Patterico links a weird story about a juror struck by the prosecutor for being obese. Apparently the prosecutor claimed that “heavy-set people tend to be very sympathetic toward any defendant”. The judge accepted this because he was “satisfied that is a race neutral explanation”.
So any crazy reasons for challenging a juror are ok as long as they’re “race neutral”? There are just so many things wrong with this I don’t know where to start. So I won’t. My real reason for bringing this up is it reminds me of my experience with jury duty this past fall.
After the initial endless waiting with hundreds of people, I finally found myself among a smaller sub-pool selected to go to an actual court. With a mixture of excitement and nervousness, we all marched toward the court – where we waited some more. Our fate was now more clear: each of us would either become a part of that particular jury, or go home. Like most people, I suppose, I looked around at the others and did some mental math. For a final jury of 12 plus perhaps 4 alternates, they’d sent a good 60-65 of us to wait outside Trial Part 64 (or whatever it was).
I note in passing what a logistical pain in the ass it must be to assemble an actual working jury. Count all the no-shows and the excuses and the juror challenges and you probably have to sift through a good 20 citizens, at least, just to get each actual real live juror.
Anyway, everyone looked very solemn and serious. A few made cellphone calls in to work to give updates. (Myself included; I assured my boss that if I were selected, I would still be able to show up at work in the a.m. before trial and in the p.m. after trial, seeing as how trials are ‘only’ 9-5 at the very latest. Ah, how I love my hours.)
Then we were called into the actual court. The defendant, a nerdy/creepy looking character who could’ve worked at a video store, scanned us all. Smiled, said hello. Most said hi back. The judge was pleasantly conversational, almost creepily so, as if he were lonely and anxious to meet new people and (he hoped) make friends. I found myself marvelling at what an amazing process this is. And what a solemn duty all these good citizens around me had undertaken.
And that’s when the excuses started.
We were in the period where the judge goes around and asks each potential juror a few things about themselves. This was so the prosecutors and defense would have sufficient ammo to reject us if they wanted to, I assumed. The judge had just gotten through describing the charges against the defendant. Now we were supposed to say whether there was any reason why we could not serve. How many of the initial 65 would survive this simple question?
Would you believe, about 1/3?
Firstly, the charges involved rape. Almost immediately, this knocked out a good 10-15 women who raised their hands to claim they “felt” they “could not be objective” about a crime against women. Now, ok, one wants to sympathize with these ladies (and one guy who “had daughters”. The crime was disturbing and they felt emotional. But, what are they saying? That they could never serve on a jury involving any crime against any women? If everyone took that stance how would we ever convict rapists?
We were also regaled with about a zillion different abuses of the concept of “objective”. Yes, I get it, everyone has seen their Perry Mason and Law & Order and O.J. Trial and (therefore) is a big expert on the legal system. Especially from seeing that third show I mentioned. So, one thing almost everyone seems to know is that a juror has to be “objective”. And what does “objective” seem to mean to most of these people? Something like: “doesn’t know a damn thing, and has no sense of judgment”. Or even: “will probably find the defendant guilty”. When the ladies, or the guy with daughters, said they “couldn’t be objective” I take it they were saying something like, “rape repulses me and gives me bad feelings”. But it is natural to feel this way! I feel this way! That doesn’t make me “not objective”, it makes me human. If one didn’t feel this way, there would be something very wrong. Yet half the people in that room seemed to think that feeling this way – being repulsed by rape – disqualified them from serving on a jury in a rape trial.
Once it became clear that “can’t be objective” was the currency with which one could buy their way to dismissal, though, the floodgates were open. One guy pointed out that he lived in the actual building where the crimes take place – and the judge, reasonably enough, dismissed him. But then a woman raised her hand to say she lives on the same street. Others walk by the crime-scene building. And so on.
The other way out, of course, was to raise hardship. Sickness and chronic pain, these were clearly winners. Being self-employed or a role in which jury duty would cause financial hardship was another. But this seemed to carry a bit too far. One guy said he was an equities analyst and his clients would “freak out” if they couldn’t talk to him during the day. Dismissed. The entire profession of being an overpaid Wall Street hot shot is automatically dismissed from jury duty, it appears.
As the jury pool dwindled one by one into the 40′s and 30′s, a strange new feeling began to come over me: disgust. Disgust at all these people who were grasping for any excuse, any excuse to get out of helping The People do their solemn duty to either punish a crime or exonerate the wrongfully-accused. None of the excuses applied to me, of course. I wasn’t female. I wasn’t sick or in chronic pain. Not self-employed and could do the jury without financial hardship. I wasn’t a Wall Street equities analyst. As people left and I remained, I began to feel…proud. Haughty, even. How great and brave I was to remain steadfast!
This is silly of course, jury service is something zillions of people have done and do, but actually there’s something to it. The only thing standing between this rapist (if that’s what he was) and a slap on the wrist was that there were some people who would stay and judge his guilt or innocence. So maybe I was right to be proud – and to be proud of the two dozen who stayed. Because it turned out that after the Excuse Process, and with two dozen remaining in the pool, the defendant decided to plead guilty after all. No trial. Jurors dismissed.
I’ve still never sat on an actual jury, but in a tiny way I helped put that rapist behind bars. We all did – those who remained, anyway. Thank goodness for that fraction of society.
This brings me to the reason I was reminded of all this. One of the excuses made everyone in the courtroom (even the defendant) burst out laughing. After hearing dozens of near-tearful exclamations as to why this or that juror couldn’t be objective in a heinous crime against women, one young dude raised his hand:
“The lady prosecutor looks a lot like a woman I’m dating. I just think it would be distracting.”
The judge said it was the most unusual excuse he’d ever heard. But he accepted it. I guess that prosecutor was kinda hot, now that I think about it. So, good for that lazy-ass excuse-spouting guy, in a way. You had to hand it to him for originality anyway. Of course, as I left the court building to get back on the subway to go back to work, my jury service completed, I happened to run across a film crew. I could see they were filming an episode of Law & Order because Sam Waterston was out there, wearing one of those hats only TV characters wear now. It was an outdoor scene and he was supposed to be getting a hot dog at a hot dog cart. Some young hottie actress in heavy makeup – I guess the latest version of Angie Harmon or Jill Hennessy or.. – was next to him. Much hotter than the real-life prosecutor. She reminded me of a girl I used to date, and I found it distracting.