I was reading a column from one of my favorite columnist Sylvester Brown. He talked about prejudice and a case he served on as a juror for. This reminded me of an eye opening experience I had as a juror.
When I got my first jury summons some years ago I remember talking to myself about this great opportunity to serve my community. I checked in downtown and got my booklet which instructed me on the role of a juror and why I was there. While waiting I read the book cover to cover. Going in I knew that I needed to be impartial and to be ready to not allow my personal prejudices to dictate how I would rule on a case. I was excited to say the least to participate in this most important of judicial processes.
Ahhh the case:
I make it past the first cut where we get to take questions from the attorneys. The case consisted of a young male accused of selling drugs to an undercover police officer. The young man was present with his attorney as was the prosecutor. The laywers polled us by asking questions such as:
a) Do you know the defendant?
b) Have you had negative experience with police officers?
c) Would you need video or audio evidence to convict?
d) Are you more apt to believe a police officer over an accused individual?
Easy enough right? Just tell the truth. My answers to these critical questions: I didn’t know the defendant. I’ve had negative and positive experience with police officers. If there was no video or audio I would only evaluate the that was presented. I am neither apt to believe the police or the accused in any given situation. Especially as it relates the case at hand. My evaluation would be strickly based on the evidence presented. See I had paid attention to my book – AND I meant every one of these words quite sincerely.
Long story short I didn’t get picked. Some of those who did however included a gentleman who said he would more than likely NOT believe the police under any circumstances. And another who said he came from a family of police officers and was likely to believe anything the police would say. These guys decided the case. Eventually my time was up. Three days of pay for reading a couple books, and hours of hurry up and wait.
I learned a couple of sobering things about jury duty and the judicial system. First of all the attorneys are not concerned about justice in the strictest terms. The prosecutor wants a conviction. Period. He may have aspirations of being circuit attorney, attorney general, a senator or governor. If he does not rack up a large number of guilty verdicts his chances for promotion are reduced. At the same time the defense wants an acquittal. Doesn’t matter really whether the person did it or not, but rather whether the prosecutor can prove it beyond a reasonable doubt. The attorneys with the most aquittals command the lions share of retainer fees. Its all a game and the jury are merely a part of the players.
Second, though a jury are supposed to be made up of peers. I found that to be a mixed bag as well. Listening to some of those people talk I knew damn well I would never want them sitting on any jury I was counting on if I was faced with doing time. Lets just say many were without much depth. Some only complained about not wanting to be there. And that they would rather be home watching Judge Judy or something. This was especially disheartening when I heard African-American women complain this way. After all black folk get the brunt of the short end of the justice stick. And while they don’t want to serve – let alone serve with honor they are the first to complain about the all white jurors who hung ‘Lil Ray Ray’ out to dry. I gave them sisters a piece of my mind and explained to them that serving was an opportunity to have a say within their community and being an active participant in the justice system. I asked if it were them on trial, or their sons or brother or cousin, would they want a juror with their attitude to determine their loved ones fate? (Let alone if any of them were being tried themselves…) Some shot me a look of death. And others thought I had a good point.
The conclusion is that we in America do indeed have the best system in terms of the idea and the model. But there is no way to legislate righteousness and once the details are executed with people who have motives that may or may not have to do with truth or justice, the system can get out of whack. Its a serious thing being caught up in the system. If you have loot there is a better chance of having decent representation. One can get investigators, doctors, psychologist, forensic experts ect. to speak on behalf of ones case. But if your broke, the case can be as flimsy as a wet t-shirt at the Hooters beach party against you and you could still be a goner.
Nevertheless, I advocate that those of us who are of sound mind, logical, reasonable, and compassionate should do all we can to serve on a jury when called upon. We may not have the education that the lawyers have, but we still have the last say in most cases for common sense to rule in these complicated issues that effect people’s lives. Be the juror you would want to have.