Comment Of The Day: “Unethical Prosecution, Incompetent Jury: Once Again, ‘Sorry’ Isn’t Enough.”

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.

4 thoughts on “Comment Of The Day: “Unethical Prosecution, Incompetent Jury: Once Again, ‘Sorry’ Isn’t Enough.”

  1. Well, we seem to have solved part of the problem, here in Texas. Jury summons’ are linked to drivers licenses, not voter registration. And people over 70 are not required to serve.

  2. Woot! My first COTD!
    Though I should have rephrased the cross-state jury trip for my mother as two sides of a triangle where each leg averaged well over an hour when the straight line was abt 45 min.

    • About time, too, Marie. Good thoughts, well expressed. Not sure I agree about the under-40s though. But then, perhaps it depends on what professions we’re talking about.

      Too late for me. I was called up eight times by two different court systems over the ten years it took me to get through two nursing degrees while also working 12-hour orderly and then (associate) RN night shifts at a county hospital to pay for the BSN program and earn a permanent place on the regular AIDS-care staff. Five times I actually sat in a juror’s chair, which differed from the Waiting Room benches in being the more comfortable seating, twice for cases dismissed, twice for brief trials having clear evidence, no cogent defense and requiring little deliberation. Those were racked up as lost school days and income. But the last jury call required my postponing a State Boards exam on a newly licensed specialty (for a drug bust that was thrown out on its second day) which resulted in my being too late to fill the expanded AIDS/Oncology post that had been held for me for a year. No manner of reasoning from me, the nursing schools, several doctors I worked with, or even one of the Court clerks made a dent in the adamant Thou Shalt Serve rule. By the time the test came round again, the business of “Managed Care” had taken over the hospitals, and LVNs had replaced RNs at half the RN salary.

      My life has had some difficult downtimes but those were the only ones that were wholly unnecessary. They resulted directly in a loss of employment in a most fulfilling profession, at a job level that was never regained as I “aged-out” (I had begun the ten years’ work/school regime at 42), thus adding on another thirteen years of worthwhile but increasingly debilitating jobs in home care, public health, private and psych nursing, much of which required physical labor that resulted in permanent disabilities, as well as an un-repayable student debt that hounds me to this day, as I near 80.

      You can believe that I opted out of the jury system the day I hit 70. Out of the few poor choices I have made in my life (so far), knuckling under on jury duty was the worst. If I had to do it over again, I would have risked the contempt charge or even jail time and sat that exam.

      • Yeah, I forgot to include medical, as friends are nurses and aides who get all kinds of injury and no bennies. A lot in the medical field are not held accountable like when an old man comes back with broken ribs and bruised leg from an unreported fall and another aide was kneecapped by the patient who didn’t want to wash or change sheets. Add an agency who can’t fill elderly shifts on a regular despite the promise all shifts will be covered by office people if needed. So much unprofessionalism.

        I am sorry to hear the current system was such a bane.

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