Judge a book by its jury

Judge a book by its jury

I’ve been on three juries in the past ten years.

That’s right…not just being called to jury duty, but actually serving on juries.

My most recent trial just finished today. That’s why I mentioned to a couple of you that I had an open-ended commitment that was taking up a lot of my time (and concentration). You don’t know how long they’ll go: I showed up for jury duty on this one on May 28th.

Being on a jury isn’t easy. In my case, my day job has good benefits, and I get my normal pay (that’s not true of everybody on every jury). It’s not about that for me.

On the previous trial (in 2010), my Significant Other said it was like I had PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). I had nightmares, and didn’t sleep well. It was a really bad case.

You listen to sometimes horrifying testimony. In that case, the perpetrator (there was a conviction) was also really glaring at us throughout the trial.

The hardest part about it is that you can’t talk to anybody about it. That’s not to say that talking to someone is more important than the work of the trial, but that’s a really big coping mechanism taken away from you. I’m used to talking to my SO about everything…so you have to picture being in this really stressful situation, and not being able to discuss it.

All three of my cases have involved serious, serious crimes…and the last two have had child victims.

I was surprised, though, when my adult child said, “You hate jury duty.”

I don’t.

I actually am trying to get on the jury.

Most people are trying to get excused…why do I want to serve?

I think it’s the most important thing someone in my position can do for the community…and I think I’m good at it.

Don’t get me wrong…lots of other people are good at it, too. Not everybody, though…and that includes people who actually serve.

I was part of a terrific jury this time. We had very different backgrounds, and even different approaches. However, we all took it very seriously, listened to each other, went over the evidence, asked the judge questions, and eventually, unanimously decided on all counts (we deliberated on multiple days).

I think a good jury knows that each of them have individual prejudices…and is able to decide based on the law as instructed. At its heart, a jury stands between the accused and the state (at least in the USA). A defendant comes into the trial “presumed innocent”…they don’t have to do anything at all. Hypothetically, the defense could choose to call no witnesses…they don’t need to present a case. The state has the “burden of proof”…if  you are on a jury and you believe that the person committed the crimes as charged, but the District Attorney (or other prosecuting attorney) didn’t prove it, you have to find the defendant not guilty (which should read “not proven guilty” in my opinion).

However, if you believe that the state did prove its case “beyond a reasonable doubt” (that’s the burden in criminal cases…and it’s not beyond all possible doubt, just reasonable doubt), then you must find the accused guilty. Regardless of what you think of the law or the punishment, that’s what your responsibility is.

I had a good illustration of “reasonable doubt” today. When I got up this morning, my work iPhone was on the couch. It was in a place where the dog puts things (yes, we let the dogs on the couch) quite often. Now, it is possible that someone snuck in the house and moved my iPhone (it was on a part of the couch where I don’t sit)…that is possible, but it wouldn’t really be reasonable in this case. It’s basically not reasonable if when someone presented the explanation, you would raise eyebrows, tilt your head, and say, “Dude” in a disbelieving manner. 😉

While the jury selection process is not very dramatic, and listening to all the testimony can be lengthy, the whole trial makes for a good basis for literature (and that includes non-fiction).

While I “decompress” a bit from my service, I thought I’d mention a few books where juries play an important part.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

by Lewis Carroll

While it certainly isn’t the most positive portrayal of a jury, I think it’s a way that a lot of people first encounter the concept in any meaningful way. Without spoiling much, Alice is a witness in a trial which has a lot of the structure of a real world trial, with evidence presented…but it all goes a bit wrong.

Twelve Angry Men (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)
by Reginald Rose

This one was originally a teleplay, and in 1957, became a great movie with Henry Fonda (there were many stars, but I thought Jack Klugman particularly stood out here). It really does show what the dynamics in a jury room can be like.

To Kill a Mockingbird (at AmazonSmile)
by Harper Lee

Finally coming out as a legal e-book on July 8th (it can be pre-ordered for $4.72 at time of writing), the jury here is represented as less a set of individuals and more as a symbol.

Those are three that spring to mind, although there are thousands of novels featuring juries (including some by John Grisham, of course.

If you are interested in non-fiction, there is actually a separate category for that in the USA Kindle store:

Kindle Store : Kindle eBooks : Professional & Technical : Law : Procedures & Litigation : Jury (at AmazonSmile)

There are actually people who are consultants on picking a jury, and certainly, lawyers are usually very careful about the choice. That’s why it can take so long. I’ve been told that one of the reasons I’ve been on three juries in ten years is that my first one reached a decision (actually, all three have). Having a hung jury isn’t good for either side, so that makes you desirable. I have a sibling who is quite math oriented (a physicist and an astronomer), and pointed out that there is so much chance before you even get to that point that my experience was still unusual. You have to be called in, then there is a lot of randomization before you get to  “voir dire”, where the attorneys question people looking for juries. I’m thinking that I tend to pass that part…but there probably isn’t a ten percent chance that I’ll get to it.

Do you have any favorite books with juries in them? Feel free to tell me and my readers by commenting on this post.

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* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.


2 Responses to “Judge a book by its jury”

  1. Patrick Says:

    I also believe that one of most important responsibilities of a citizen is be a good juror when called upon. However you wrote: Regardless of what you think of the law or the punishment, that’s what your responsibility is.
    But that is not so, in fact you are judge of the law as well as the facts of the case. Part of the power of the juror is to protect the people from unjust laws. This is called “jury nullification,”
    For more information I point you to http://fija.org/

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Patrick!

      Interesting! During our voir dire, and the judge’s instructions, it was made very clear that we had to agree to rule on the law as it was given to us.

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