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I, The Jury, Part X: In the Jury Room, Continued

Whenever we do a Trump legal update, we're inclined to run some more jury stories. Here is another set covering readers' experiences in the jury room:

L.H. in Chicago, IL, writes: I was selected for a jury in a criminal case in Cook County a few years back. I actually ended up being the foreman of that jury, which found the defendant guilty of attempted murder.

Two things of relevance to your question: (1) One prospective juror pretty blatantly disqualified herself when the judge asked her (he asked everybody this question) whether she could treat the testimony of a policeman with no more and no less credibility as the testimony of any other witness. Most of us answered that yes, we could, but she made a point of insisting that she was biased toward believing a cop. The judge had to disqualify her, but he did it with a strong condemnation, berating her for several embarrassing minutes about her lack of character. I'm sure that was aimed at letting the rest of us get the message, "Don't think every one of you can get out of jury duty by making the same argument!" and (2) In the deliberation room itself after the trial, we were amazed (in a bad way) to learn that (unlike television), there was no transcript of the testimony available for refreshing our memories. If someone didn't take notes at the time and we couldn't remember exactly what a witness said, we just had to muddle through with the best of our recollection.

M.S.A. in Richmond, CA, writes: As a recently retired attorney with more than 45 years of experience, including a number of years as an Assistant U.S. Attorney during which time I tried both civil and criminal cases, I was surprised when I wasn't dismissed during the lengthy (1½ days) voir dire process in a criminal case where the trial was estimated to take 3 days. I declined the invitation of my fellow jurors to serve as the foreperson because I didn't want to unduly influence the outcome. The charges were domestic violence, kidnapping and violation of a court order. We hung on the two felony counts but convicted the defendant of violating the court order. Because of my legal experience, I already had doubts about how well the jury system works to resolve issues of fact. After sitting on that jury, my concerns have become stronger. Some of the jurors ignored completely the evidence that was inconsistent with their conclusions. When that evidence was pointed out to them by other jurors, they said it didn't make a difference.

Unfortunately, because the vast majority of judges in the U.S. are either political appointees or are elected, I also have serious concerns about their ability or willingness to be impartial , so I can't say that allowing judges to decide issues of fact necessarily works any better than the jury system.

N.F. in Brussels, Belgium (but a U.S. Citizen formerly residing in Philadelphia, PA), writes: After seeing some of the Ph.D. jury rejection stories, I must chime in.

I served on a jury in Philadelphia while working on my Ph.D. in infectious disease. During selection, the judge asked me about my occupation and I think this was actually a major factor in why I was selected—they wanted someone who thinks analytically and impartially.

It was a murder trial—a teenage girl bystander had been killed in gang crossfire. The suspect and witnesses were the kinds of people I had never seen in real life, from a neighborhood I never dared venture to. The prosecutor was telegenic and pulled on the jury's heart strings, straight out of an episode of Law and Order.

In my heart, I felt the suspect was guilty. But as the skeptical scientist, I was hesitant to convict—there were too many holes in the evidence for me. I also strictly followed the rules of not researching the case or the suspect after hours. As a result, I steered the jury to a lesser conviction (we got to choose between different degrees of murder).

That lesser conviction is one of my biggest regrets to this day. After we delivered our verdict, we were present in the room while the judge ruled on an additional charge of illegal firearms possession (the gun was inadmissible evidence in the main case). Then I looked up the suspect online that evening and learned about other murders and gang activity. And I looked up the sentencing guidelines for our lesser-degree murder conviction and saw the guy would probably be out on parole after 7 years.

This guy was guilty of the more severe charge, but I let my Ph.D.-level skepticism and over-analysis get in the way. It made me realize that this is why it's a "jury of your peers" and "beyond a reasonable doubt." My lesson is that a jury, by design, must use gut instinct and emotion in their decision.

P.G. in Berkeley, CA, writes: I was on a jury in San Francisco about 50 years ago. This was a pretty minor case, but the defendant wanted a jury trial for his (or his attorney's) own reasons. After testimony from the police and cross examination, we were sent to the jury room. The evidence was overwhelming and the only question was whether we should return a verdict immediately or wait until we got our free lunch—which is what we decided. We then officially polled ourselves and found that one woman who had been silent up until then, was voting not guilty. We tried to calmly discuss this based on the evidence and common sense. She would not budge. Her reason was that "the police always lie and I would never vote to convict based on police testimony." Finally we sent word to the judge and the foreman explained our dilemma to the judge. He dismissed us. I am not sure if the woman was in some way punished for violating her juror's oath but the defendant was not guilty by reason of a hung jury. I think we can all see the potential relevance of this to the current situation.

R.M. in Williamstown, WV, writes: I have served on several military juries (courts martial) and three juries as a civilian. One of those sort of fits the essence of your questions about jury service.

The crimes charged were driving under the influence, and resisting arrest. The defendant was a young woman (about 25 years old), who had managed to take out an Interstate exit sign and crash into another car in the process. She was taken into custody, and tested at twice the legal blood alcohol limit. She had also been combative with the arresting officer. There was a fairly long procedure of describing the activities of the defendant on the day of the crash, and another fairly long bit of testimony concerning calibration of the blood alcohol test equipment being used. The trial took 2 days once jurors were selected and testimony was begun.

One of the facts that came to light during the trial, which had no bearing on the trial itself, was that the young woman was a single mother—a fact that she mentioned often during her own testimony.

However, the facts in the case were pretty cut and dried, so I assumed that jury deliberation would not take long. Once a foreman had been selected for the jury, he suggested that, before we began discussions, we take a preliminary vote to determine how much disagreement there might be among the jurors. We did so, and that initial vote was 11 guilty, 1 not guilty. The juror voting not guilty was asked to explain why she had voted as she had. Her explanation was that the young woman was a single mother, and that being found guilty would impose an unreasonable burden on her ability to care for her child. We spent several hours trying to convince her that this was not a reason to find her not guilty, since she clearly WAS guilty. But the woman would not budge. "There is no way I will vote to convict a single mother in her circumstances" was her oft-repeated comment. We even reached a point were three of the jurors suggested that we just give up, vote with her, and find the defendant not guilty so we could all go home. But the rest of us would not agree to that. We told the judge we were deadlocked. He told us (twice) to keep trying. The third time, he reluctantly declared a mistrial.

Whether or not the young woman was tried again, I don't know. But I can see where a dyed-in-the-wool Trump lover could end up on his jury, effectively creating not an acquittal, but a mistrial which would result in considerable delay while a new jury was impaneled, and a new trial conducted.

A.B. in Wendell, NC, writes: I have been called a total of six times in my life. The first three times, I no longer lived in the county that called me. The fourth time, I got picked. The fifth time, I was excused, and the sixth, I only had to phone in, and never even got to the courthouse. The time I was excused was during voir dire, and I knew that the case involved an adult taking sexual liberties with a minor. I asked to approach the bench and did so, along with both attorneys. I begged off the case, saying that, because of my own personal experiences in this area, there was no way I felt I could be impartial.

The time I actually served on a jury, I was the lone holdout in the room. Five minutes after we went back, everyone but me was ready to hang the guy. And they got mad at me, asking if I was "some kind of bleeding-heart liberal that was gonna keep them there all day." I told them I had a reasonable doubt that I felt could possibly be cleared up. I then pointed out that the county had provided us a nice lunch, so maybe we could kick the thing around a bit while we ate. That calmed the lynch mob down, and then they asked me about my reasonable doubt. I told them I was not sure the ambient light had been sufficient for a positive ID, and asked the bailiff to fetch me a copy of the Old Farmer's Almanac. I wanted to know what time the sun rose that day, so I could decide if there had been sufficient ambient light. We finished our lunch, I decided the light would have been sufficient, and I voted to convict, too. My tale is to let you all know that jury holdouts are often not treated well in the jury room. In my experience, most jurors are eager to get home and do not truly give a damn if the defendant is guilty or not... they just want to go home.

I came away from that experience very disillusioned with our system of justice, and decided then and there that if I ever was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and found myself in the dock, I would waive my "right" to a jury trial, and request a bench trial, and hope for a fair judge.

Of course, in my case, seeing as I am a transgender woman, I know for a FACT I would not get a jury of MY PEERS. More likely, I'd get twelve folks in a hurry, and few with maybe a cross to bear and who would see it as an opportunity to punish me for being trans. This is how trans people like me HAVE to think. And there is no way in hell I would serve on a Trump jury, because there is absolutely NO CHANCE I could be impartial.

We'll have more soon. It just occurred to us that Donald Trump is months and months away from facing a jury, so we don't necessarily need to get these in quickly. That will free us to catch up on some other things. (Z)

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