voir dire

I am deeply troubled by the fact that our “justice” system picks and chooses their juries in a way that doesn’t actually promote justice.

Voir dire refers to “the process by which prospective jurors are questioned about their backgrounds and potential biases before being chosen to sit on a jury.” So…What I understand to happen is anyone who might possibly be a competent juror for a case isn’t allowed to be a juror.

Now, I’ve only been summoned for jury duty once, and I was outside the state so I wasn’t available to go. But I’m pretty sure when I’m called again, I’ll most likely be picked off the jury for one belief or another. This is annoying because I, unlike millions of other people out there, actually kind of WANT to participate in a jury. Here are some questions they ask:

 

Do you have a bias or prejudice against any of the law applicable to the case?

This question is asked to prevent people with any knowledge of an injust law to keep it from having its full effect. If it’s our “civic duty” to judge our fellow citizens, is it not also our civic duty to question and oppose unfair laws? And isn’t a courtroom a great place to do that? Yes, it is. That’s why they don’t want you in there if you say yes.

Have you or a family member experienced a similar crime?

Defense attorneys know that people who have experienced similar crimes knoe just how horrible of an experience a victim of, say, rape, has had. This is detrimental to their ability to convince you that it’s Not That Bad. They say they’re kicking you out because you won’t be able to be “impartial,” but first of all, impartiality is impossible (“you can’t be neutral on a moving train”) because everything we believe is a result of our previous experiences. And second: why is impartiality so valued? Why aren’t personal experiences, emotions and wisdom valued? Justice requires as much previous knowledge about a certain crime as possible, not as little as possible.

Do you have any beliefs, religious or otherwise, that might make you reluctant to make a judgement or vote for punishment?

Similarly:
Do you believe in the death penalty? (if it is a case in which the death penalty could be applicable)

If you say yes and no respectively, you won’t be allowed to serve jury duty. This is pretty much enacting a state where only people who believe in certain principles have the opportunity to be part of the justice system. This is discriminatory and has hints of fascism.

Do you swear to find a verdict solely on the basis of the facts presented in court?

HELL no. For a government that claims to think education is so important, they sure want their juries to be as stupid as possible. Don’t make judgements based on outside knowledge?! “You are a blank slate at the whim of two attorneys who are getting PAID to convince you of something. Pretend you have no logic or reasoning skills and have learned nothing at all, ever. Okay? Awesome.”

Fun fact: When Howard Zinn was testifying in the defense of the Milwaukee 14, a group of people who broke into a draft board, stole documents and publicly burned them, he attempted to discuss the historical significance of civil disobedience in the United States. Judge Larsen stopped him and said, “You cannot discuss that. That is getting to the heart of the matter.”

Although in later cases, Zinn was allowed to successfully testify by talking about issues related to the crime, our justice system still has a lot of infrastructure to stop people from judging based on “the heart of the matter.”

I’m not sure what the best solutions for this are. Personally, I think it’s a rather important and educational experience to serve on a jury, but the way juries currently work is not really useful. The only way to fix the problem (within the system, anyway) is to have juries with true variety, not attorney-selected “impartial” jurors. I think I’ll lie when asked these questions meant to weed people like me – educated people – out.

Another fun fact: Quakers do not swear oaths. They believe in being truthful at all times, so “taking legal oaths implies a double standard of truthfulness” (thanks Wikipedia, and token quaker friend). They also have a lot of controversy in their past because they believe in true human equality, so they wouldn’t bow for kings or whatever. They’re like the anarchists of religion! If I were religious, I’d totally be a quaker. A buddhist quaker.

But anyway, in case you’re not as okay with lying to get on a jury as I am, here is some cool advice from wikihow-to-get-out-of-jury-duty (why is it that so many people are looking to do this? It’s one of the first results! Stupid people. “Oh, woe is me, I have to participate in democracy…”):

Judges who say to jurors that, “you will be required to follow and apply this law regardless of whether it seems just or not”, might be asked if they would exercise this rule against Harriet Tubman (1820-1913), who violated the federal Fugitive Slave Laws by participating in the Underground Railroad for escaped slaves, or against Rosa Parks (b.1913), who was arrested in 1955 for violating the segregation laws in Montgomery, Alabama, by refusing to move to the back of the bus when the bus driver told her to give up her seat to a white passenger. If a judge bites the bullet and says that, yes, he would have to instruct juries to convict these women because the law is the law, he might be told that such blind obedience was not accepted as a defense during the War Crimes Tribunal at Nuremberg, when many Nazis claimed that they were just “following orders.” A judge who participates in injustices because he is “following orders” might be similarly called to account.

Bam! Justice. As long as they don’t call you out on Godwin’s Law, you’re golden.

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One Response to voir dire

  1. do quakers take an oath not to say oaths? I also like the juxtaposition of an anarchist religion. It’s a really interesting tight-rope that the system has to walk in terms of jury nullification. While it has been used to prevent the unjust punishment of guilty people, it has also been used to prevent appropriate recourse against those racist bastards who happen to get a white jury. When cast in that light, it almost seems like the true value of the jury system is not in selecting those people who are the most unbiased, but those with the greatest diversity.

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