A while ago I received a summons to appear for jury selection. So I dutifully drove to the courthouse on the day in question ready to establish my fitness to serve. No, that’s not true. I drove to the courthouse on the day in question ready to answer their questions – and curious as to whether one or both of the lawyers would decide they’d rather not have me on the jury.
The judge welcomed us — all hundred of us, it was standing room only — and briefly described the upcoming trial and the jury selection process. He then said, “If there is anyone with hearing problems who has trouble hearing what’s being said in the court room, please raise your hand.” The process was off to an impressive start, I thought.
We were a motley crew of housewives, electricians, social workers, administrative assistants, metal fabricators, and restaurant owners. I know, because as we were called one by one to stand before the lawyers, that information was provided to them. We weren’t asked if we had any prejudices, if we had any issues with the law that had been broken, or if we would be able to render a fair decision. (‘Yes, but the relevant issue is whether my prejudices would get in the way’; ‘Yes, I don’t think possessing marijuana should be illegal, nor do I think selling it should be illegal – especially as long as selling alcohol is lega’l; and ‘That depends on what evidence is presented and how it’s presented – and your definition of ‘fair’.’) Which means that the lawyers’ decisions to accept or reject us were based solely on what we looked like and what we did for a living. So much for prejudices and rendering a fair decision.
Oh, and we were asked to look the accused in the eye. (“AAGH!”)
And then, if we were accepted, we were asked this question: “Do you swear that you shall well and truly try and true deliverance make between our sovereign the Queen and the accused at the bar, whom I have in charge, and a true verdict give, according to the evidence, so help you God.” Well, ya should’ve asked that before. Because first, I don’t know what the hell “true deliverance make” means. Second, as for being able to give a true verdict, if we knew what the truth of the matter was, we wouldn’t have to have a trial now, would we? And third, I’m atheist, so I’m not putting my hand on that. ‘Reject’ both attorneys say at once.
Well, no they didn’t, actually, because I never got a chance to say any of that. The required thirteen jurors were selected before my name was called. And I have no idea why the chosen thirteen were chosen. Why was the college instructor rejected? Because she might ask too many questions and get too few answers and, therefore, hang the jury? Because it would be too inconvenient for her to be away from her job for two weeks? And why was the steelworker accepted? Because he smiled at the judge and seemed like an awshucks kinda guy? Or because his employer would reimburse him so the five dollars an hour we’d be getting paid wouldn’t be quite so appalling. (Mind you, that’s just if the trial goes on for more than ten days; for the first ten days, we aren’t paid at all — which means it may well cost us to be a juror, given the ten days’ lost income.)
What’s even more appalling, of course, is that someone’s future is at stake. Whether or not the accused spends time, possibly years, in prison is up to people who aren’t even getting paid.
‘Course why should they be? It’s not like they’re qualified. Their names were drawn out of a hat and they were chosen largely on the basis of their appearance.
All of which BEGS the question, Why don’t we have professional jurors? People who are trained not only to recognize and resist personal prejudice, but to recognize and resist loaded language. People who understand the difference between fact and opinion, and who know what an argument is, and the difference between an inductive argument and a deductive one. People who can identify and evaluate unstated assumptions, and who understand relevance, the difference between correlation and causation, and the difference between necessary and sufficient conditions. People who understand the many ways to reason incorrectly and who know how to evaluate personal testimony, sources, and studies. People who are paid according to their qualifications and contribution.
Seriously, why don’t we have professional jurors? Is it because we want a jury of our peers to decide our fate? Why in the world would most people want that? Most people’s peers couldn’t tell the difference between good evidence and bad evidence if their – your – life depended on it! Is it because we think that in a democracy such decisions are best made by the common people? Right, well, maybe that’s the problem with democracy. We have professional judges; our judges are trained to be clear and critical thinkers (notwithstanding the one mentioned above). And since jurors often bear more responsibility for the judgements to be made in our courts, they too should be trained, qualified to do the job.