Tuesday, October 5, 2010

My Civic Duty

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of being part of a jury panel. So, what did this entail?

One hour in a very tiny holding room with 23 other people.

One and a half hours of being asked, "Do you think you can be a fair and unbiased juror? DO YOU??"

Thirty minutes of waiting, only to be told that I WAS LUCKY TO BE CHOSEN FOR THE JURY. Yay for me.

One hour of trial that went like this:

"Did you break the law by not complying with the police officer's orders?"
"I didn't break the law. I mean, I didn't not comply with the officer's orders."
"Did you do what he told you to do?"
"So, you didn't comply with the officer's orders?"
"Well, it's not that I didn't comply, I just didn't do what he said."


One hour in the deliberation room that went like this:

ME: I think this is a pretty straightforward case. The ordinance clearly states that it is against the law to disobey a command given by a law enforcement officer - explicitly in cases where danger is involved. So, the question is, did he clearly disobey the officer's command? Yes. He may have excuses for why he did what he did, but it still doesn't not refute the fact that he did not follow orders. (Ok, I didn't say it that eloquently.)

MAN: Well, I don't know. Seems like he had good reasons to not follow orders. I'm also not comfortable with a guilty verdict. We got to look at how this is going to affect this kid down the line - in case he wants to work at a bank or get a nice job. It's going to be on his record!

OMG. I swear, this was the highlight of this guy's decade. This isn't freaking Law & Order. I honestly thought we would be in the deliberation room for 2 minutes, and everyone would unanimously agree that this kid was GUILTY. Not the case at all. The really interesting thing I learned from the whole experience was how you could present the same set of information to a random group of people, and everyone could walk away with a different interpretation and opinion of the information.

It took a little over an hour to convince this man that the kid broke the law. I think he just had a soft spot in his heart for the kid because the crime was so minor, but at the end of the day, it doesn't really matter. He made a bad choice, and he had to be punished for it.

Which brings me to my final gripe for the day (I promise): as part of our duties as a jury, we had to come up with an appropriate fine for the defendant if he were found guilty. For a class C misdemeanor, the fine can range anywhere between $1-$500. So, after an hour of deliberation, we found the guy guilty (for disobeying an officer) and fined him a steep $50.

FIFTY DOLLARS. 6 jurors and over 6 hours of our lives to determine a $50 fine. Could there not be a better process for this? I understand that everyone has a right to a trial and to defend their innocence, but at the same time, there has to be a more constructive use of our time and our tax dollars. It seems completely egregious to use our resources for such minor offenses. Anyway, I think I'd prefer to see these minor offenses penalized with community service, rather than these minuscule fines that barely cover the cost of anything.

BAH, there's my rant for the week.

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