Friday, March 02, 2012


"In sum, few experiences suck more than being called for jury service in the Los Angeles courts."

Jury Duty
I've been called up for Jury duty about a half dozen times so far in my life. With the system used in Oregon, I've only been at three trials. Two trials went to sentencing (of which one was horrible,) the other was settled out of court before the first day was up. The rest of the time I've just showed up and gone home, and like everyone else heaved a sigh of relief.

The truth is almost everyone hates jury duty. You have to show up at the crack of dawn to... sit and do nothing for hours. Its boring most of the time, you get paid almost nothing and have to take time off work, find a sitter, and so on. You sit for hours waiting and usually get nothing, and when you get to a trial pool you do more sitting and waiting. The trial is usually dull (despite TV dramas), and the details are awful. And sometimes, your life is at risk because the jury is targeted by vengeful criminals.

We ought to be honored and eager to be on the jury. Its an incredible civic duty and opportunity to seek justice and right wrongs. And if you're even average intellect and have a shred of discernment, you can reverse some of the idiotic, unbelievable stupidity that juries sometimes commit. But people just don't like it, and Professor Bainbridge explains some reasons why, including:
  • The bailiff treats us like we're idiots.
  • Wait for hours in the hallway outside with no place to sit, only to be told that the case has settled and we should go back to the jury room. BORING.
  • the jury rooms suck. They're uncomfortable. Dirty, non-ergonomic seats. Filty rugs. WiFi doesn't work. No cell phone signal. Crowded. Smelly. And don't even get me started on the toilets in the jury room. They're just plain scary.
  • The water in the water fountains tastes awful, so you end up having to buy water from a crowded snack bar that charges monopolistic prices.
  • Lousy food and coffee options.
  • The jury room staff treat the jury pool like we're all idiots.
  • Some seriously scary people wandering the halls.
  • Having to fill out extensive juror questionaires, which ask for all sorts of personal information, which will be turned over to the lawyers for some of those very scary people.
  • The risk of getting stuck on a multi-week trial that will drag on interminably.
  • The risk of getting stuck on a murder capital case involving scary gang members.
  • The court system makes it very clear that the comfort, convenience, and treatment are the system's lowest priority.
  • The people who run the court system have no respect for our time, comfort, or even just our basic right to human dignity.
Glenn Reynolds notes that the jury is supposed to be the peer, the equal of the judge. That's right, the jury is coequal with the judge, according to law and the system. Except... you're not. You're treated not just like "cattle" as he puts it, but an inconvenience, like annoying amateurs and fools inflicted on the experts in the system. You're treated like children by the judge, fools by the bailiff, with contempt by lawyers, and moved around to unpleasant places to do an unpleasant job in unpleasant circumstances. As Reynolds puts it:
...if you believe that stuff about the jury being coequal with the judge, compare the furnishings in the jury room and the judge’s chambers and see if you still feel that way.
Everyone has to stand up and treat the judge with respect, he can talk any time he wants, ask questions about the trial, gets special clothing, guards, a big salary, and respect. You get treated like trash stuck to his boot. For this you're paid pennies an hour and can't leave or get decent food sometimes for weeks at a time. And people wonder why folks want to avoid jury duty?

The truth is, the system is awful, and its been almost designed deliberately to be awful. In an effort to avoid making jury something people aspire to professionally, they've gone overboard to make it as miserable as humanly tolerable. To avoid bribery or the perception of malfeasance, jurors are just mistreated.

And the legal professionals hold jurors in near contempt. Yes, often jurors are worthy only of contempt, and I understand the sneering disregard so many deserve. I give them that. But if the jury is supposed to be the coequal of the judge, a critical, important key in the system of justice, lawyers (who are lesser than the judge and jury in the system) should be more respectful, honorable, and deferential to the jury.

And further, the surroundings should be less awful. Courtrooms can be quite nice, judge's quarters are wonderful. Jury rooms are concrete blocks that looks like Soviet-era interrogation rooms. That has to change to attract people who are of a higher quality, not suckers who can't find a way out. Yes, juries are often horrible and stupid - hello OJ Simpson trial - but the system is encouraging awful juries.

The compensation has to be raised, at least to a shred below minimum wage. The digs have to be more pleasant and less terrible. The food and drink access has to be increased. The chances of running into horrible monsters and scary prisoners in the halls has to be reduced. The treatment of jurors and potential jurors has to be more respectful and pleasant. And most of all, jurors should be made to feel like they are not just an important part of the system but coequal to the judge in importance and value to the trial.

That means you have to let jurors ask questions, force lawyers to reveal things they are trying to avoid, and get details to the trial that weren't brought up. Because the point is for justice to be served, not for lawyers to be made happy.

Or you'll only see the worst show up and make it through.


Anonymous said...

Whats wrong with you? Do you know how many people are sentenced to excessive prison time for an act that would not even have been a crime if, the arresting officer got lucky that morning, or if the arestee was a different nationality, or could have afforded hiring a private attorney, or was not mentally or emotionally disabled or the prosecutor was grumpy because of a recent divorce.! Do You Understand that being called as a juror effectively puts you in a legislative (law making)position.? There are 4 actual branches of government. The most deliberately discounted branch being the jurors. Who have the duty and right to not be inhibited or intimidated by miscreant tyrants found in the judicial systems all around this country. Please take the time to look at what it means to be a "FULLY INFORMED JUROR" information is available at encourage those you know to find a bit of hope in freeing the wrongly accused legally and completely

Christopher R Taylor said...

I'm not sure what you read here, other than the title. Maybe you should read the content of the article rather than just the words at the top.