I was never very interested in serving on a jury during my working days. But now that I am retired, I would not mind if I was selected to serve on a jury. It was probably almost twenty years ago that I served on a jury for the Superior Court, in Concord, for a drunk driving case. Of course, we found him guilty, particularly after he admitted to drinking to the point of passing out.
Now, I have been selected again for Superior Court in Martinez on July 11. In between, I am being called as a witness in a stolen credit card case. My VISA card number was stolen a few years ago. The perpetrator tried to use my card by “testing” it with a $5 charge. Fortunately, he was never able to charge anything of consequence to my Visa card.
Basically, jury duty is service as a juror in a court trial or legal proceeding. Generally service is not optional, though people tend to try to opt out for various reasons, such as work obligations, sole proprietorships, illness, pregnancy, family obligations, or old age. Generally politicians, police and fire, or incompetent adults are exempt. Coincidentally, Number One Giants Fan, Donna, was called to jury duty for the Barry Bonds perjury trial in San Francisco. She was obviously dismissed, since she is the World’s BEST Giants fan, and rooted them on to their great World Series win last fall. We were actually laughing about it yesterday at the game.
Once a prospective juror enters the court room, a questionnaire must be filled out. Then, the wait begins. Once called into the court room, the judge will call names. The judge and the attorneys for each side use the voir dire
, a series of questions to determine the acceptability of the juror. The prosecutor or the defense may dismiss potential jurors. They may have specific number of arbitrary dismissals. The judge may also dismiss a potential juror.
Some questions and controversy exist regarding how jurors are notified of potential jury duty. A common method for random selection is the use the electoral rolls, known as allotment or sortition, lists of licensed drivers, tax rolls, or public utility consumers. In the United States, the most common method is registered voters and licensed drivers (in 19 states).
Once a jury is selected and sworn in, they are charged with rendering an impartial verdict officially submitted to them by the court. They may also be charged with setting a judgment or settlement.
The word jury comes from the French word, “jure” meaning sworn. A trial without a jury is known as a bench trial, where the judge determines the fate of the case. A regular jury hears the evidence presented by the plaintiff and the defendant. Then after receiving instructions from the judge, the jury retires to deliberate, and consider their verdict. In some cases, the decision must be unanimous, in others, a simple majority may rule. A jury that cannot come up with a verdict in called a hung jury. The usual number of jurors in criminal cases is twelve.
Jurors are required to understand English, and perceived to be neutral. The head juror is called the foreman. The role of the foreman is to ask questions on behalf of the jury, facilitate jury deliberations, and to read the verdict of the jury to the court. Often one or two alternate jurors are selected in case a selected juror cannot complete the trial.
The modern jury most likely had its roots in ancient Germanic tribes. Men of good character were used to investigate crimes or judge the accused. Likewise in Anglo-Saxon England, juries investigated crimes. After the Norman Conquest (Battle of Hastings in 1066), juries were preserved to investigate crimes. The use of ordinary citizens to consider crimes was also found in ancient Greece. The modern trial by jury evolved in the 12th century during the reign of Henry II. By 1730, the British Parliament passed the Bill for Better Regulation of Juries.
Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a jury of six was sufficient. The twelve person jury is not a necessary ingredient for a trial by jury. In Scotland, fifteen jurors are used. In all cases, jurors are required to keep their deliberations in strict confidence. Jury tampering, a process of placing undue influence on a juror, is a serious crime. Undue influence could be a bribe or threat of physical violence or revenge.
Most people do not know that it is Article III of the U.S. Constitution and the Sixth Amendment that require that criminal cases be tried by a jury. The Fourteenth Amendment applies this mandate to the states. In practice, most criminal actions or cases are solved by plea bargains, since only 2% of criminal cases go to trial. Interestingly, a study of juries has shown that juror outcomes closely parallel the opinions of the median juror, rather than the opinions of the two extremes. As a consequence, the juries tend to behave as if they were operating under a majority rules voting system.
My experience indicates that at least one person will take the contrarian position and will have to be persuaded to the majority opinion. In my case, the juror actually believed the defendant’s attorney when he questioned the calibration of the laboratory equipment used to determine his blood alcohol level. This, despite the fact that the laboratory was certified, and ran standardized tests prior to testing the defendant’s blood.
Let’s hope this latest episode will yield something more interesting. While I do no want to spend weeks and weeks on a jury, a few days of courtroom drama might be interesting. What are the chances of this? Almost nil. Turns out at 11:30am today, I got a free pass!!!