Yesterday was my first time being chosen for jury duty. It was over all a good and interesting experience. Both of the lawyers and bailiffs were fairly nice and the judge was extremely nice. The process of selecting the jury actually wasn't terrible, as I've heard it made out to be from some people. I wasn't selected, which is fine, even though I'd like to someday, just probably not during the school year.
While the majority of the experience was a good one, there is one aspect of it that got me thinking a little bit about the legitimacy of having the lawyers come together to choose the jury.
Selection started with one of the lawyers (Defense) just asking questions about what you do for a living, and what you like to do in your spare time. My response to which was something like "I'm a full time student at MSUM, work part time at a movie theater and I watch a lot of movies and read a lot on philosophical issues." So far no problem. After everyone answered that question the first lawyer went on to ask people if they understand the burden of proof to convict someone, to pull someone over, to search a person, etc., which I think is a great thing, but the way he went about asking some people seemed very much like he was trying to get a particular response out of the jury. For example, he said "Can I policeman pull someone over, just because he feels like it?" which on the face of it doesn't sound like a terrible question, but his tone was very suggestive, in my personal opinion. This was one issue I have with lawyers choosing the jury, because of stuff like that. Trying to suggest a response out of someone doesn't help them to be impartial, I think it leads them to potentially be biased towards your side of the case.
Before I start talking about the other problem I had, I want to make clear that the following is purely speculative. I don't know whether or not it actually happened, but if it did, I see it as a huge flaw in jury selection.
The second lawyer (Prosecution) had follow up questions related to what people did for a living and in their spare time, and when it came time to asking me the follow up questions he asked, "What kind of philosophy do you study?" to which I replied, "Moral philosophy, philosophy of religion, philosophy of the arts, I could go on." He then asked "if you consider yourself kind of a 'rigorous thinker'?" and I responded yes. The thing about this is, for the most part, almost everyone gave virtually the same response to Lawyer #2's questions, so there wasn't a lot to set people apart, except for a couple of people, who were dismissed during the actual questions. Now I would imagine, most prosecution lawyers probably want less "rigorous thinkers" on the jury, because they probably wouldn't have as high of a standard of evidence to go beyond a reasonable doubt, and that's what the prosecution has to get to. If people are more easily convinced by less evidence, then it makes the prosecution's job easier. If this is the case it means the lawyer is more concerned about getting a conviction, then he is about truth, which is appalling if you ask me, but really not all that surprising, and I can imagine this type of selection could lead to potential wrongful convictions. Now, I have no idea whether or not this was considered in the selection process, but I think it's possible and thought it would be interesting to bring attention to. If it actually is the case, then it's one more reason why lawyers shouldn't be involved in selecting juries. They should be picked by other people so that all parties, including the questioners, are impartial.
That's it for that. Next post will either be related to Berkeley again or the Oscars (I'm actually going to do a whole series on some of the different categories and their nominations). Have a pleasant day. :)
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