Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Doing my duty

Tomorrow I go in for jury duty.  I haven't done this before, and it is exciting.

I know, I know, it is most likely to be days of boredom sitting in a room with nothing to do, eventually to be told to go home.  Rarely does a prospective juror actually get to trial, and ever rarer yet is a trial that is exciting the ways the ones on TV are.

And yet, I am excited.

I want to understand the system.  I am deeply curious about how jurors are selected, what sorts of questions the lawyers and judge will ask, and what they will tell us.  The things they choose to tell us can be used to figure out what people generally think about the process and how the people running it cope with common misconceptions.

Clearly the people running the jury selection system realize that most people's exposure to this is TV courtroom dramas so they must have to constantly cope with odd ideas about what will occur.

One thing a discussion with a friend brought up was how much I will respect the law when and if I am asked to convict someone of a crime that is not actually immoral.

For example, if I was on a jury where a person was being tried for marijuana possession, could I possibly condemn them to prison for a victimless crime?  It is even harder when we consider that marijuana is soon to be legalized, and I know a *ton* of people that use it.  I can't justify destroying their lives to punish such a 'crime', so how could I justify doing that to a stranger?

I don't think I could.  I want the legal system to be consistent, but if I was asked to convict a sex worker or marijuana user or some other person who should never have been charged in the first place I don't think I could return a guilty verdict.  It simply isn't right.

That attitude might disqualify me from being a juror in the first place.  They don't want people who take writing laws into their own hands - they want people to interpret facts and return a verdict.

(Or they want people who will return a guilty verdict as fast as possible because that is convenient for the system, depending on how cynical you feel.)

Anyway, tomorrow I will go sit in a room for hours on end for no reason.  Maybe it will get more exciting than that, and I hope it does, but the odds are against me.  Still, I go to do my duty, and it is one I take seriously, so I don't mind.


  1. I find it endearing that you're so eager to serve your jury duty. I'm envious!

  2. I have these fantasies about being on a jury and utterly refusing to convict when everyone else is saying guilty. I think about all those people sent to prison on the evidence of Charles Smith, and how I'd rail against the surety of forensic evidence using Bayesian logic and whatnot.

    But the reality is that most people on criminal trial aren't exactly masterminds. I remember the time a customer at a store said to me, "They charged me with sexual assault just because I followed her to her car and slapped her ass!" I think he was more representative of the typical person standing trial than the people you see on court shows, and that often it would be painfully easy to say "guilty".