High five

I was summoned for jury duty this week. I suspected that I’m the kind of person lawyers hate to have on a jury, and indeed, I was one of the first three jurors the prosecution gets to kick off the jury without explanation. (The defense gets three, too.) I don’t have to go back for at least another 12 months.

I was trying to be positive about serving on a jury. It would be interesting, I would learn new things, and it would only be 3 days (in this case). But when I got out of the courtroom, I high-fived another dismissed juror and we were all grinning from ear-to-ear. Escaping jury duty made me even more excited about what I’m working on right now (a new union-ish file system and an LWN article about existing union-ish file systems).

My main conclusion from the whole experience is that the jury selection process is completely broken (noting that I believe trial by a jury of your peers is still far preferable to judges deciding court cases). The kind of jury you get for a long case is substantively different than the one you get for a short case. For long cases, only people who are paid for jury duty (mostly state employees) and aren’t essential to their organization, or people who don’t work, or people who can afford not to work and don’t have to take care of anyone at home end up on the jury. All the rest go back and get concentrated in the juries for short cases. Thus juries for short cases are mainly professionals, juries for long cases are state employees and the idle rich, and homemakers with young children are almost completely unrepresented. The longer the trial, the more restricted the jurors have to be. Think about that the next time a high-profile 6 month trial concludes with a bizarre verdict.

13 thoughts on “High five

  1. If you open Google and start typing “how to avoid j”, the first suggestion would be “how to avoid jury duty”. It must be worse than jet lag, jerks and (oh horror!) junk mail.

  2. Very interesting observation. In a nutshell, this means that the whole idea of ‘jury of your peers’ is just thrown out of the window. Indeed, what kind of system it is where one gets totally different sampling of would-be-peers depending on such a random thing as a projected length of the trial.
    In particular, in Hans Reiser’s case, his jury most definitely had no peer of his in it.

  3. Well, congrats on escaping, anyhow. :)

    I’ve already been called twice! Everyone in my immediate family has been called, and I’m not the only one to be called twice, either.

    None of us has had to serve yet, though.

  4. Unionish

    I don’t know how unionish you’re thinking, but C. Scott Ananian (cscott.net) has recently written some interesting fuse modules: CoWFS and RCS-FS (pretty much what they sound like).

  5. As someone from a European country, it seems that trial by jury of peers only result in theatre and both sides trying to play on feelings, which definitely gives the upper hand to the better actor/lawyer and even more so the richer party.

    I would very much prefer to be judged according to what the law states by people that actually know how to interpret it, and also to have a real (any I wish, actually, provided they accept my case) lawyer provided at no cost by the state. Then again, I may be prejudiced since that is how it is here, and I may involuntarily think that our way is better just because it is our way. I don’t think so, however, I do think my logic is pretty good in this case. :)

  6. Ha! I had Jury Duty myself about a year ago. I was called for a murder trial of all things. I had to sit around for awhile, and they called me into the jury box after dismissing a lot of other people.

    I started talking about what I do in the PhD program. A lot of biology and computer work.

    Needless to say I was also removed from the jury. There were probably a variety of reasons, but I think sounding too smart is definitely one of them.

  7. In general, lawyers use their three explanation-free rejections to remove people who might actually think for themselves rather than accepting whatever the lawyers tell them.

  8. Australia also has this problem regarding trial length, although some judges are now known for refusing to excuse people just because they could not meet their financial obligations while on jury duty. (We do get paid in NSW, but it’s only roughly minimum wage.) Here the defence and prosecution know much less about the pool than they seem to in (some states of?) the US: they find out your name and your job title. They cannot ask you for any more information about yourself. Very little is known about how Australian juries work as it is forbidden to interview them or observe their discussions or to report in the media anything they say about their discussions, and if they’re found to have discussed it privately too much, cases can be declared a mistrial on appeal. Very very secret.

  9. congrats on performing your civic duty with no actual deliberation. so far it’s been pretty similar for me the most recent two times i’ve been called (once a few years ago in richmond, the second time a month ago in oakland.) each time i get summon(s)ed, show up, wait around, and eventually go home without being selected for the jury.

    any ideas on how to improve the size of the juror pool for longer cases? i was thinking about this when waiting for them to get around to sending us home last month, and failed to come up with anything brilliant. maybe the court paying full or 80% of the jurors’ regular wages and allowing a juror to bring any dependents would work, but the cost seems difficult to justify unless there’s a marked improvement in outcomes. how could one even measure that?

  10. Actually, jury duty can be fun, if you get an interesting case (and admittedly, a short one). I spent a week in court sometime last year, hearing evidence and arguments on a drugs trial, a guy arrested after a substantial cannabis operation was found on his property. Really fascinating learning how they go about building a case, and working with a fairly diverse bunch of other jurors (students, retired folk, business owners, and various professionals).

    But yeah, I see your point on long trials – there was a 3-week trial scheduled for the same week, and I was pretty happy not to be on that. Although I think the biggest fault at that point isn’t the quality of the jurors – it’s that if a trial requires a jury to sit through weeks of evidence, I don’t know many human beings who could deal with that much information being dumped on them. If you were called on to judge a complex fraud case that took several weeks for experts to relate to you, do you really think you could offer a meaningful opinion on guilt or innocence? I’m pretty sure I couldn’t, any more than I could offer you advice on filesystems design.

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