Friday, July 22, 2011

Jury Duty - Impressions

A couple weeks ago, I had the honor (?) to serve Orleans Parish criminal Jury Duty.

A few quick notes:
* I had many people warn me about how disorganized and chaotic the system was, but I have to say, on the whole, it was fairly well organized. Parking was no problem. One gripe: it seemed like the jurors had to arrive earlier than the judges, who would trickle in hours after the jurors.
* I brought plenty to read and needed it all. I was very surprised at the prevalance of E-readers/Nooks/Kindles/etc. Far more people were using them than I thought.
* A constant complaint during the Voire Dire was NOPD. Juror after juror would say, "I'm sick and tired of picking up the paper and seeing some officer under indictment for murder, rape, etc." I appreciate that it's actually fairly difficult to 'prove beyond a reasonable doubt' that someone is guilty. Case after case, for better or for worse, depends on the testimony of a single officer and the conviction rate will rise and fall based off NOPD's reputation first and foremost. Check out this report from The Lens for an idea of what people look at NOPD as.
* There was an extremely large contingent (>1/3 of the jury pool) that openly advocated, at a minimum, marijuana legalization. The Voire Dire for drug cases was far more involved that it should have been. The prosecutions spent way too much time trying to pick out anyone who may have thought about smoking a joint one time. On the flip side, defense attorneys spent their time trying to get the jury most likely to result in an acquittal / were most uncomfortable with the thought of judging someone else. I personally feel that the jury should be closer to a representation of society and then take your chances and present your case from there. If society is skeptical of drug busts, than the average jury should reflect that.
* Fortunately, the entire time, I was only picked for 1 jury and that guy pled guilty at the start of the trial. One group of my fellow jurors had to sit through the trial of an NOPD officer who eventually pled guilty to raping his step-daughter. From what I heard after the trial finished, that was a seriously messed up case.

For all of its flaws, it's hard to think of a better system than trial by jury. It's not perfect, but it's the best we can do for now.

Further reading: New Orleans juries aren't voting 'guilty' too often, analysis shows


Editor B said...

The marijuana thing is interesting. Are you familiar with jury nullification, by the way?

Clay said...

I've heard of Jury Nullification. Lawyers *HATE* the very idea.