The recent post about a Louisiana man sent to prison for 36 years when procsecutors and a jury ignored the fact that the evidence didn’t meet the standard for guilt beyond a reasonable doubt sparked many excellent comments. The tongue-in-cheek suggestion by a commenter that failure to dispense criminal justice competently should earn the same fate as Admiral Ozzel in “Star Wars”—he was strangled to death by an angry Darth Vader’s Dark Force powers—inspired long-time commenter mariedowd to write this Comment of the Day regarding juries, prosecutors and professionalism:
I agree the Ozzel is far too harsh. I think it is hard enough to get reasonably educated and alert jurors. Adding a risk when they don’t really understand the proceedings and follow along when one set of lawyers plays their sympathies or fears better than the other will not improve the situation at all.
I think jury pools should not be linked to voting rolls, because it discourages registering and voting. Non-voters fear the loss of income and time that comes with jury service, AND their vote never accomplishes anything (they think), so why bother? I once got a preliminary call to jury duty halfway across the state when I had serious mobility problems. I was looking at hundreds to thousands of dollars in lost income for a long Federal case. The threat of costs and holes in lives pushes away competent, aware citizens, leaving a high percentage of jury membership to the fringes, and fringes have axes to grind.
Maybe we should attach jury selection to Social Security, as that is a larger pool Using drivers’ licenses is also a possible improvement, because it ties into citizenship. Let’s make jury service less of a sacrifice for people who cannot dump their daily duties for unknown periods with the threat of lost income.
Maybe proximity to the courts should factor into selection, so travel isn’t such a problem. For a courtroom 70 minutes, away my elderly mother was supposed to travel to a strange town by bus for an 8 am call. She simply does not have the energy for all that back and forth, even though she is alert and would make be a competent juror. Jury deliberations should be a juror’s burden, not getting to court: you can’t concentrate on the case if you ache from the journey. I don’t know exactly how to fix this, but the current system sorts out some good potential jurors while attracting less desirable varieties.
The miscarriage of justice in this case shows a rampant lack of professionalism in many fields. Prosecutors should not treat this as a game where there are no fouls. (Actors are supposed to be excited about a gig and act like a professional to colleagues and patrons. Governors are supposed to be looking out for the commonweal of their state’s children nearly as much as their own kids, and consult experts for medical issues in which they don’t have expertise. Teachers are not only supposed to teach the basics of how to be a mature adult with a balanced viewpoint, they have to build a framework for students to evaluate new ideas, new people, and new ways to do things- I learned the most from a teacher who I now realize was diametrically opposite of what we see so frequently today, because she taught all sides, not just her own views. The legal gamesmanship regarding human lives was why I could not stand “Law and Order” or “How to Get Away With Murder.” Not that there aren’t lawyers like those characters, but they shouldn’t be lauded and lionized. The overall goal ought to be justice.
People under forty seem to have have little concept of professionalism, and don’t gasp that any job can and should be done efficiently and well, that there is value in work outside the pay or any glory involved, that your ego doesn’t need fawning from others, because the fact that you were there should be enough. Everyone has had jobs and gigs they didn’t like, but a good person, a professional doesn’t use that as an excuse for acting up…or play victim when they get criticized for their lack of professionalism.