Thursday, November 17, 2011

Juror uncertainty always scares me

It is the part of our society’s judicial system that always scares me – the idea that a person’s fate can literally wind up in that mythical “jury of our peers.”

For who is to say who our peers are? Particularly since it seems that the people from whom juries can be picked often can’t even agree on certain standards.

THAT IS THE truth, as evidenced most recently by the panel of his peers that found William Cellini guilty of two (out of four) criminal charges he faced for his behavior related to his activity as the person who told the politicians what they should do with their elected offices.

The Chicago Tribune came up first with the disclosure that one of the Cellini jurors was less than honest during the screening process – covering up the fact that she had a drug-related conviction and an aggravated driving under the influence conviction.

Cellini’s attorneys are trying to get us to believe that this cover-up is so heinous that it warrants throwing out his two “guilty” verdicts. That would have the end result of requiring federal prosecutors to pay the expense of doing an entirely new trial – unless they want to suddenly decide that Cellini should be able to walk free and un-convicted of anything criminal.

They’re not about to do that.

SO IT MEANS we’re going to get some sort of high-minded rhetoric about how we need to screen people more thoroughly when they are up for consideration for a jury.

Yet I’m not sure there are any rules that could be implemented that could ever change the basic fact that some people have differing ideas about what they think should be disclosed.

I’m willing to give the female juror in the Cellini case the benefit of the doubt that she seriously thought the specifics of her particular offenses somehow didn’t qualify. Some people probably think that only other people’s problems are worthy, and not their own.

Just like it always amuses me when prosecutors and defense attorneys ask prospective jurors if they can be “impartial” and can keep in mind that people are “presumed innocent until otherwise proven guilty.”

ON THE CASES where I have seen jurors being picked (as a reporter-type person), everybody always says, “Yes.”

Yet I have seen enough “regular people” in our society who seriously believe either that being partial is a benefit and/or that people wouldn’t be suspect unless they had done something wrong.

There’s just no way I can believe that none of those people ever get into juror pools. Have there been cases where would-be jurors were less than honest and said “Yes” because they wanted to be picked?

Which gets me back to the woman who was less-than-honest about her own criminal background. Because it reminded me of the one time I got called for jury duty and made it to the point of being in a pool for a trial at the Criminal Courts building.

FOR THE RECORD, I wasn’t picked. But not before I was asked the questions about my own “criminal” background.

Because I had the opposite reaction. I ran through the details of every single encounter I had had with the courts, and I’m sure I came off as some sort of would-be criminal mastermind.

I got rejected. Even though I have never been charged with a felony, and my “record” is a couple of misdemeanors for which I was punished with fines – the most recent of which was 15 years ago. And the offenses were considered minor enough that judges in the respective counties ruled that I would have them automatically expunged after a certain amount of years had passed.

To my knowledge, I don’t have a “record” that should show up under any perfunctory search.

YET I DIDN’T want to incur any potential wrath of the legal system, which is why I “disclosed” all. Even though I can still recall the look on the face of one of the prosecutors who rejected me almost immediately. Perhaps he thought I’d be too sympathetic to the defendant (it was an attempted murder case where the victim suffered an injury so severe that it left him permanently disabled).

But it seems not everybody thinks that way, although I think the idea that someone would cover up a criminal record in order to get ONTO a jury – particularly a federal jury – is just absurd.

I remember feeling relieved when I was rejected for a jury, and have always wondered how many of my jury pool members – none of whom I have seen since – thought differently than I did.

It is why a part of me has always joked that if I ever were on trial, I’d pick a bench trial. Let a judge decide. Although the best solution to avoiding the fact that different people interpret jury service differently might well be to avoid doing anything stupid that gets me before the attention of the court system to begin with.


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