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. Continue reading