I’ve been called to jury duty often. Jury duty is the price you pay for voting because potential jurors are chosen from voter registrations lists. I’m sure they call us in alphabetical order.
Our last name begins with “A.” Garry and I were called up two or three times a year for more than a decade until one day I called and said “Hey, enough!” After that, they slowed down to every other year. I’m pretty sure there’s an outstanding jury summons for me somewhere that I never answered. I was in the hospital trying not to die. Oops. It’s just possible I’m a wanted criminal. I assume they’ll get back to me on that.
They called Garry, but never let him serve. Reporters are like cops. They’ve seen too much. Garry knew the judges, the D.A., the lawyers. And the criminals.
They knew Garry, too and they knew he knew stuff they preferred he not know. So, no matter how many times they called him, he was in and out in an hour. Maximum two.
I was a better pick. No connection to law enforcement. No lawyers, law suits, or weird political opinions. That I was a free lancer who was going to lose my shirt if I couldn’t work did not matter to anyone except me. I went in, sat around. No trial needed me, so I went home. Done, until next time.
Until one day, I got assigned to a trial. I had instant images of a long criminal trial. Being sequestered for weeks in some fleabag motel. Losing my clients. Losing my house. I was a less than enthusiastic juror, but when duty calls, you might as well go quietly. Unless you want to wind up on the other side of the courtroom. Besides, they have officers with guns stationed at the exits.
It was a minor civil case. One woman hit another at an intersection. Woman A claimed Woman B was jumping the light. Woman B said she had mistakenly thought it was a cross street.
There was no evidence. She said, she said. I thought both of them were lying. It was a matter of who you believed less. Eleven of my fellow jurors were ready to acquit. I thought we should at least talk about it. But, they wanted to go home and pointed out everyone knows the intersection isn’t a through street (I didn’t).
I caved. Because there was nothing except a small amount of money at stake. Peer pressure — eleven people who want to go home which you are preventing — gets intense and ugly quickly.
That was more than 20 years. Tonight, we watched “Twelve Angry Men.” That’s the movie (1957) in which Henry Fonda forces eleven of his peers to reconsider the evidence and fully grasp the concept of reasonable doubt. It’s a great movie which has aged well. Pretty much the way I remember the experience, except we had air-conditioning, sort of.
It did leave me wondering and not for the first time. How many verdicts are based on jurors who just want to go home? How many people are convicted — or acquitted — because the jury was bored to tears and couldn’t stand one more minute of evidence? How many jurors are bullied into a verdict with which they disagree because they are threatened — emotionally or physically?
There are no statistics on this and by definition, there won’t ever be any. No one, given the criminal liability and potential physical danger, is going to admit to it. But it makes you wonder, doesn’t it?
Next time a jury comes in with some absurd (to you) verdict, consider the possibility that at least some of them didn’t freely agree.
I’m sure it happens. It happened to me.