I’ve been called to jury duty often. It’s the price you pay for voting because potential jurors are chosen from voter registrations lists. I’m sure they call us in alphabetical order, too.
Our last name begins with “A” and we were called early and often, as frequently as every other month and always two or three times a year 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 all knew Garry. 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. Not a lawyer, no lawsuits, or weird political opinions. That I was a freelancer 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 an unenthusiastic 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 gets intense and ugly quickly when eleven people want to go home and you are preventing it. That was more than 20 years. Tonight, we watched “Twelve Angry Men.” That’s a movie made in 1957 where Henry Fonda forces eleven of his peers to reconsider the evidence and grasp the concept of reasonable doubt. It’s a great movie which has aged well.
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, needed to get back to work, or couldn’t stand one more minute sifting through evidence? How many jurors are bullied into a verdict with which they disagree because they are threatened?
There are no statistics on this and I’m sure there won’t ever be. No one, given the criminal liability and potential physical danger, is going to admit it. It makes you wonder, doesn’t it?
Next time a jury comes in with a weird verdict, consider the possibility that some of them didn’t really agree. It happened to me and I’m sure it’s a regular occurrence.