Tuesday, September 20, 2011

I, The Juror!

You know what was weird?  Jury duty.

absolutely nothing this good happened today at Austin's Municipal Courtroom 2A

From the fact that the parking directions sucked, to the sheer number of people called to fill a six person jury for what seemed to be a minor issue (and one, frankly, the defendant should have just taken the ticket on), today was a bit odd.

Making justice, I suppose, is a bit like making sausage.  I have a Mr. Smith Goes to Washington-level of naive faith in the system.  I really, really believe in trials of juries by peers, that we have a system that is much, much better than local bureaucrats determining your fate by whether or not they like the cut of your jib...  but today was also a bit eye-opening.

I don't know why there were more than 3 dozen of us called in to fill 6 seats.  I don't know why we were summoned at 9:00, dismissed at 9:45 and then told to come back at 1:45.  And why there were more of us at 1:45 than 9:00.

I did like voir dire, which was interesting to see everybody taking their part in the process with the utmost sincerity.  But I also realized that my idea of what is "reasonable" is going to get me bounced from jury selection every time on these sorts of minor criminal tickets.  But I also had never really thought too much about the fact that if its just a ticket in Texas, you aren't assigned a public defender.  And, frankly, I'm not sure from what little our defendant said and did today that he was competent enough to make decisions for himself like "I should go to trial" instead of "I'll just pay the ticket".

That's not to say the guy was guilty, but I'm a bit soft hearted when it comes to watching people getting in over their heads, and this fellow seemed to be tanking just having to listen to voir dire.  And clearly I wasn't the only one pretty sure nobody had counseled this fellow at all.

Sitting there, I began to wonder about whether I really could impartially review evidence.  I can do this at work to make decisions, but that's something I'm practiced at.  How well can I look at a ticket, impartially hear a witness description of an incident, and divorce myself from my mixed feelings about police, about what got this guy to the point he's in the courtroom, and what will happen to him should he wind up losing the trial?

I tend to think I could have made the distinction between "reasonable doubt" and "all possible doubt", an issue that took up, I think, a pretty good amount of time in our courtroom (and somehow nobody brought up CSI), and I like to think you can rely on witness testimony.  Mostly.

Lady Justice looks different to everyone, and so I think I could have done it.  Of course, at the end of the day they basically picked jurors 1-6 and sent the rest of us home after all that (I was juror 20.  The Rural Juror, I like to think).

What I liked best was the fact that despite my misgivings, my ego was a bit shattered that they didn't look upon me and see my innate sense of pure justice, just rolling off me in waves.  Also, I think I got bounced from consideration anyway because I said I thought a $500 fine for having marijuana paraphernalia seemed a bit steep.

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