A jury of your peers

Mary - posted on 07/26/2011 ( 10 moms have responded )

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This stems from the thread about the jaywalking mom who was convicted in relation to the death of her son.



In several of the articles, it mentions that she was not treated fairly, because the jury members "had never been in her shoes". In one article on this story, it says this about her jury:



Nelson, a black woman, was convicted by an all-white jury. She relies on public transportation; she is a pedestrian in a car-oriented Atlanta suburb. During jury questioning, none of the jurors who would eventually convict Nelson raised their hands when asked if they relied on public transportation. Just one juror admitted to ever having ridden a public bus, though in response to a subsequent question, a few said they'd taken a bus to Braves games.



Nelson was not judged by a jury of her peers; she was convicted by a jury that had no understanding of the circumstances that compelled her to cross the street where she did.




It made me think about what really is a "jury of your peers". Do they need to share your race, religion, educational background, occupation, age, or whatever? If I was charged with something, does this mean my jury should consist of middle-aged white, married mothers. Do they all need to be nurses who own dogs? Or is it relevant that they be Catholic? What makes someone my "peer" and therefore fit to stand in judgement of me.



I did a little research, and was surprised to find this:



Jury of Peers



People often say "I have a right to have my case heard by a jury of my peers!" when there is no such right in the Constitution. The Constitution does take up the issue of juries, however. It is the nature of the jury which is not in the Constitution. In Article 3, Section 2, the Constitution requires that all criminal trials be heard by a jury. It also specifies that the trial will be heard in the state the crime was committed. The 6th Amendment narrows the definition of the jury by requiring it to be "impartial." Finally, the 7th Amendment requires that certain federal civil trials guarantee a jury trial if the amount exceeds twenty dollars.



Note that no where is a jury "of peers" guaranteed. This is important for some historical and contemporary reasons. Historically, the notion of a peer is one of social standing — in particular, in a monarchy such as the one the United States grew up from, commoners would never stand in judgement of lords and barons. Along these same lines, since suffrage and jury service have always been closely tied (and in the beginnings of the United States it was typical for only white, male, property-owners to be allowed the vote), any combination of gender, race, and economic status would be judged by only one kind of jury, hardly by "peers."



Today, the American ideal dictates that we are all peers of one another, that regardless of gender, race, religion, social status, or any other division (except age), we are all equal. In this ideal, since we are all peers, a guarantee of a jury of ones peers would be redundant. While some argue with this ideal, it is the most democratic way to approach the subject. Juries need only be impartial, and not made up of one's peers, else the jury system would be unworkable.






http://www.usconstitution.net/constnot.h...





So...how do you feel about who should make up a jury now?

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Mary - posted on 07/27/2011

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Kati, I do agree that who makes up the jury pool is a complete crap shoot. I know that in my state, the jury pool is randomly selected from voter registration, driver's licenses, and state ID cards. Some people, like my husband, have never been selected. Some poor fools, like me, have been called three times, and chosen to serve on a jury twice.

There is no (good) way to assure that of those randomly selected names, a certain percentage are white, black, rich, poor, educated, or whatever. You get what you get, and then the lawyers do their best to weed out those they think will go against them, or keep those whom they think will see things their way.

Hell, I don't think it all necessarily boils down to facts and the law, but rather, which lawyer is more likable and persuasive, and how good a job their experts and witnesses are.

I find this to be especially true in medical malpractice cases. Trust me, and OB being sued is never facing a jury of their "peers". In fact, anyone with a medical background is almost always excused from participating in these trials. You have a group of people with no medical knowledge listening to testimony from so-called (paid) "experts". There is no uniform, defining criteria for what makes them an expert. Therefore, the jury essentially makes it's ruling based not on actual knowledge or understanding of facts, but rather, which witnesses they liked or understood better. As well, there is a huge sympathy component that factors in. It's why almost all of these cases are settled out-of-court. The average lay person doesn't understand the complexities of what is going on - they just tearful parents, and hear one paid OB offer his opinion that s/he would have done things differently, and almost 90% of the time, they find for the family filing suit, regardless of the medical facts.

Rosie - posted on 07/27/2011

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ok, i'm back, lol.

i do think that IF the woman had been sentenced longer than the driver, maybe race played a part in that. it's well documented that black defendants get longer prison time than white. but she didn't she received one year probation.

Rosie - posted on 07/27/2011

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picking a jury isn't nearly as easy as one might think. first the government has to send out notices that you need to show up for jury duty. out of those people some may be black, hispanic, etc. but obviously since those are minorities there aren't going to be very many of them, especially in my area. i dont' know how they initially pick the initial batch of people, but i doubt their race is considered in the process.

second, you have to be asked questions, some people night know the defendant, or have worked with him/her or know the judge, or lawyer or something. then those people get eliminated.

third, multiple questions are asked if you could be partial or not, some people can, some people cannot.

what you have left then the lawyers pick out of what they think would be best for their client, the prosecution picks who they feel would be best for their case based off of the questions asked.



the jury i served on was for 2 black men in a federal drug case. NOT ONE person who showed up for the initial jury duty was black. how are they supposed to pick a "jury of your peers" when there aren't enough of those peers to start out with.



it's impossible to do. i gotta go take my kids to swimming lessons, but i have more to say when i get back, lol.

Katherine - posted on 07/27/2011

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I was just giving a different scenario.

Her child WAS killed, she made a poor decision, she broke the law. There should be repercussions. But I also think lawyers DO ask the wrong questions sometimes.

Mary - posted on 07/27/2011

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But...I'm not sure that either race nor the reliance on public transportation was a factor in this verdict. Riding the bus wasn't the issue...it was where she chose to cross the street.

I live out in the burbs, where there is no extensive means of public transport. I drive everywhere. That does not mean, however, that I never have to cross busy streets on foot. WHenever I go into the city, I park in whatever lot, and then have walk several blocks to my destination. Every summer, my family goes to the beach. Because of parking, you pretty much park at your place, and either walk or take the bus up and down Coastal Highway. Many years, we have stayed at a place where we were walking across this 6 lane thoroughfare with beach chairs, bags, umbrellas, toys and kids. And yes, you did have to go out of your way with all that crap in order to cross at a crosswalk. It's certainly tempting to cross where you are at because of the distance, but it's simply not worth the risk to your life.

In this case, neither race nor reliance on the bus was the issue; it was about crossing the street, and following reasonable safety precautions and laws. It's entirely plausible that an entirely black jury would have reached the same conclusion. It's also reasonable to think that mothers who don't drive would have arrived at the same verdict; more than a few of our non-driving moms found her actions to be careless with regards to the safety of her children. Understandable, yes, but "reckless" just the same.

Katherine - posted on 07/27/2011

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Oh and by the way 'Plain Truth' was a GREAT book. I love Jodi Picoult.

Katherine - posted on 07/27/2011

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I agree with Tara. It should be a melting pot of people. Maybe everyone was white, who knows? I can't see a defense attorney hanging himself like that.
No matter what century it is, you will ALWAYS have racist people. Maybe the lawyers asked the wrong questions during viodere, maybe they didn't ASK about public transportation. It sounds like she was found guilty before the trial had begun.

And a lot of jurors do that, I've been on one myself. The first thing you do is go around and write on a piece of paper whether or not you think they're guilty. I bet they all said yes. Before hearing ANY of the evidence, they had already made up their minds.

Mary - posted on 07/27/2011

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It is a fine line between a juror having the ability to be sympathetic for either the defendant or the plaintiff/prosecution, and the ability to really comprehend the factors and complexities involved.

In the case of the jaywalker, unless the entire jury was racist, the fact that they were not black should not have come into play. Race was not relevant to the facts of the case. As well, whether or not you utilize public transportation is not really crucial. It was about following the rules and laws related to road safety. Even those of us who don't rely on public transit have had to cross streets. Is it a pain in the ass to walk that extra distance to a crosswalk? Of course! However, it is the prudent, safe thing to do. Do many of us take the "short cut" and cross wherever we happen to be? Yep, and when the outcome is bad, we are ultimately responsible for that choice.

The judicial system is far from perfect, and short of extensive background checks and interviewing all the people in a potential juror's life, there really is no foolproof way to ensure the impartiality of a jury.

I guess, a jury does improve your odds of getting a "fairer" trial, than if it is just one judge determining the outcome. Having served on 2 juries in my life, I do know that both sides have the opportunity to ask the jury pool at large a bunch of questions to help them immediately rule out those whose life experiences or situations would result in an obvious bias in a case. And, yes, they do get a limited number of vetoes that do not need to be justified. It's not foolproof, since it does rely on the honesty of the potential jurors in answering the questions.

Sarah - posted on 07/27/2011

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I read a novel by Jodi Picoult called "Plain Truth" and part of it touched on whether an Amish girl should be tried by a jury of Amish people as they would be her peers.

Some of her other books mentioned that when the prosecution and defence could sort of "veto" certain people from being on the jury if they felt they weren't going to be sympathetic to whichever side of the argument. I think they got like 3 vetoes each.
(not claiming that I know much about it, it might not even be true I guess!!)

I think in the case of the jaywalker, it doesn't really matter if the people on the jury didn't take public transport or not. I mean, whether you ride the bus or not, you still know you don't cross a very busy road with 3 kids in tow!

In other cases, maybe it should be looked at more carefully.

Tara - posted on 07/26/2011

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I feel that a jury should be made up of a broad sector of society. It should include a melting pot so to speak of people. There should be variety and differences in their backgrounds, race, socioeconomic standing, educational background etc.

The fact all white men made up the majority of the vote and majority of the jurors for a long time in American Judicial history only strengthens my belief that trial by jury in the US is not impartial as it should be. You are not guaranteed an impartial jury when it consists only of one sector or demographic in society.

To me the current system allows for a partial jury, It allows for the commiseration of like minded people, with similar backgrounds, financial and educational influences etc. etc. which in turn skews their sense of justice. They are ALL basing their thoughts on their own experiences and when they are the same as everyone else in the room, there is no room for being impartial, it is impossible given the human condition. We are influenced by others around us, we are either attracted to them, or repelled by them to a degree.

So in that sense, how is a poor uneducated Native American going to get an impartial trial when the jury is made up of middle class white educated Americans?
Just doesn't fit with psychology and human interaction.

We are social creatures and even in court of law, sitting on a jury we seek out, whether we know it or not, those who share our thoughts. We seek to employ others to believe in us, we want to create a cohesiveness with those people if we feel they are "like us".
If however they are different people they will not have that commiseration and will therefore be less influenced and influential on others present. Thereby creating a more impartial jury.
In the previous thread, I shouldn't have really said what I think, because really I don't know who made up all the jurors, however if they were all white, married, middle class folks, yeah, she got ripped off.

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