you KIDDING? I want to serve! If all the smart people avoid jury duty, then what’s left are youngsters, whose biggest decisions are usually where to eat lunch, or non-thinkers just trying to get out of work for the day.”

Why do smart people I know avoid jury duty? (Shout-out to my mother) The way the system is designed now, most people serve only one day every couple of years, and then you’re done. If the trial is going to be longer than a week, the judge tells you up front and you can dismiss yourself if serving that long would be a hardship. What’s the big deal?
In honor of my impending jury service, I’m posting a blog entry I wrote in anger after the only time I was selected to be a juror. Please read it. If you’re one of my smart, thinking friends, please serve. If you’re too young to understand the term “reasonable doubt,” please tell the court you own your own business and serving would be a hardship on you. 🙂  (Edited to note: This article was originally posted in 2008)

**********

The judge tells us during voir dire (the questioning of perspective jurors) that if we don’t think we can judge a fellow human being, then we should be honest and say so. Nothing wrong with feeling discomfort judging another person, just let the court know. But no one on my Kern County Superior Court panel of 12 jurors raised a hand during this questioning, so I had no reason to believe that there was a mole among us.

It did, however, become obvious when during deliberations, this person refused to see ANY evidence as acceptable and would see no theory as reasonable. From what this juror said, it is my opinion that had the defendants surprised us all by standing in the courtroom and admitting their guilt to the crimes for which they were being tried, this juror would still harbor doubt.

This juror made it clear from the start of deliberations that nothing would change his decision, which clearly indicated that he was biased from the beginning — in other words, he chose willingly to leave common sense at home. The reason I know this is because this juror said the following: “I know (the defendants) are guilty, but I just don’t think the prosecutor proved his case.”

What??

The prosecutor in this case could have presented more evidence only if the weapon suddenly formed its own mouth to speak. The judge, habitually as pleasant as a bird with a worm, was noticeably perturbed when the jury could not reach a verdict. From the look on his face, I got the impression he was almost too stunned to breathe, wondering how we couldn’t reach a verdict based on the preponderance of evidence against the defendants.

However, it takes all 12 jurors to convict, and that’s a nice safeguard and a benefit of living in this free country. It is curious to note, though, that in this case, when the votes on one of the counts were split, only the jurors with birth dates in the late 1980s could not vote to convict. And it wasn’t as if we were deciding on a crime as complicated or as horrifying as in the O.J. Simpson trial. By comparison, these defendants were angels.

To me, the inability to distinguish reasonable doubt from possible doubt signals a problem of greater import than can be explained by a mere generation gap.

There will always be possible doubt — but, is it reasonable?

Perhaps the young jurors were not equipped to handle the pressure involved in making such a big decision, so they handled it the only way they were comfortable: NOT GUILTY! They created far-fetched scenarios that “could have happened” instead of paying attention to the witness testimony and the evidence found at the scene. The defense attorneys knew their clients were guilty but they wanted to win (of course, it’s their job), and they knew exactly what to say to these particular jurors to place doubt where it didn’t belong. In truth, they talked circles around these jurors, who didn’t have enough life experience to ward off the manipulative attack. In other words, the youngsters never suspected they were being worked… and probably still don’t realize it.

I suspect that a few years will pass, or maybe it won’t take that long, and those few jurors will grow a little, learn a little, and perhaps even read the names of the defendants in the newspaper one day and discover that our jury probably made a mistake in letting them get by with a mistrial.

Or, maybe I’m wrong … maybe these outstanding defendants will stop leading lives of crime and become law abiding citizens.

Don’t hold your breath.


    Comments

  • Jay


    For many years it has been my observation that Kern County will never have a business owner or anyone with a large investment in the economy, as a juror. They always have an excuse or reason for not serving. We have been involved in a major civil case for over 10 years. After 2 trials, both panels were clueless as to the risks and liabilities that it takes to operate a business. It was all way over their heads. Of course our opponent's side was very good at accelerating the confusion.

  • Bekah


    I got my jury summons, too!! LOL

  • Dana Martin


    Interesting, Jay. I hope you have some luck with the next panel, but don't hold your breath. I have an addendum to my blog entry:

    I was just summoned again and was chosen (again) for the initial panel of 14 who get questioned first. I lasted until the prosecutor got to dismiss his first few jurors; he chose all of us who had ever been a part of a hung jury.

    From now on, it appears that I'll never have the opportunity to serve on a jury again. Next time I'm summoned, I'll don my scarlet letter "H" and they'll know which gal to dismiss first.

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