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Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Jury Process (and all its flaws)

I had little time to celebrate and enjoy my daughter's first day of 4th grade today.  Bad enough I have a wife laid up with a leg injury from (don't laugh) a Labor Day wiffle ball injury.  Today I was summoned for jury duty.  This is the 3rd time in the past 8 years I have been called and the timing could not have been worse.

Whatever, I did my part and spent the day in the antiquated, under-out-leted jury room.  I guess I really don't have a problem with all of that.  In fact, I would kind of like to be part of the process if that meant I could actively participate in the system.  The way things are how can anyone who works for a living sit on a jury?

As I had been through it before I ignored the cheesy instruction video and caught up on the days events via Ipad until around 10am.  We had 4 judges sitting today and quickly we were told only 3 were polling.  "Ok, let's see how it proceeds" I said to myself.  I knew I was in for the long haul.  Totally uncool I could not pick up the little one from her first day.  Again, I can live with that.

Around noon about half the group was summoned to a courtroom.  I was spared.

I took a stroll outside for a fabulous Blimpie lunch and coffee.  I was well prepared for the afternoon session.  Around 2pm my name was called.  Corralled like sheep we followed the clerk to a second floor  courtroom.  When I noticed 3 sheriffs in the room I got the feeling this was a bit different than most cases.  I soon found out we were dealing with a criminal case.  And when the judge announced the plantiff's name it hit home.  There are very few homicides in my county.  There are even fewer that take place in church rectories.  This was going to be interesting.

The kind judge went over with meticulous detail how long this case might last.  He intimated weeks, if not months might be required.  It was going to be our responsibility to detail how this would be a hardship should we be picked.  It was pretty clear for me (and for my peers too as they were excused en masse.)  "All due respect your honor, I work in NYC for a very small firm.  I am 100% commission and was at a significant disadvantage losing today.  To lose more days would be catastrophic."

I was excused immediately.  And that might be too bad.  Granted, I know a great deal about the case.  However, I think I can be impartial and, looking around that room, an asset to the defense as much as the prosecution.  I am educated.  I tend to hate all things equally.  And boy would this have been great blog and/or book material??  Truthfully, what incentive does someone like me have to miss 2 months of work (@ $45 a day) to sit through this.  Who then will this defendant have on his jury?  I say this because everyone who worked or wanted to work or was able to work was excused without prejudice.

Retirees or unemployed had nothing to lose so a few of them made the cut.  This is all before the questionnaire and vetting process that is to happen tomorrow.  I am certain 99% of these folks will be excused due to their prejudices and/or other sociological flaws.  When the dust settles the defendant will have 12 folks who just happen to have time on their hands this fall.

Seems like a good way to decide a man's fate.  I am told this is the best system in the civilized world.  That either means every other country has never tried or could care less.

I suppose the problem lies squarely with the process itself.  Does a trial really need to last months?  Should a jury be expected to sit that long?  Perhaps for a case of this magnitude a judge is better equipped to handle these matters?  We see how long the Casey Anthony jurors deliberated after months sitting?  They had book deals to get to.  This is a nation lacking in attention span.  If I turn the tv during the middle of a Law & Order I forget I was watching it after 2 minutes.  And I still think I am one of the bright ones.  Ugh.

I think we need to tear this s^&* up and start over.  Pay the jurors their salary for the time they sit.  Make them accountable for their actions and demand they take the position seriously.  In fact, make it a true jury of your peers.  If a janitor commits a crime against a priest bring in 6 janitors and 6 priests to decide the fate.  Teachers judge on teachers.  Doctors and Patients decide slip and fall cases.  Politicians' fate will be determined by union leaders and prostitutes.

This way does not seem to be working.  I had a tremendous opportunity to learn and experience the process today.  But, like most everything in life, I cannot afford it.  And I am sure I am not alone.

For the defendant that translates to a life sentence (at best.)

Side Note:

I literally spoke to no one the entire time I was there.  Other folks there became fast friends and engaged in conversation the entire day.  I could not have been more aloof and almost belligerent.  What the hell is wrong with me?  On one hand I am fascinated and enthralled by the process.  On the other I am appalled and repulsed by everyone in that room.  Either the noise reduction headphones are a miracle invention sure to enhance my inner creativity or the last sign of a total mental breakdown that sends me off the grid entirely.

Time will tell.

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