Wednesday, March 02, 2005

A good experience with the legal system

I was called for Jury Duty this week.

I served once before, many years ago. It was an enlightning experience to how juries do their business. That case was a crappy-assed little criminal trial involving a $60 forged check. The defendant was so obviously guilty that the jury could have deliberated no longer than it took to vote to convict her. Instead, we at least tried to give her side of the case some credit. There was no way.

I wondered why she took the chance on a two year conviction, when any judge in the world would have her pay restitution and be on probation for that kind of offense. Only after the trial I learned that there were things coming down the road for her that meant she at least had to give it a shot.

Same thing with this jury. It was a fairly straightforward slip and fall in a eatery. I could see just from the voir dire of the jurors that the jury would probably wind up assigning percentage liabilities to the parties and the only thing to really decide would be the money issues. But I did wonder why in the world it had gotten this far -- why hadn't they settled this long ago? What really worried me was that the resturant was going to claim that the plaintiff was faking it. That would put a huge responsibility on the jury and I for one did not welcome the thought.

As it happened, they settled in the middle of the night before the trial started. But in talking with the others that were picked for the jury, I found that they were very thoughtful people, who had gone home after voir dire and started asking themselves questions, about the answers that they wanted to hear during the trial.

As long as we have good people on juries, the system is intact, no matter how shaky and dysfunctional other parts of it may be.

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