Thursday, November 04, 2004

Civic Responsibility

Voting is, perhaps, the most obvious of our civic duties - certainly in recent weeks it has dominated our hearts and minds. But this week I had the pleasure of participating in another public institution upon which our democracy is based - the judicial system.

Called to the local courthouse to dispense justice, I was seated in the gallery and went through the voir dire process, in which the lawyers and judge determine the fitness of jurors to preside over a case. Multiple choice quiz: which of the following three jurors was kicked out of the jury as impartial or unfit to serve?

Juror #4 was not only unfit to serve, but I would have convicted him in place of the defendant. Asked if he or his family had ever been involved in a crime, as witness or victim or perp, he remarked that 30 years prior his co-worker had been murdered, and he had been brought in for questioning. No one was ever arrested for that crime...

Juror #7 was a former CIA agent with a fondness for the institution that was allegedly harmed by the defendant.

Juror #12 insisted the if someone ever came into his business and did what the defendant did (no "allegedly" in his reponse), he would make sure he got what was coming to him.

Correct answer: none of the above. But they did kick out a little old woman who wouldn't say whether she could deliver a guilty or a not-guilty verdict - she wanted to wait for the evidence to be presented. A little confused, perhaps, but certainly not incompetent.

As for me? I, too, was deemed unacceptable. My prodigious reading has apparently one unexpected side effect, which is that there will perhaps never be a criminal case about which I have not read something; in this case, I had read a book about the defendant, and was already pretty sure he was guilty. I mentioned this, and was excused.

A last note - jury duty is easy, necessary, and interesting. Do not shirk your responsibility to the state; the law you uphold may be your own.

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