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Civic duties

Like most San Franciscans, I get a summons for jury service once every couple of years or so. (I don't know why the SF Bay Area counties are more efficient about this than most other regions, but they do seem to be.) This week was my week, and I was called in on Monday morning, pulled in with a few other groups, and told to return for jury selection on Tuesday afternoon.

I guess someone has to be Juror #1, and this time around it was me. I've sat through voir dire once before (a first degree murder trial, back in 2010), but I never made it into the box. At least this time there was no suspense as to when or if I would be called up. So I listened to the questions, I answered the questions, I had a conversation with the judge and another with the prosecuting attorney. At the end of the session, I was among four people to be dismissed and thanked for my service, thereby ending a very weird couple of days where I could say almost nothing to anyone about what was going on. (T was a juror for a murder trial a couple of years ago, and that was a strange enough experience for me, knowing that he was dealing with this major thing that he could tell me nothing about.)

I don't really want to get into the case details here (it's a sensitive topic, possibly triggery for some -- maybe in comments), but I was interested in the wide variety of reactions the people on the jury had. One thing I found a little bit disturbing, particularly in the wake of current events relating to police, was just how much trust people were willing to have in law enforcement. A few people flat-out said that they couldn't presume innocence: if a defendant is sitting in the courtroom, they must be guilty. Meanwhile, here I am, with my faith in the system eroding a little more every day. I can envision a thousand scenarios that would bring an innocent, or at least not guilty, person into a courtroom, and I'm surprised that no one -- in San Francisco! home of free love and social justice -- said anything along those lines. Most of the people who expressed their inability to apply the fundamental principle of our justice system were dismissed in an earlier round, not surprisingly. At least they were honest about it; I wonder how many other people in the box agree, deep down?

Some interesting aspects of presumption of innocence came up in the judge's questioning. One that I'd never thought of is in the role of the defense attorney, who legally doesn't have to do anything to prove their case. They don't have to answer the prosecutor's evidence, they don't have to call witnesses, they don't have to ask any questions. All they have to do is sit and watch, and then make a closing statement. In practice, of course, I can't imagine this would ever happen, except for a case so weak that a prosecutor would never take it to court, but it was interesting to consider a situation where that might happen, and how it might affect a jury if it did. Some people said that it would make them wonder why the defense didn't fight harder for their client, and I agree with that, although I would also look harder at the prosecution's case -- is it so thin that the defense feels no need to attack it? It makes me wonder how often something like that actually happens.

I always appreciate getting to look at our criminal justice system, such as it is, from a new angle. I would like to serve on a jury someday -- I think it would be a valuable life experience, and I do believe in it as a civic duty. But all in all, I'm pretty relieved that it's not this case. Next time, maybe.

This entry is also posted at http://owlmoose.dreamwidth.org/696410.html. There are currently comment count unavailable comments on DW.

Comments

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
plantgirl
Dec. 20th, 2014 07:01 pm (UTC)
I am disturbed that so many people assume guilt just by virtue of the defendant being in a courtroom. Don't they understand that's their role? To listen to all the evidence and then, and only then, decide?

Ugh.
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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