Doing My Duty

I spent most of today in the new Courthouse building, I was summoned for jury duty. I knew it was coming, as my medical problems of the past year forced me into two postponements. Unlike many folks, I was actually looking forward to serving.

My father was a lawyer and I briefly (for one sad semester) toyed with the idea of law school myself. Being on a jury is as close to the law as I’ll ever get now (heaven forbid I get arrested.) I made it into the section where the lawyers question you about your background and your general temperment–voir dire.

The case in point was a burglary/robbery committed by a brother of his own sister, in the house they used to share and it seemed obvious that the defense was going to bring up the brother’s drug/alcohol abuse.

The questions thus clustered into three main categories: 1) can you get over the fact that this is something that other families deal with themselves? 2) can you get over the fact that there will be only one witness–the victim/sister? 3) can you get over the fact that alcohol and drugs can rob you of the intent necessary for a conviction in any crime?

Most folks seemed to answer all the questions in the affirmative. I wonder if the straighahead nature of the questions intimidated some jurors. After all, the questions were phrased as if positive responses were the mainstream position. Many people don’t want to publicly point out that their opinions aren’t like everyone else’s. This may explain why the Assistant DA mentioned that lawyers are often surprised by jurors who say one thing and vote another way.

Anyway, I wasn’t selected. I think the defense kicked me off because I mentioned that my work has me collaborating with the Syracuse Police Department to improve the safety of our neighborhoods. I did, however, get a good laugh from the collected audience when I was asked by the DA if I had ever received a traffic ticket. When I answered yes, she asked me if the experience had soured my opinion of the police or the legal system. I responded ” No, I was guilty. I paid the fine.”

Updated to include:

I really agree with City Court Judge Langston McKinney’s attempt last year to force the County’s Commissioner of Jurors Sid Oglesby to create all city-resident jury pools for city defendants. Of the 500+ potential jurors in todays pool there were probably less than 20 African-Americans or other people of color. The two African-Americans in my pool for the trial of an African-American accused of burglary and robbery were both dismissed (one at his own request.) The overwhelmingly white, suburban and significantly older jury pool surely isn’t a jury of one’s peers if you’re a young, black, African-American male.


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  1. I went for jury duty several years ago and also did the voir dire thing, despite knowing darn well they wouldn’t pick me. It turned out the case involved a guy accused of breaking into an off-campus apartment and tying up some SU students and burglarizing them. I had to approach the bench and tell the judge that I worked for SU’s PR office and so I already knew a lot about the case. There was one other prospective juror in the box who got asked a lot of questions; he was the son of a lawyer and so he was able to give all the “right” answers to the questions and yes, he got chosen. I can’t remember what I was asked.


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