Jul 17, 2008

jury duty

I got called for jury duty today. In New York apparently it's quite a common event. Unfortunately I was picked. Even worse I was picked as an alternate. Which means I'll sit in the trial and most likely have very little input to any resolution. But it was an interesting experience.

While there was a lot of waiting around early on about 80 of us were led into a court room so the judge and attorney's could ask us questions. Even though I was picked I was never asked any questions other than the standard judge questions (where do you live, what do you do for a living, what do your relatives do, have you ever been convicted, etc.). Others were asked more direct questions and I noticed a few interesting things.
  1. The defense attorney, who was better than the prosecuting attorney, used a very simple technique. He asked people very directly the questions he wanted answers to. For instance, if they could carry out the instructions of the judge. Inevitably people were truthful. I've noticed this before. If you ask people very pointed questions they will tell you the truth even if that person knows they shouldn't necessarily tell you the truth.
  2. The attorneys don't just ask questions to find out answers. They also ask questions to prime the jurors. All the eventual jurors are in the room so some of the questions are really statements to the jurors to be open minded and to follow instructions.
The other thing I noticed is that given a random pool of people in the populace you will get people who are borderline incapable of surviving in this world. I don't say this from an elitist perspective. But some people there couldn't follow the most basic instructions. I'm not sure how these people find jobs and keep them. Since I'm generally surrounded by intelligent and capable people in work and at home this was a bit of an eye opener.

Another eye opener were the answers from some of the potential jurors. Those people who were on the other side of the average income line. Most of them had extremely negative views of the police and effectively said, everyone they knew had guns. One lady even said guns were all over her neighborhood and she was scared but then commented that it would impossible for her to convict someone. One particularly unexpected and interesting aspect of this was that the majority of people who said they had been convicted of a crime, said it would be hard to convict someone, and disliked cops were white.

The case I'll be sitting in on is pretty boring. It's an illegal gun possession case. The defendant has nothing going for him so far. He hasn't spoken so his looks are the only impression we have so far. He looks like a drugged out Coolio who hasn't been to the barber or eaten well in months. But hopefully the jurors will not take any of that into account.

While sitting there you can't help but generate some empathy for the man. At this point you have no idea if he is guilty and since you are trying to keep your mind in a place that presumes he is innocent, you can't feel a little guilty yourself for sitting over him with the power to make his life hell for some period of time. I'm curious to see if this disappears if it is obvious he broke some law and a guilty verdict is reached.

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