Wednesday, June 12, 2013


I note with little interest that the local courts are picking two criminal juries today.  Good for them.  Criminal defendants have the right to be tried by a jury, that has long been a palladium of our system.  However, it is my experience that the justice system abhors juries, they do so much to avoid them.  When I was a young cop, I noticed that the laws concerning jury pools had so many holes that they resembled lace.  If you couldn't figure out how to avoid jury duty, you were close to being a dunce.  Indeed, one of the local attorneys told me that he would never trust his freedom to twelve people too stupid to get out of jury duty.

In later years, the state of Louisiana tightened the loopholes to jury service.  But some people are still excepted.  Lawyers, for instance, because no Court wants anyone on a jury who might know anything about the law.  Or for that matter, read newpapers, or watch TV.  If you admit, during jury selection, that you've been following the case closely, you'll likely be excused.

I am reminded of what Mark Twain said about jury duty in his book Roughing It.
I remember one of those sorrowful farces, in Virginia, which we call a jury trial. A noted desperado killed Mr. B., a good citizen, in the most wanton and cold-blooded way. Of course the papers were full of it, and all men capable of reading, read about it. And of course all men not deaf and dumb and idiotic, talked about it. A jury-list was made out, and Mr. B. L., a prominent banker and a valued citizen, was questioned precisely as he would have been questioned in any court in America:
"Have you heard of this homicide?"
"Have you held conversations upon the subject?"
"Have you formed or expressed opinions about it?"
"Have you read the newspaper accounts of it?"
"We do not want you."
A minister, intelligent, esteemed, and greatly respected; a merchant of high character and known probity; a mining superintendent of intelligence and unblemished reputation; a quartz mill owner of excellent standing, were all questioned in the same way, and all set aside. Each said the public talk and the newspaper reports had not so biased his mind but that sworn testimony would overthrow his previously formed opinions and enable him to render a verdict without prejudice and in accordance with the facts. But of course such men could not be trusted with the case. Ignoramuses alone could mete out unsullied justice.
When the peremptory challenges were all exhausted, a jury of twelve men was impaneled—a jury who swore they had neither heard, read, talked about nor expressed an opinion concerning a murder which the very cattle in the corrals, the Indians in the sage-brush and the stones in the streets were cognizant of! It was a jury composed of two desperadoes, two low beer-house politicians, three bar-keepers, two ranchmen who could not read, and three dull, stupid, human donkeys! It actually came out afterward, that one of these latter thought that incest and arson were the same thing.
That's pretty much the way things are today on a jury.  We haven't changed much in 150 years.

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