Jury Duty

I had jury duty last Wednesday and Thursday. I was not selected for a jury, and I was both relieved and disappointed. I won’t say much about the trial other than that it was serious stuff. The initial jury pool was seventy people, jury selection took two days, and the trial was scheduled for four weeks.

During voir dire, one of the prosecutors related his own jury experience, years ago, telling us he felt like the attorneys were asking all the wrong questions. He then asked us if anyone in the jury pool felt that way, if we felt there was anything they should be asking but were not. I didn’t have anything to add at the time, but twice during the defense’s question, I thought about that.

The first defense question that bothered me was “Do you feel comfortable sitting in judgement of another person?” I understand the defense’s reason for asking the question, but it seemed wrong to me. I raised my juror card (lucky thirteen), and when called on, I told the defense attorney that it wasn’t our job to judge the defendant; it was our job to judge the facts in the case and the defendant’s actions. Other jurors seemed to appreciate my comment, though I suspect the defense did not.

The second question bothered me even more. It was something like “Do you feel, at the start of the trial, that the balance may be tilted slightly toward one side or the other. Specifically, toward the prosecution?” Once again, I understand the defense’s reason for asking, but it’s the wrong question, and even asking it does a disservice to the defendant. I was not called on, so I didn’t get a chance to answer in court, but this is what I would have said.

In a criminal trial, the balance is tilted entirely in favor of the defendant. It’s not our job as jurors to smile and politely accept the fiction that the defendant is innocent until proven guilty, and then forget all of that as soon the prosecution describes the awful things the defendant did in the opening statement. Nothing the prosecution says – not even the charges themselves – has any value unless it’s confirmed by the evidence presented in court. Our job as jurors is to examine the prosecution’s case with skepticism, and to weigh it not only against the defense’s case, but also against the presumption of innocence.

I suspect the prosecution would not have liked that answer any more than the defense liked my other answer.

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