Thursday, September 22, 2016

Jury Duty

Prior to this month I had been called a few times, but I never served.

I found the experience highly interesting, and it required that I think about some aspects of the criminal justice system I'd never really given a lot of consideration to. Here are the highlights:

1) The lawyers seemed mostly interested in selecting people who have as few opinions as possible about anything important. Their optimal jurist would be a lump of clay. I don't know what this says about me since I was selected. I did make an effort to get kicked off by talking about how the war on drugs has disproportionately effected black men and done super crazy things to our incarceration rates. Given the defendant was black I thought maybe I'd get dropped for the comment.
2) I'm pretty certain had I not been on the jury the defendant would have been convicted of at least one felony. I felt a little bit like a superhero afterward.
3) Three or four other jurists were pretty hardcore about the defendant being guilty at the beginning of our deliberations. The fact that they were able to change their minds and eventually, with out anger, come around to a not guilty verdict restored some of my faith in humanity.
4) Practically everyone I saw at the courthouse on trial was black.
5) The law and/or judge asks you to put your conscience and morals on hold to perform this duty. In as much as they'll admit this is what they're asking you for, they stress its only temporary. But this is one of the few times in your life when your morals/conscience have a chance to have a direct and profound impact on a person. It's a strange dichotomy. In particular they ask that you pass judgement on someone without any consideration of the punishment (which is decided by the judge).
6) The "guilty beyond a reasonable doubt" business is a really high bar. I'm glad it is in place.

Bonus items:
7) More than once while walking to the courthouse I heard two homeless people arguing about the importance of Edward Snowden. This felt uniquely San Francisco to me.
8) If you don't want to sound like a complete crazy person do not, under any circumstance, dictate long angry texts to Siri. At best she'll make you look nuts; at worst she'll make you sound like you're threatening to kill someone.