THE BUSINESS OF JURIES

I’ve been frequently called to jury duty. It’s the price you pay for voting because potential jurors get chosen from voter registration lists.

I’m convinced they call us in alphabetical order. It’s the only reason I can figure why Garry and I were called every few months. Good citizens that we are, we always showed up. Coincidentally, our last name starts with an “A.”

Garry and I were called up two or three times a year for more than a decade until one day I called them and said “I’ve had enough!” After that, they slowed down to every other year. I’m pretty sure there’s an outstanding warrant because I didn’t respond to at least one jury summons. It showed up while I was in the hospital trying not to die. So, it’s just possible I’m a wanted criminal.

I figure they’ll get back to me on that.

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They called Garry often, too, 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. And they knew Garry. 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 salary 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.

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One day, they called me — and I got assigned a trial.

I had instant images of a long criminal trial. Being sequestered for weeks in some fleabag motel. Losing all my clients. Losing my house. I was  not an enthusiastic juror, but when duty calls, you might as well go quietly. Besides, they have officers with guns stationed at the exits.

It turned out to be 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 except “she said” versus “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 how everyone knows the intersection isn’t a through street. I didn’t, but I have no sense of direction.

There was nothing except a small amount of money at stake. Peer pressure got to me. Eleven people wanted to go home which I was preventing. That sort of thing can get ugly fast. I caved.

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That was more than 25 years.

Tonight, we watched “Twelve Angry Men,” 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 left me wondering how many verdicts are based on jurors who just want to go home? How many people are convicted — or acquitted — because the jury couldn’t stand one more minute of examining evidence? How many jurors are bullied into a verdict with which they disagree because they are threatened — emotionally or physically?

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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 verdict, consider the possibility that at least some of them didn’t freely agree. I’m sure it happens, because it happened to me.

33 thoughts on “THE BUSINESS OF JURIES”

  1. I know a person who served on a jury for a medical malpractice trial. The foreman said they should decide for the defendant/doctor who had more expert witnesses. The rest of the jury agreed. I lit into her. Juries are suppose to decide by applying the facts to the law. Then she stated that the plaintiff was already on disability so he wasn’t really losing any money. She totally neglected that the plaintiff lost his ability to work, walk, and care for himself.

    For half a century, I’ve been a licensed driver and registered voter, but haven’t once been called for jury duty. I don’t know if that’s good or bad, because I would be the person to make other jurors actually discuss testimony and evidence. Judges usually tell hung juries to discuss things further. If they remain hung, they just leave duty a bit later and at least litigants get another chance to come to trial rather than losing faith in the judicial system and people in general.

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    1. If this trial had been one bit more serious, I would have insisted we at least discuss it … but in fairness, there was zero evidence for either side — which mean not guilty because it was a stupid lawsuit that should never have gone to court. However, the pressure from the other jurors was pretty scary and I’m pretty sure had I raised any further objections, it would have been much worse.

      I’m surprised at how many people get called to jury duty and how few every serve on any jury. I was called every few months and served only that once. Garry never served and probably wouldn’t serve even today. Most trials don’t go to juries. They are settled and that’s that. Jury trials are reserved for BIG cases. Pretty much everything else is pled or settled. I’m not sure what that means, but all the stuff on TV is very bogus. It isn’t like that at all.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Marilyn,
        In cases involving vehicle accidents, insurance companies generally get involved and there is a settlement. That however can change based on several things. The major basis is when both parties are represented by the same insurance company. The company will require each party to pay their deductible while they pay to have the vehicles repaired. There are also accidents when the damage is less than the deductible so a party or when a party cannot afford the deductible.

        Pleas are only involved in criminal cases and there are no trials although in some jurisdictions, there might be a sentencing hearing.

        In civil cases involving vehicle accidents, when there is no evidence other than testimony, that’s actually a police problem. They are suppose to determine who was at fault and provide a written report. Where a vehicle was damaged seems to play an important part in who was at fault, speed, etc. If the jury you served on was not presented with that evidence, then it would be a hard decision. Hanging the jury decision would be more fair to both parties.

        Along with the amount sought in the lawsuit, the plaintiff incurred other expenses, such as filing fees. If no police witnesses were called, that is probably because the plaintiff could not afford the fees for subpoena and verified reports. That’s unfair to the jury, but something for jurors to consider before deciding that the amount sued for is unsubstantial and that plaintiff failed to prove his/her case by entering a binding decision.

        Think of it like punishing children when the cookie jar is broken and each child blames the other one. Either both are punished, or neither.

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        1. I know pleas are criminal and settlements are civil, but what you get assigned to in court is entirely random. You can get either one — or nothing. Just luck.

          In this case, there was zero evidence except the witness of the two people. In our system, you can’t hang the jury without hanging out for a very long time. Days. NO ONE, including me, was willing to dedicate that amount of time for a suit involving less than $2000 in damages. I think they were really fighting because neither of them wanted to take the points on their license because that would raise their insurance A LOT for at least three years … it might have been even more back then.

          I thought they were both lying.

          Regardless, in a case like that, unless you want to spend your days in court until the judge decides you are truly deadlocked, “not guilty” is not “innocent.” It also means there was insufficient evidence for conviction. Which was true. The WAS insufficient evidence to convict anyone.

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          1. Marilyn,
            I understand what you’re saying. As I stated previously, the jury was placed at a disadvantage by not having the reporting officer testify as to who was at fault. I took into consideration that the plaintiff might not have been able to afford the witness fee and service of subpoena. With a background in courts and the law, I also get perspectives of parties. They go into court expecting impartial juries and judges and fairness. Hung juries are fair because at least they admit they cannot decide.

            You did what you did because of your stated reasons. It’s water under the bridge now.

            Here’s wishing you a happy new year.

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            1. You too. But hung juries are not an option here. You can only be a hung jury after extensive deliberation and having the judge sign off on it. You can’t choose that as an option. It isn’t part of our legal system.

              Oh, and there WAS no police report for either side. As I said, stupid suit.

              And have a happy New Year.

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              1. Marilyn,
                I agree that to be a hung jury requires extensive deliberation and having the judge sign off on it. It is an option if even one juror disagrees with the others. It’s also an option if even one juror does not want to participate or cooperate in extensive deliberation due to personal reasons. A judge can declare a mistrial if there are no alternate jurors.

                Liked by 1 person

  2. Infostand really know how it works. My no. 2 son was asked to do spontaneous english-German Interpretation at a court case, when he was a legal student. They wanted to put him on the official list, but he found it was a dodgy business and refused, My dad was called up once in England. He got paid for it. Had a few days off from work and got a free lunch, so he was happy about it. I think he was even flattered to be asked, but that was dad.

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    1. Jury duty is easy if you are employed and get a regular salary. In the U.S., all companies are obligated to give people time off for jury duty and rarely do trials last more than a day or two. For many people, it’s a couple of days off work and something different to do than usual. I found my little bit of courtroom “drama” interesting and it left me with a lot of questions about how the whole jury system actually works.

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  3. I’ve never been called. I don’t know if that is a good thing or not. I think what you described is probably quite common. I don’t think people really understand it is about examining the facts not whether or not you like the looks of the plaintiff or want to get home early. I would want to do the right thing but I don’t like conflict and I don’t know if I’d be strong enough to argue against the majority. Maybe more so now I am older and crankier than I used to be. “Twelve Angry Men” made a big impression on me. I first read it as a play when I was in high school.

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    1. It’s one thing to see the thing acted in a movie and quite another to be confronted by a lot of people who are angry with you for keeping them from going home for dinner. Lucky for me it was a stupid case with no evidence, so in the end, no amount of examination would have proved anything. Cases like that should not even go to court. When it’s just two people claiming different things and there are NO witnesses, what is the point? Just a waste of everyone’s time.

      I doubt anyone would call us again. I think we are in the “too old” category now.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I think you are spot on – very few people can supplant self-interest with doing what is right by a stranger/s. Despite being on our electoral role for 40 years I have only ever been called for one week and was rejected the first day only to be asked back and sat at a case of major theft. On the day i attended there were some 200 jurors available for 3 cases- most get rejected. Given they choose this number every week the odds of me only being selected once are astronomically low i reckon? I am much further down the alphabet than you 2 though 😉

    We found the defendant not guilty – solely because we felt the police and prosecution completely failed to make a strong enough case. The vast majority of us believed the victim more than the defendant and thought he had stolen from the victim, but on the basis of what we were allowed to hear in court and what the judge directed felt we could not convict. I don’t think justice was done in that case even if the outcome was delivered legally.

    The system is not set up to deliver fair justice to all – it favours those with the ability (often money is most required) to play the system. Any form of statistical analysis of the outcomes of court cases would make this glaringly obvious i believe but what does anyone actually do to remedy the failings?

    I just pray i never have to face a jury of my ‘peers’ in any court… or a Judge for that matter…

    … unless i’m stinking rich at the time. 😉

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    1. I wonder how often our jury systems truly deliver “justice.” I’m beginning to believe that a “legal verdict” and “justice” can be miles apart. And how they select us is pretty baffling. Pretty erratic decision making, as far as I can see.

      I think a lot of people would be willing to do it, but a lot of people have better things to do … mostly, work. If you work where failing to show up means you don’t get paid, a week off work can be a disaster. If they want the system to work, they would have to deal with that issue. You can’t expect people whose lives you are ruining to be paying attention in court.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I was on Jury duty back in spring 2012. I was on a robbery case for a month. For me it was paradise because I dislike my job and was happy to get away. I also enjoy all things legal.
    The judge was very nice and looked after us. We got breaks and sometimes the court would close early. Also I was only 20 minutes from home.
    The only time I didn’t want to serve was on a Grand jury. It was a murder case where the defendants had murdered two police officers. The families of the killers were there in the courtroom. I convinced the judge I could not be impartial. I didn’t want to be hunted down and murdered by gangs.
    So I would accept any case but a murder case.

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    1. That was what was worrying me. Other than getting bumped off by one of the many criminals, there was a strong likelihood that my clients weren’t going to wait for me if I got into a long case. They do need to recognize that for salaried employees, it’s not so bad — but for self-employed people, a long court case is a big problem

      I would not want to get involved in anything where someone will shoot me because the State made me come to court!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Thought-provoking post. I am sure what you described happens, and maybe even on a regular basis. However, there is nothing one can do about it, because, when I studied jurors at college, there was this saying that – yes, the institution of jurors is very imperfect, but it is better than the alternative, so any such cases where jurors just feel lazy or bored have to be accepted. In sum, the advantages of having jurors outweigh their disadvantages, and because jurors are only too human, such “unfair” cases seem to be just taken as bad weather is taken or something.

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    1. I agree, but I think there are reasonable and relatively small changes that could improve the situation. One would be to not impanel jurors who are free-lancers and can’t afford to be anywhere for longer than a day or two at most. They aren’t going to do a reasonable job if they feel their life is going to collapse because they aren’t there to deal with work. Salaried employees generally are okay with juries because they get paid regardless.

      Basically, they could easily stop holding jurors who REALLY DON’T WANT TO BE THERE. They send many more jurors home than they use, so why pressure those who really don’t want to do it? It’s foolish and won’t turn out well.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You are right. In the UK, there is something called ” conscientious objection” to serving as a juror, and, perhaps, those who cannot afford to take time off, like self-employed people, say that they cannot serve because of their belief that they cannot judge the fate of others. I am not sure if in the US they have the same concept. Though, yes, they should be more efficient regardless and not so pressuring on people.

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        1. We have a similar concept, but it only applies to religious beliefs or something philosophically similar. That your fiscal life will collapse doesn’t seem to enter into it, but it really ought to. How can you focus on a trial when you know you will end up with no clients and no income? Considering how many people they turn away in every courthouse in the U.S., they could do better and it wouldn’t cost anyone a penny.

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  7. Hmmmm … never been called for Jury Duty. Could be something to do with Marijuana infractions?
    Ironically that idiot we have for a Prime Minister is going to legalize this stuff. Wonder if I can get my money back?

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    1. You and how many other people? Not to mention how many people actually served time for having or using Marijuana. It never should have been illegal. Imagine how much tax money they could have made from growing and selling it all these years.

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      1. They send us a notice saying that we are on a list as potential jurors and we have to fill out a form. So far we’ve not heard anything further. So I guess we weren’t needed.
        Leslie

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  8. In Florida, you are selected from the DMV listings. And if you are selected once (whether you serve or not), you are absolved for the next year. Only once was I selected–and appointed foreman. That was interesting.

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    1. And you even got a trial. I was called often and usually sat there for the day, then went home. Massachusetts’ law is kind of silly. They call huge number of people, send nearly all of them back home, but choose juries randomly despite having tons of people from whom to choose. There ARE better ways. Almost any other way would probably be better.

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  9. Too many civil cases here get settled (Madison County, Illinois is Plaintiff’s Lawyer Heaven) to really have a need for the jury pool, who usually just sits around and does nothing for two days while getting paid a pittance and missing work. The only time I was called and even saw a courtroom was for a criminal case involving a stabbing. They called my group into the courtroom, the judge gave us the lowdown on how the system works, did a little questioning, and then took a 10 minute recess that turned into a 45 minute recess. Next thing we know, the judge came into our waiting room and handed out our certificates telling us we were free to go… we apparently scared our defendant into pleading guilty. Maybe I shouldn’t have brought the axe into the courtroom….

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    1. That’s pretty much how it goes here. The whole idea of JURY scares the wits out of them. Guilty or not, they do not want a trial. That’s pretty much how civil settlements go, too. Whatever you get BEFORE a trial, it’s probably more than you’ll get AFTER a trial.

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