Friday, July 1, 2011

One-Third, not One-Twelfth

Someone stuck a summons on our front door a couple weeks ago, for me, to join a panel of peers at the courthouse.  Karen's been wondering why I haven't blogged about this, since I returned to Elk Cliff at 7:30 Wednesday evening.  She could tell right away my day hadn't been pleasant.

The prosecutor had finished his rebuttal about 3:30 and a couple hours later I was afraid the others, anxious to go home, one of them to work, would be throwing darts at me at midnight.  By the time I left the parking garage at seven, I was very grateful for the three jurors who had come to the same conclusion as I.  Hopelessly deadlocked, the judge called us "hung" and declared a mistrial.

Two days later, I'm confident four of us arrived at the "right" answer, although I'm sure some of the others think we wasted their and the government's time.  In fact, near the end, the foreman gave a little speech about how a hung jury would disappoint him, that it would mean our system of justice had failed.  I couldn't let that one go and added my own speech that, no, the system had worked just fine.  If the prosecution wanted to try again, and perhaps do a better job, it could do so and might learn from it, or it might decide the matter wasn't worth another twenty or more person-days of effort and learn from that.  Another fellow pointed out that one reason we require a unanimous verdict is to help prevent like-minded people from railroading a conviction or acquittal.

"Hmm," says Virginia. "I bet you voted not guilty."

Now why would she think that?  Was it something I said, the tilt of my head, a glint in my eyes?  Let me just say, one of the attorneys might regret not kicking me off the jury.  I would have bet I'd be one of the first disqualified.  If there's a next time, I'll probably disqualify myself if given the chance (as we were this time).

Words.  Recently I observed that the Federal Reserve Board writes regulations that contain more than 10 times as many words as the underlying statute.  If that's really necessary, it might seem peculiar that criminal statutes, and jury instructions, tend to be quite short, leaving lots of gray area -- especially when you consider the drastic penalties they entail.  Please don't blame other members of your jury who read the same words differently.

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