I failed at jury duty again

I got called up again to participate in jury selection today. I almost made it on to a jury — I was on the last panel before the final selection. And then the prosecutor started asking questions.

“What 3 things come to mind when you think about law enforcement?” He asked a few people. They said various platitudes, like “protect and serve”, “help the community”, etc. Buncha timid suck-ups. Then he asked that anyone who held a different opinion should raise their hand … which I did, because I was going to answer honestly. And I said some combination of words like “avoid”, “mistrust”, and “bias”. Later he asked the panel in general about the legal system as a whole, and got more affirmative nods and comments, and he zoomed in on me and asked my opinion, and I made some flippant remark about how it might be OK as long as this case wasn’t going to the Supreme Court.

This was a sexual assault case, by the way.

Thus endeth my opportunity to participate in the courts system.

Don’t look at me that way. How can anyone answer that kind of question without serious reservations in the state where Philando Castile was murdered?


  1. rietpluim says

    IMO this proofs you’d be an excellent juror, but apparently the prosecutor prefers yes-men. Which was more or less your point, so there you are.

  2. markgisleson says

    Called up once, served on two out of two juries. But you’ve met me and know what an honest, trustable face and demeanor I have.

  3. says

    ps to markgisleson: When I’m reading a notification in email, I see your photo avatar. When I read it here on the blog, I see a graphic of a bird (“The Progressive Wing”). They don’t send me my own posts, so it seems possible you might not know of the discrepancy. Your line about the face and demeanor worked best with your photo next to the comment.

  4. says


    I think that you, like me, would be a great juror. The problem is that we are actually willing to examine the evidence and have some skill in separating our biases from the process of answering a question with the available evidence.

    The law – and lawyers – presume that all jurors are equally un/able to overcome general impressions in examining specific cases. Given that the current law is closely tied to the current status quo, they then conclude that people who support the status quo will be better qualified jurors since their biases would lead them to perform as jurors only as the law requires.

    Sadly, that is not at all the case, and to the extent that I have biases that would lead me to make someone different decisions than other jurors, they are actually biases that – when challenged – have been upheld by the courts as acceptable uses of a juror’s life experience in interpreting the evidence rather than an invalid prejudgement of a case.

    I start from the premise that cops have lied under oath and that any cop testifying may or may not be telling the truth and thus cops’ testimony should be judged more credible where it is independently corroborated and less credible when it is contradicted by other evidence. Status quo supporters simply don’t treat cops as human beings who – as human beings do – sometimes lie on the stand when they have sufficient motivation. This is the kind of thing that gets me booted from juries, but it also makes me a better juror (or would) because I’m able to listen to the evidence for what it is, not for what it should be if cops were inhumanly perfect.

    In any case, criminal justice system is aptly named.

  5. Saganite, a haunter of demons says

    I congratulate you on your principled stance. However, I wonder how I would handle the situation. Would one perhaps be able to do more good if one was not as… forward about one’s views? I’m not American, so it doesn’t matter anyway, but perhaps it would be better to undermine (or rather, do some minute repair in individual cases) from within by actually qualifying for jury duty and then making the decision to the best of one’s ability and conscience.

  6. taraskan says

    If you have other pressing obligations, of course do what you will, but if you really wanted on this jury, and you wanted to be an instrument of justice, in this crazy fucked up world you probably should have told them what they wanted to hear.

    I fully intend to lie my ass off to get on a jury when I’m up again if it puts one person on it who won’t be a toadie to the status quo.

  7. EigenSprocketUK says

    I wonder if “What do you think about the police?” is actually a proxy question for “We can’t actually ask you this, but are you white?”

  8. Snarki, child of Loki says

    “Can you be impartial in this case?”

    “I kinda doubt it. That prosecutor looks like a dishonest weasel to me, and I wouldn’t trust him further than I could throw this courthouse.”

    Well you wanted me to answer HONESTLY, didn’t you?1??

  9. says

    As one of the few registered Democrats in Kern County, California, I got called to serve about once a year. Sometimes twice but I was only allowed one per year. In the last case I was asked about my experience with law enforcement and I told the tale of how I was suspected of poaching an elk. These elk were not native to Tehachapi, Ca, but once escaped from a hunting preserve, they multiplied and were a quite common in my community. I told how the cops and game wardens arrived with warrant in hand and proceeded to pull the whole “Law and Order” intimidation in order to get me to confess. I explained how that went nowhere. The judge then asked if I had any family in the legal professions and I said my father was the head of the state liquor board appeals section and I had a sister who was an assistant state’s atty. for Oregon. Both sides couldn’t get rid of me fast enough.

  10. says

    I also spent a week going through voir dire and I was finally excused when they finally seated a jury. The next week they announced a settlement in which the bad guys got off with a slap on the wrist.

  11. Matrim says

    My dad had to serve on a jury this week, arson trial. Didn’t actually render a verdict, though, the defense requested a direct verdict from the judge. I’ve been called several times, but never even had to go to the courthouse.

    @12, kentreniche

    There are currently 125,786 registered Democrats in Kern county, only 6,724 fewer than the Repubs.

  12. rietpluim says

    I thought the whole idea of a jury is to inject some democracy into the justice system. That purpose is not served this way.

  13. Wrath Panda says

    rietpluim @ 15:

    I thought the whole idea of a jury is to inject some democracy into the justice system. That purpose is not served this way.

    Couldn’t agree more. I can only speak to the system in place here in the UK but when you’re picked for a trial, it’s 12 random jurors from a possible 15. If you’re one of the 12, you’re in the box unless you have a personal connection to anyone involved in the case (which you are asked about right at the start), in which case you are excused. What’s the point of the people who are directly invested in the outcome of the case picking those that decide the outcome, other than to try and stack the odds in their favour?

  14. Dunc says

    I can only speak to the system in place here in the UK but when you’re picked for a trial, it’s 12 random jurors from a possible 15.

    Actually, that’s only England and Wales. In Scotland, we have 15 jurors to a jury (for criminal trials, anyway), selected at random from a pool of at least 30. We also exclude people with legal experience (such as solicitors, advocates, or court clerks) and those who have been involved in the justice system, such as current or former police officers, medical forensic practitioners and coroners, and prison officers.

    I’m not sure what the situation is in Northern Ireland, but I would expect that it’s different again.

  15. says

    My impression is that the prosecuting attorney has a lot of latitude in excluding jurors, and this guy was clearly selecting for deference to authority, in particular, people who would give greater weight to the testimony of police officers. That bothers me.

    Another thing that bothers me: this was a trial of a young Hispanic man who spoke no English, who was accused of some unspecified (during jury selection) with a young woman at a bar. One thing we learned from the questioning is that apparently both were drunk — the defense attorney was asking if we were familiar with the idea of “blackout drunk”. This was sounding like a fraught case.

    And at the end, when the final jurors were selected, all of them were grey-haired white men. (If I’d been selected, it wouldn’t have changed those demographics at all). Lots of women and younger, college-aged men in the pool, but they were all rejected.

    That might have been partly the doing of the defense attorney, who wouldn’t have wanted jurors who identify with the alleged victim, I guess.

  16. Gnu Atheist says

    Perhaps in that situation I could share my thoughts on retributive justice in light of the fallacy of libertarian free will. How do you think that would go over?

  17. screechymonkey says

    PZ @18: “My impression is that the prosecuting attorney has a lot of latitude in excluding jurors”

    According to the Minnesota statute I just looked at, in most criminal cases, the prosecution gets three “peremptory challenges” to the defense’s five. (If the defendant is facing life imprisonment, it’s 9 vs. 15. Also, in multi-defendant cases, the court can allow additional defense challenges if appropriate.)

    Peremptory challenges are sort of like “employment at will” — they can be used for any reason except on the basis of race, gender, or other protected traits.

    It’s also possible that you were challenged (and excused) “for cause.” (Challenges for cause are supposed to be made first, then when those are all made and ruled upon, peremptories are heard.) At least in theory, the standard is the same for both sides: “The juror’s state of mind – in reference to the case or to either party – satisfies the court that the juror cannot try the case impartially and without prejudice to the substantial rights of the challenging party.” (I’m leaving out the other bases for challenges for cause because they’re all pretty obvious: not eligible to serve, physical or mental disability, relationship to a party/attorney/witness, etc.) I don’t know how liberally challenges for cause are granted in Minnesota (let alone your specific area/judge), or to what extent judges as a practical matter favor prosecution challenges. I think the modern trend has been for judges to avoid excusing for cause unless a juror basically admits they can’t be fair, with the idea that those are what peremptories are for, but of course local practice varies.

  18. eyesoars says

    One thing that has happened every time I’ve been selected for jury duty, on those rare occasions I was drafted into a potential juror pool, is that during initial jury selection I have been asked an indirect question regarding my willingness to take direction from the judge on the law. The first time this happened, there was enough weaselage around the wording (from the judge) that I got suspicious, and looked things up when I got home.
    That got me looking into the particulars of jury nullification: apparently judges hate it.
    The legalities of it are peculiar. Jurors have an unqualified right to refuse to convict, as a last line of defense against unjust laws. But they do not have any right to be informed about this in the courtroom.
    Certainly jury nullification has been used to awful ends: lynchings and jim crow would not have been nearly so successful but for jurors’ refusal to convict in these cases. Conversely, if it were popularly known during the last 50 years, perhaps the War On Drugs would have been much less succesful.
    In any event, every time since I’ve been asked indirectly whether or not I’m aware of jury nullification and any positive response towards that has gotten me disqualified or peremptoried.