15 Jan 2003 vorlon   » (Master)

Jury duty

I was called up for jury duty this week. An interesting experience. Of the first twenty-four jurors, only one was not passed; pulling in the next candidate in line moved me up to the third seat for consideration as an alternate juror.

The first potential juror knew one of the officers who responded to the incident socially. The second potential juror would fail one of her college classes if the trial lasted longer than two days. So there was a good chance I would have been selected as the alternate juror, had it not been for my views on jury nullification.

To be fair, my answers were not as eloquent as I might have wished them to be; and my voice not as forceful in the dry air of the courtroom than I had hoped. I made it clear enough that I knew something, but not how much; and a little knowledge (together with an unwillingness to blindly follow the instruction of the judge, which was the nature of the line of questioning) is a dangerous thing in a juror. Still, it was distressing to hear comments like this first-hand from trial lawyers:

Defense attorney: If the prosecution proves its case beyond a reasonable doubt, of course, it's your job to vote guilty [...]

... job?

Prosecuting attorney: If I prove my case beyond a reasonable doubt, what will your vote be?

The solicited answer is "guilty", of course.

Prosecuting attorney: Obviously the defendant has the right to a fair trial; but the State also has a right to a fair trial. Do you agree to this?

The rights of the State? Since when do states have rights!? And what in the world does the state's right to a fair trial give that the defendant's right to a fair trial doesn't already encompass?

So when asked if I had any concerns about the legal concepts that had been discussed, I had a few comments:

You asked each of the jurors what their vote would be if the prosecution proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt, and they answered "guilty". I believe the defendant has a Constitutional right to trial by a jury with the power to acquit in spite of the law. [...] The court's own training videos talked about "intellect and conscience". I believe that the issue of "conscience" requires a jury that has the power to nullify the law.

In retrospect, had I had more presence of mind, I might have said something like this:

If the prosecution does not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant has violated the law, I will vote "not guilty". If the prosecution does prove this beyond a reasonable doubt, I will most likely vote "guilty", but I will not give you a promise to that effect: proof beyond a reasonable doubt speaks only to the jury's intellect, and while I'm willing to accept the judge's instructions regarding the facts of the law, a jury can only be the conscience of the community if it has the power to acquit in spite of the law.

Would it have mattered? Perhaps not.

Latest blog entries     Older blog entries

New Advogato Features

New HTML Parser: The long-awaited libxml2 based HTML parser code is live. It needs further work but already handles most markup better than the original parser.

Keep up with the latest Advogato features by reading the Advogato status blog.

If you're a C programmer with some spare time, take a look at the mod_virgule project page and help us with one of the tasks on the ToDo list!