Have you ever served on a jury, or faced a jury trial?
Since Tildes participants generally come from nations with legal systems based on English common law or otherwise requiring jury trial for criminal cases, I'm curious what, if any, experience others have had of serving on juries, trying cases before a jury, or facing a jury as a defendant.
I was unable to participate as fully in this discussion as I would have liked, as I was called to jury service on a child molestation case this week. I'm deeply saddened to say that it was the second time I've served as a juror for judgment on an accused child sex abuser.
That case is now concluded, we returned a guilty verdict today, and I'm at liberty to discuss it if questions arise.
One of the startling things about this case was the huge jury pool called - sixty people, of whom only 8 were seated (6 jurors and two alternates, and we weren't informed as to who the alternates were). The dismaying detail was that of those sixty people, representing a very diverse county, the selected jury pool consisted of 7 white, middle-aged, college-educated, relatively affluent women, and one older white man.
In the U.S., the right to a trial by jury is foundational - it's specified in the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution as follows:
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.
Though it's not commonly considered as such, the U.S. civic duty to provide service as a juror is on par with military service, as illustrated here: https://www.hqmc.marines.mil/News/News-Article-Display/Article/551818/jury-duty-is-civil-duty/
The 1.st of January this year, Norway got rid of it's jury trial system.
The reasoning was based on rule of law, equality of judgement and the amount of expertise a modern layperson needs to be able to judge reasonably.
Now we have a system of lay judges instead. Each municipality elects representatives to be lay judges for the various courts. A lay judge is a normal person who sits alongside the normal judges and votes on guilt or not.
This process means you can educate and verify through testing that the people who judge their peers understand the rules and concepts they're supposed to be judging by.
Since lay judges are elected and randomly assigned, you cannot get rid of them. No jury selection bias, no judge rejecting a juror etc.
In our lowest courts a single judge has two lay jurors. To get a verdict requires a deliberation among them that leads to a majority vote.
In middle courts and depending on severity of punishment the accused is facing, there can be three lay judges alongside two professional judges, or four lay judges alongside three professional judges.
Just like there's no jury in US Supreme court cases, there are no lay judges in Norwegian Supreme court.
One of the problems of this system is representativity. Only a tiny amount of lay judges are under 35-40. A large majority are 60+. However, the spread isn't much different to what seated jurors were.
With lay judges, the peers judging others get cases wrong much less often (as appellate decisions show) because they understand basic jurisprudence. Minorities are also better represented.
I'm unsure of the political biases from electing lay judges. We don't have good research on how the process and selection of guilt differs (through selection bias or other factors) or sense of fairness/forgiveness differs with those elected as lay judges compared to a random selection of the populace. That's a major downside.
I've served on one jury and been called four times. The jury I served on was for an armed car jacking case. I had a couple takeaways from the trial. First off, both lawyers were absolutely god awful. The prosecution didn't do anything other than put the victim on the stand. The defense was ridiculous from start to finish. It was a complete folly.
Then, when it came time to deliberate, the rest of the jury really let me down. First off, I got voted foreman because I was the first one to speak. Fair enough. Then we finally get to talking about the case and all these people keep saying things that don't make any sense. A couple of people on the jury were clearly logical, but they just kept quiet and looked despaired. At one point we had a final holdout voting innocent. I asked her why she believed he was innocent and her response was, "well, I think he did it." It took everything in me not to punch her right in the face and figure out what the hell was going on. There were two guys involved in the car jacking, but they were tried separately. She finally got to the crux of her issues and spit out, "I just don't want this guy to get punished and see his friend get off."
I mean, seriously, how do you even respond to that? The other guy is in some other courtroom and that trial has nothing to do with this trial. She believes that this guy is guilty, she believes he should be punished for his crime, but she is voting innocent because she doesn't want someone else to get away with the same crime while this guy is punished. . . It was an eye opening experience to say the least.
After all that we finally return a guilty verdict as I was able to bring her into the real world for a minute. After the verdict is read they put us back in the jury room to wait for escorts to get us to our cars. The judge actually came in and thanked us for finding him guilty. She said there was a bunch of inadmissible evidence that not only was this guy guilty as all hell, but that he was part of a gang that is apparently committing crimes all over the city.
I have no faith in the system. The lawyers were both terrible and the jury was more than 50% incapable of ruling on what's for dinner. I honestly wonder how things would have gone if I was not on that jury. I had to pull teeth for two days to get everyone on board with a guilty verdict in a case that was pretty clear. It's actually quite scary to see the system in action, but I don't have any proposals for a better system.
It's one of those things, you had to be there. The testimony was damning. Also, i miss typed previously, it wasn't victim but victims. There were two people in the car and they both testified.
It's interesting how a single person can be so influential in a jury trial. You basically dictated the entire outcome of the trial.
I agree and disagree. I did roll the jury pretty hard, but there were at least two other people on the jury who completely agreed with me and understood what was going on. I'm pretty sure the burden would have simply fallen to one of them if I had not spoken first.
That's the crux of it for sure. My experience was also eye-opening (commented about my experience further down). But at least we have a system so that's something.
I think of it a lot like capitalism. Is it the best system, no. Is it a decent system, no. The thing is, it's the only system i've seen so far that functions. The system we have in place works, barely. I'd rather have that than nothing, but it's sad that I haven't even come across any proposals for change.
Hey, what’s an analgorithm? :)
It's funny, I've just used this name for a long time. I was originally using it as a mashup of analog and algorithm. I googled it once searching for an old account and discovered that there is actually a band named "Analogorithm" and now I'm unsure if I came up with the name out of the blue, or if i was subconsciously influenced by seeing that name somewhere. It was a pretty amusing exchanged when I emailed the band asking where I could buy their music :)
I helped to convict a man of murder who subsequently went to jail for life. The conviction was deserved, but the sentence may have been too harsh, but we didn't get a say in that.
Essentially what was pieced together during the trial was this:
About the evidence:
So at this point, I'm pretty much doubting the police's story. No fingerprints on the gun, no gun residue on the suspect, they tracked him through the snow....then comes two pieces of evidence that convinced me.
Yeah, they explained all of that and that's a good thing to say to a jury, but when there is only one narrative presented I think it's hard as human beings to not think "ok if what the police say isn't true, what is the real story?" And if no other narrative is presented - at all - then there's nothing competing with the police's story.
So a more accurate comment would be that the defendant's lawyer sucked because he never presented an alternative narrative, which could have been done by calling the suspect to testify (or anyone, he didn't call any witnesses at all).
I think that's a human thing, but I really do get what you're saying and that was at the forefront of my mind (innocent until proven guilty, beyond a reasonable doubt in this case) up until they got to the video confession. That's why the lawyer sucks - his client is on tape admitting to shooting the gun, but the lawyer never followed up, never offered an alternative witness that would corroborate that, etc. Most likely because there wasn't one.
Also, they definitely didn't define "beyond a reasonable doubt" as 98-99% certainty - that'd allow for all kinds of shenanigans in my mind (1% chance space aliens did it!). It was defined as what you thought was "reasonable." There might have been more, it's been a couple years.
How long did the trial last and what was your experience outside of the courtroom?
It was just two days actually. Outside of the trail we were free to go anywhere for lunch. Most of the jurors walked to a couple nearby restaurants and ate together. We weren't allowed to discuss the case and to my knowledge no one did. We were free to go home at night.
I've been called for jury duty twice, dismissed twice in juror selection. I've been involved in a couple of lawsuits as a plaintiff when I served on the Board of a non-profit. Both cases went before a court but settled before trial. Based on my experience with the courts if I'm ever being tried for a crime I would waive my right to trial by jury and request a bench trial instead. From what I've seen (and been told directly by a trial attorney) jurors are selected for their lack of critical thinking skills and their ability to be swayed by the arguments of attorneys - arguments which often appeal not to reason, but emotion. If you give the slightest indication that you might weigh the facts of the case based on your own reason, experience, or better judgement - rather than on the courtroom theatrics of the prosecution or defense - you will not be selected. Jury selection is a game of cherry-picking the people each attorney thinks will give them the verdict they want.
In one of the selections, the prosecuting attorney read my juror questionnaire and asked, "your occupation is listed as 'IT consultant' - what exactly does your job entail?" I responded, "Generally speaking, I troubleshoot and resolve complex technical problems involving computer systems." Dismissed, thank you. I think my jaw visibly dropped on that one.
In the other selection, I saw a guy get bounced because when asked if there was any reason he might not be able to return a fair verdict in the [concealed weapon] case, he responded "well, I don't think so, but honestly I'm not very familiar with the laws regarding carrying concealed weapons." POW goes the gavel! The judge snaps at him, "It's not your job to know the law! I will tell you what the law says!" The attorney immediately dismissed the guy, and I'm sitting there thinking "fuck you 'your honor', if I've got to pass judgement on this man then show me the goddam law and I'll read it myself." I got dismissed a couple minutes later without even a question, so maybe the expression on my face told them what they needed to know.
In the case I heard, the defense attorney made it very clear he wanted people who would not be swayed by emotion; the state prosecutor wanted educated working women, preferably with kids. As in most cases of sexual battery on a minor by a relative living in the home, there was no recoverable physical evidence (the defendant's DNA would have been everywhere, and not probative). The defense assumed we would rationally discard the case as not proved beyond a reasonable doubt, in the absence of that conclusive proof. The defense attorney also implied that the child's mother was impossibly neglectful because she worked long hours, mentally unstable, or financially motivated by the still-running divorce action.
The defendant confessed to four different people (including the pastor and a lay counselor from two different, uninvolved churches), and left incriminating voicemail - it hardly required leaps of logic or crescendos of emotion to arrive at our decision.
As we exited the court, the jurors had the opportunity to speak with the lead State's prosecutor. She told us she had tried over 75 cases for the Special Victims Unit. In only one was there anything like the conclusive evidence you might see in TV drama - those cases are almost always pled out.
The defendant in the case I sat for was offered a plea deal, but insisted on a trial. Having watched the fumbling incompetence of his defense attorney, I believe he was ill-advised. By Florida law, because his victim was under age 12 at the time of the rapes, he now faces a mandatory life sentence.
What usually happens is that both sides are looking for extremes and both sides will use their right to dismiss extremes. The prosecutor might want educated people and the defendant the opposite - what ends up happening is you tend to have a bunch of milquetoast jurors.
If you're extremely educated and one side is looking for educated individuals, you can bet your ass the other side will get you dismissed.
It's a really bad system in practice. What we need is professional jurors like some countries do, and then you are practically guaranteed a much more diverse jury.
I've been dismissed for the following reasons:
Both sides get far too many dismissals to do the process any good - they will blindly dismiss jurors who might find for the other side because they get many chances to do so.
The problem with bench-only trials is that a judge's viewpoint is pre-selected both by socioeconomic stratum and by guild membership.
As Charles Dickens wrote in Oliver Twist:
The point of a jury of one's peers is that they have a greater breadth of experience and knowledge than any single jurist can provide, exposure to a selection of the cultures in the community, and laypeople's willingness to forgive or punish what the law might not. Obviously, this cuts both ways in terms of justice or fairness.
I've been called for jury duty a handful of times, and I served on a jury once.
The first time I was called was for the trial of a man who had been indicted for the murder of a police officer. The judge stated that this particular case was a bit abnormal because it was expected to take several weeks to complete. He then stated that if anyone in the room had extenuating circumstances that would prevent them from serving for such a long period of time that he would take that into consideration.
At the time, I was teaching in a difficult school district (in a particularly difficult school). Fights were a regular occurrence. We would have lockdowns two or three times a month. When I was called forward, I told the judge where I worked and that I would not be a good candidate for jury service because I needed to be in my classroom for the safety of my own students. His response was "you absolutely do." He dismissed me.
Another time I was called on a day where they were picking the jury for a very high profile case (one with national interest). I showed up and there were news vans and reporters everywhere, though they weren't allowed inside the building. Security was diligently checking everyone's juror passes and IDs to make sure that media members weren't trying to sneak in.
The jury pool room, which is normally quite dead, was buzzing with conversations about whether we might end up on that particular trial. Nobody wanted to say too much about it since you're not supposed to discuss cases (and we were sternly warned against it during the opening instructions), but lots of people were talking indirectly about it, or in hushed voices.
I was in the first group called to a courtroom that day, but it wasn't the big one. I was actually kind of disappointed since I think it would have been interesting to have been on such a big case, but I also don't think I was ready for that kind of pressure. The trial I was called for involved several felony charges against an individual. I'm not going to be more specific than that only because the specificity of the case could be potentially identifying.
I did end up being selected for the jury and, contrary to a lot of the comments here, my experience was very positive. The trial took three days, and we deliberated for the better part of a fourth. We had to return verdicts for each of the charges given separately, so there was a lot of deliberation that we had to get through since we had to establish whether the guilt for each one had been proven.
I don't know if there's an "ideal" jury, but I feel like if there is, I was on it. The jury was diverse in terms of age, ethnicity, gender, and profession. We didn't have a clear leader yet we managed to have an equitable conversation, without contention, for several hours. We did a lot of taking turns and going around the table, giving each person a chance to speak if they wished.
Before the trial we'd hemmed and hawed about how this was such an inconvenience and how we didn't want to miss work and whatnot, but by the time we reached deliberation everyone took their responsibility very seriously. I was worried people were going to want to rush the process in order to get out quickly, but everybody agreed that being thorough was the right way to go. Because of the number and severity of the charges, it was clear that we were the deciding factor in how the defendant would spend the rest of his life. Nobody wanted to make that decision lightly.
We were definitely not all in agreement post-trial, so we discussed many of the points of the case extensively. During the trial we were allowed to take notes, which proved to be essential during deliberation. With three full days of testimony and evidence, there was a lot to digest. In fact, a lot of people changed their minds on things not because of compelling arguments given by other jurors but because someone would bring up a point from their notes that someone else had simply forgotten. Because of the precision of court functioning, every single word is important, so it is tough to sustain attention and memory in a way that you can hold on to everything. Especially across multiple days. I've heard of courtrooms that do not allow notes, and I would never want to be a juror in one of those.
After hours in the deliberation room, we returned guilty verdicts for most of the counts. The general consensus was actually that he was probably guilty of all of them but that the case had not been proven for a few. Those, however, were the minor ones. Watching the defendant deflate as we read the verdicts was heartbreaking. It was like watching someone experiencing their own death. By the time the bailiff put him in handcuffs and escorted him from the room, he was a shell of a person. It was surprisingly affecting for me. I was low for a few days following, feeling like I'd had a significant part in taking someone's life away.
That said, I came to terms with it, and I don't regret what we did. Ultimately, the system worked as intended. The guy broke multiple laws, committed antisocial actions, and it was clear they were his choices and his alone. He wasn't coerced or in a bad situation, and his crimes were not victimless. I do think his sentencing was more severe than I would have wanted, but we had no say in that. We only established the judgment.
After everything was over, the judge met us in the deliberation room to thank us for our service and let us ask any questions we wanted about the case. I don't know if this is standard procedure, and I suspect it happened only because it was toward the end of the day so they wouldn't have time to start a new trial. Nevertheless, despite the trial taking almost a week, and with all of us wanting to get back to our families and jobs, most jurors stayed for close to an hour as we asked him different questions. Part of the reason was that this case had a much broader context, some of which he could clarify and some of which he could not comment on.
The whole experience was a sobering but positive one. It made me understand the power of the law in a whole new way, and it made me respect the jury process. In the same way that a bad jury can make you think the system is bunk, my positive experience made me believe. If I ever had to go on trial, I would want people like the ones I served with. They were careful, thoughtful, and diligent. Most importantly, they understood and respected the power they held, and they used it with extreme caution.
The care, thoughtfulness, diligence, and sense of responsibility you describe were present in both of the juries I was seated on. In that sense, both were positive experiences of the efficacy of the jury system.
The first trial had a much more diverse jury, with some jurors of the same race and class as the defendant. Their input was essential in making certain we weren't affected by bias in our deliberations. It was in a university town, and at least two-thirds of us were college-educated.
That first case was more equivocal. It took two full days of discussion to arrive at a verdict, mainly because we had to review the evidence again to determine that the alleged victim was of sufficient maturity to testify reliably, and that she hadn't been influenced by disputes in the family.
I was nominated as the foreperson of the jury, and we were initially evenly split on whether the evidence was of sufficient quality to exceed the reasonable doubt standard for a judgment of guilt. Most of us were worried about the time the case was taking away from job and family responsibilities. I working for a small bakery-cafe business as one of only three cooks in the kitchen. My boss was panicking about my jury selection because we had several upcoming weddings and a holiday to prepare for.
We were all concerned that the defendant, 17 years at the time of the alleged crime, was being tried as an adult. The judge had instructed us that we were not to consider the sentence, only guilt or innocence, but there's no question the gravity of sentencing for child molestation made us even more cautious.
It took some effort to guide a contentious debate and make sure that the more assertive members of the jury didn't over-speak or intimidate the rest, that everyone got the opportunity to have their questions and concerns voiced. We did arrive at a unanimous consensus, and I was one of the ones who changed position as a result of the evidence review and discussion.
From 2012-2017, I was called every year. But I was always too deep in the jury pool to actually get picked. Half the time they ordered things by when you came in (which incentivized being as close to on time as possible if you didn't want to serve. I kind of wanted to serve, but the drive was a half hour so I ain't getting there THAT early), and the other half of the time it was randomized or sorted by last name.
I've never been dismissed from any jury pool. It was rare for anyone to be dismissed, even in the two criminal cases. They asked questions about whether we thought we could make unbiased decisions based on the characteristics of the people involved, or the organizations involved, and those who couldn't were dismissed after they explained briefly what might impact them, sometimes discretely. I'll often hear things like the shadier practices of other jury pools, but I never got to experience it first hand.
I did too, but definitely regret it. I'm just glad it was a murder trial and not some pedophile thing. One of the jurors I served with had been through a child-rape case. It just sounded like the worst thing ever.
I've been through child-rape case hearings twice now, as indicated. I don't know if it's because middle-aged females are ideal jurors for matters like that, but I begged the judge in this case to assign me to any other trial, in open court, during voir dire, because the first one had been so harrowing. I was astonished to be called again.
I had nightmares for months after the first one, and called my therapist for an emergency session after the victim's testimony in this week's trial. Others have said their cases were like TV; mine was more like 21st Century Greek tragedy. The defendant's crimes were revealed while his pregnant wife was four days from the birth of his son.
I left the court that day convinced cockroaches were a higher evolutionary form than humans, had violent thoughts about the greedy ballsack of a defense attorney, and could barely look at the defendant for the rest of the week. When he got on the stand and basically claimed that eight witnesses, five of them strangers to each other, had conspired to lie about him, it was all I could do not to vomit.
And when it was over, I slept well, with a sound conviction that at least one predator was off the streets.
Thank you. One of the questions I got to ask the prosecuting attorney was how she had the strength to keep going through dozens of cases like this, and it was basically a version of "someone's got to do it", so that's the sense in carrying on.
I've been donating to Kids in Distress through a work-sponsored program for years, and they're going to get some extra contributions this year.
One of the cases I remember was about a deceased person, but it wasn't about finding fault. The parties agreed to that. The entire trial was going to be about trying to determine how much that person was worth, for damages owed. I was really glad I didn't get called on that one, but I was morbidly fascinated by what evidence they might point to when making that sort of judgment.
I would guess a starting place would be what that person earned annually preceding death then multiplied by the standard life expectancy as determined by the actuarial tables used by life insurance agents, adjusted for inflation. From there one could look at past history of promotions and try to extrapolate what future salary increases might have been and tack on any cost-of-living merit increases. Then start tacking on salary from side jobs. That's just a guess of course.
People like to pretend that human life is invaluable - but there's a whole industry well-versed in determining exactly what that value is.
I got called for jury duty once, but my last name is last in its particular letter.. so they get to the pair of letters right before mine. I thought I would be next, but she accidentally skipped to the next letter so I never served! Win for me!
I received a letter once for jury duty. Remembered two days prior, and the day prior, then forgot about it the day of and never called into the phone line to see if my number was called. Freaked out the next morning when I realized, called in about it, and it turned out that there were no cases that day to assign, so I was in the clear. Nearly shit myself there.
Haven't been called on since then.
One time, and it was a DV case where a lot of screaming and physical threats were recorded on the victim's mobile, and the defendant's mother was called in as a character witness. She also said that one of the events couldn't have unfolded the way the victim specified because she was waiting in the car, and the time frame wouldn't have matched up, she was awfully inconsistent about what happened.
Edit: Of note is that the victim also received several calls from an unknown number after she had the perp's number blocked. That really didn't go anywhere because none of us could be sure that it was him, but the other case was more than solid.
I have never served on a jury, but this topic reminded me of a lecture Neil Degrasse Tyson gave on his experiences with jury duty. It was pretty cool.
I saw him give this lecture in person in Newark, NJ, so this rendition might be a bit different from the speech I remember. It can't be too different though.
Having listened to the defense attorney in this case excoriate a police detective for failing to collect DNA evidence in a situation where it would have been difficult to find a square millimeter that didn't test positive for the defendant's DNA, I'd agree with Tyson.
First time I was summoned was about a month ago. I was really looking forward to it and thought it would be a very interesting experience getting picked to serve on the jury. It was for federal court. I had to go for two days, the first, I never got picked for a single case, so it was super boring. Then the second day it got a lot more interesting, all hundred of us got put in the pool for the same one. The case was for about 6 guys all being charged with dealing drugs. They were also all part of a gang. The judge immediately said it would be a 12 week trial. That changed my mind about serving along with just about everyone in the pool. I have no clue how they expected to find someone willing to leave work for that long. And it would have required you to be there through the holiday season too. I get how important it is, but that is asking a lot from people.
Ultimately I didn't get picked. So can't comment on what serving on the jury is like. Just that the selection process was very stressful for me. They wouldn't dismiss anyone until the very end of the day, and wouldn't tell us anything about what was going on. So the entire day was spent worrying about if I would have to put my life on hold for 12 weeks, and how I would get by since my work certainly wouldn't have paid me for that long.
I did get paid $130 for it though, so in the end it was worth all the stress.
It positively is not. Military service comes with the expectation that you will give your life to defend your country - every single enlisted person and officer carries that expectation whether they serve on the front line or not. The most a juror gives up is their time.
I did not say that it was an equal risk, only that it was an equivalent duty. The article I linked underlined that the U.S. military recognizes the necessity of jury service even while serving in the armed forces.
Let me add that jury service didn't seem to evoke any sense of obligation in most of the jury pool I was called with. About 10% suddenly developed declining English-language comprehension, another dozen refused to follow the laws as the court outlined them, and so on, all obviously trying to evade service.
Almost no one under 30 seemed to have any idea that jury service was anything they should have to perform. One woman I'd been talking with, a sharp 20-year old business student, seemed to listen when I said, "I'm just paying it forward - it could be you, me or someone we love on either side in there."