I posted a few occurrences and thoughts on my Facebook page; here are my thoughts more elaborately articulated and summarized.
During voir dire, and in the presence of the jury pool and courtroom, you’ll be asked extremely personal questions about your life, and will be required to answer other questions about yourself as they pertain to the case; things you may not have even told your family and/or close friends. The defendant might be present, although not legally required to be.
The Constitution does not specifically state that defendants are to be tried by “a jury of your peers”. Although you are entitled to a jury of your equals (as the court interprets “peers”), you’re not guaranteed a jury that contains only those who are of the same race, gender, or age as you. You are tried by a jury of fellow citizens – 12 random people from whom you have previously heard, that raise any number of concerns after you’ve heard them answer questions.
Since the burden of proof is on the prosecution to make a case, the defendant is not obligated to testify on his own behalf; if he doesn’t speak up in his own defense, you won’t know why he did or didn’t whatever. I was explicit about this when directly questioned about it: if you don’t say one word in your own defense, you leave a dozen questions on the table. I don’t assume you’re guilty, but I can’t effectively and conscientiously lobby impartially if you choose to be silent as your fate is hanging in the ballast. I can’t put together a puzzle when you only give me half of the pieces. I won’t pretend that doesn’t give me cause for concern.
During the trial, you might be instructed to dismiss a statement or an entire testimony – as if you never heard it. Ever try to unring a bell?
During jury deliberations, your personal conscience is irrelevant to the degree that you are restricted to the letter of the law and the instructions of the presiding judge – as if the average citizen actually knows how to interpret law. I have little faith in the American justice system (or law enforcement, for that matter), and respectfully articulated as much during voir dire. Even when there are intelligent people on juries, they are most likely not legal experts; intelligence and common sense would only get you so far in a copyright infringement case, for instance. (I believe the Williams v. Gaye verdict was a bad call; kind of wish I’d been on that jury.) I’m the last person you want on a jury – in addition to eleven other people who might not want to be there for their own reasons. I think juries should be made up of lawyers, judges, and people studying law. And people without consciences – like politicians. …bad joke…
The judge can overturn the jury verdict. Also, you get no say in sentencing; in other words, the jury might find a defendant guilty and the judge might sentence him far more severely than you might have speculated when deciding the verdict. But you can’t factor that in – at all.
It’s 2018 – they’ve figured out how to digitize the entire country to vanquish the need for manpower (jobs), pay bills online, perform major surgeries – and they still can’t (won’t) simplify the process of being called for jury duty? As much as I loathed being there and having my time wasted, I was not trying to get out of serving, but I’ve got issues with what they say is my “civic duty” and the process by which it is enacted. How is the state entitled to my taxes and my labor? In California, they compensate you $15 per day; in NYC it’s $40, and good luck trying to get your boss to be sympathetic.
As harrowing, embarrassing, and traumatic as this experience was, I’m actually glad I did it because my voice was heard. Several of us, immediately after being excused and thanked for our service, hugged it out in the hallway, and wiped the sweat off of our brows. And went the hell home.
The American judicial system is not only adversarial – it’s downright hostile. Hopefully, I’ll not be called again.