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I, The Jury, Part I: Overqualified!

On Saturday, we asked readers who have served on juries, and who think their experience might be instructive, to share their stories. We got quite a lot of good responses. And many of those responses are too long to really fit in the context of the Saturday reader question of the week.

So, we have read through the responses, selected a bunch of them, and organized them in a manner that we think will highlight some useful things about the process. Up today, some letters that remind us that the courts don't like jurors who know too much:

D.B. in Winston-Salem, NC, writes: I was called to jury duty twice.

During the questioning, I was asked about advanced degrees. I have a Ph.D. in mathematics.

I was rejected.

J.P. in Lancaster, PA, writes: I was called to serve on a jury in Boston when I was on the faculty of a college there. The case dealt with a person on trial for drunk driving, and the defendant's attorney had me dismissed from the jury. Based on what I was told at the time, I was dismissed from the jury because I had earned a Ph.D. and/or because my advanced degree was in biology. The implication was that the defense did not want someone on the jury who had a demonstrated ability to think analytically and/or someone on the jury who might understand the effect of alcohol on a person's physiology or mental faculties. That was the only time in my 72 years that I have been called to perform that particular public service. I wish I had actually had the full experience so that I could give you a better answer.

A.G. in Bensalem, PA, writes: This year was the first time I received a summons to serve on a jury. I answered the questions honestly, but one I think disqualified me. I don't read books and articles as much as I should. I answered that I hadn't read much since I read Supreme Court opinions last June. I can name all nine justices by seniority, which is easy because I had all the presidents down by fifth grade. In 1987, I served as a graduate teaching assistant in a prelaw course, and I wanted to keep up with the Supreme Court. I usually try to abstract the arguments before I spout an opinion online.

D.H. in Eugene, OR, writes: Shortly after graduating from law school, I was selected to be on a grand jury. It was an unpleasant experience because the prosecutors were clearly not interested in somebody who was unwilling to rubber stamp their indictments. To be clear, I was not anti-police or anti-prosecutor. I just expected a legit grand jury process. But just asking for a copy of the statute book or asking questions about the elements of the crime got me dirty looks. They really did not like when I pushed back on their efforts to charge a more serious crime to give the prosecutors negotiating leverage for plea deals. Rumors of trouble on the grand jury got back to my wife, who was serving as a judicial clerk in the same courthouse. I ended up leaving the grand jury early.

J.S. in Durham, NC, writes: I have never been on a jury. However, the one time that I was in a jury pool and got to the point of being questioned by the attorneys, as soon as they found out that I was a clinical social worker, they excused me from the jury pool.

What I assumed this meant is that, since clinical social workers or therapists help people reframe issues in their lives, attorneys do not want people who know how to think of things from a different perspective. Not really a surprise. But I found it interesting nonetheless.

Up tomorrow will be some reader thoughts on voir dire. We still have thoughts on abortion and on foreign leaders to run, but the jury content is more timely, so we'll hold the other material a bit. (Z)

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