FAULTY COMPONENTS

Now that the legal system has become a primary form of entertainment for Americans (It feels so much like news, we don't even have to feel guilty about watching it!) it's amazing to me how often we manage to overlook the simplest explanation for the wonkiest verdicts: Juries are made up of people, and people are dumber than a bag of hammers. What's that old saying, "Imagine the average American, then remember that half of them aren't even that smart?"

The math is bad (that would be the median American) but the point is useful. Think about every knucklehead co-worker, every ranting racist uncle, every Jesus/Precious Moments obsessed granny, every deviant high school classmate, every friend-of-friend who giggles and admits not knowing the difference between Republicans and Democrats…that's your jury pool, folks. True, many of the people least capable of handling the responsibilities of a juror are weeded out during the selection process, but for the most part jury pools are a grab bag of working- and middle-class America wherever you live. News network "legal analysts" love to question jury selection after the fact, but in some jurisdictions the prosecution and defense are probably just thankful to find 12 eligible adults who aren't completely illiterate and who have enough social awareness not to shout ethnic slurs in public.

One of the Zimmerman jurors – the inevitable "Juror Who Writes a Book," naturally – has given a couple interviews. In the process, she has revealed herself to be not-the-sharpest of knives. If her explanation sounds like what you'd hear from a gossipy middle aged woman at a hair salon as Court TV blares in the distance, well, that's basically what it is. It's good to hear her say phrases like "boy of color" and to admit that she was influenced by riots in response to the Martin death…riots that didn't actually happen:

But there are some other reasons to wonder why she got on the jury, particularly why the prosecutors let her on the jury.

Juror B37 hates the media and thinks all reporting is biased. She doesn’t listen to the radio or read the Internet but rather gets all her news from the Today show. She also repeatedly referred to the riots that broke out in Sanford after Martin was killed. Of course, there were no riots after Martin was killed.

In other words, juror B37 is not only ignorant but militantly ignorant.

Since this story broke, many analysts (armchair and otherwise) have questioned the State's decision to let this person on the jury. Well, both sides are at the mercy of the pool. Yes, as the prosecutor I certainly would have looked for a way to reject this dumbass, but…maybe the others were worse. Maybe it was especially difficult to find people who didn't have extensive knowledge of the Martin incident through the media. Think about that for a second – how ignorant of a person would you have to be to live in the county in which this happened and manage to hear relatively little about it?

Given the necessity of finding people who haven't (openly) prejudged the defendant, you're not only at the mercy of the jury pool in a widely publicized case like this – you're at the mercy of the lousiest portion of that pool. And that is why the justice system does things that seem illogical, racist, biased, etc so often. It is made up of the collective judgments of Ordinary Americans, and Ordinary Americans have, uh, some very curious and subjective ways of drawing conclusions irrespective of evidence to the contrary. And that's about as nicely as I can put it.

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43 Responses to “FAULTY COMPONENTS”

  1. Xynzee Says:

    I thought the other issue was that as one HS Civics teacher put it: "Weren't bright enough to come up with a half-way decent excuse why they couldn't serve."

    So that further reduces the pool. The two easiest reasons being primary carer and employment.

    Given the "at will" employment culture of many states, "doing one's civic duty" could be frowned upon. Given what we see, there appears to be an anecdotal correlation between "at will" employment and injustice. Though someone with the stats is free to correct me.

  2. Breezeblock Says:

    Several years ago, I was pulled into the jury pool for the well-publicized murder of a priest in New Jersey, allegedly (at the time) by a caretaker at the church. I had read so much about the case in the local papers, that when the judge asked me if I could render an impartial decision, I said I could not, and that I had already formulated my opinion. It was all true, and I was excused.

  3. Hobbes Says:

    Americans have started conflating protests and riots. This happened during the Wisconsin protests, the Occupy stuff, and apparently now with the hoodie protests. A "riot" to these people is a large group of Those People showing their faces in public, regardless of whether "Those People" functions as a dog whistle for "niggers" or "liberals".

  4. AL Says:

    She's apparently had second thoughts about the book deal: http://livewire.talkingpointsmemo.com/entry/report-zimmerman-juror-b37-will-not-write-book

  5. Alex SL Says:

    "it's amazing to me how often we manage to overlook the simplest explanation for the wonkiest verdicts: Juries are made up of people, and people are dumber than a bag of hammers."

    What makes you think that this is not blatantly obvious? Growing up, one of the first things I remember my compatriots laughing and pointing their fingers at the USA for, even before gun nuttery and lack of health care, was the jury system where Moron H. Numbskull gets to decide about life or death for somebody else. For good reason, civiliz… eh, sorry, other countries have benches of professional judges making the decision. It works. Better.

    Of course, doesn't mean that there aren't other things that my own country could learn from the USA, etc.

    "The math is bad (that would be the median American)"

    Assuming that intelligence is more or less normally distributed one would assume that mean and median are reasonably close together, right?

  6. c u n d gulag Says:

    If you want proof of just how f*cking stupid, ignorant, and gullible the American public is, you need look no further than our Congress.

    Think about level of "moran" it takes to look at the likes of Senators Jim Inhofe, Tom Coburn, or Jeff Sessions, or House members Louis Gohmert, Steve King, or Michele Bachmann, and say to themselves, "Yeah, THAT'S the kind of smart person I want representing me in Congress!"

    You can only have a "Stupid Party," if you have "stupid people."

  7. Kulkuri Says:

    Xynzee beat me to it. I was going to say it is hell having your fate determined by a bunch of people too dumb to get out of jury duty.

    Speaking of which, I was supposed to be on jury duty this week, but the trail was canceled.

  8. Sarah Says:

    I thought the other issue was that as one HS Civics teacher put it: "Weren't bright enough to come up with a half-way decent excuse why they couldn't serve."

    So that further reduces the pool. The two easiest reasons being primary carer and employment.

    Given the "at will" employment culture of many states, "doing one's civic duty" could be frowned upon. Given what we see, there appears to be an anecdotal correlation between "at will" employment and injustice. Though someone with the stats is free to correct me.

    My mother is a registered nurse, although she does wound care (for diabetics and other chronic conditions), not ER or cardiac surgery or anything like that. She was not able to avoid jury duty, and spent all day in a courthouse waiting in the jury pool. She ended up not being picked. My father, on the other hand, simply sent back the form stating that as a commercial airline pilot, he was out of town much of the time and would not be able to serve. That was accepted by the court.

  9. Anonymouse Says:

    Gulag, remember, the Michele Bachmanns and George Bushes are elected by people who admire them and (their highest praise) want to have a beer with them. That type is terrified of smart people and hates them because they're more accomplished.

  10. Sarah Says:

    Americans have started conflating protests and riots. This happened during the Wisconsin protests, the Occupy stuff, and apparently now with the hoodie protests. A "riot" to these people is a large group of Those People showing their faces in public, regardless of whether "Those People" functions as a dog whistle for "niggers" or "liberals".

    That, and the fact that there was violence and arrests associated with those protests. Those who were there and were participating in the protests say (on blogs and Tumblr and Twitter) that the police initiated the violence with brutality. The violence gets sensationalized on the news, and the people who weren't following the whole story from beginning to end saw only the violence, out of context, and conflated that to "rioting."

  11. Sarah Says:

    Given the "at will" employment culture of many states, "doing one's civic duty" could be frowned upon. Given what we see, there appears to be an anecdotal correlation between "at will" employment and injustice. Though someone with the stats is free to correct me.

    In Florida, it is (unless the legislature and our illustrious governor have repealed it without my noticing) illegal to fire someone for taking time off to serve on a jury. Not only that, if an employer actually does it, or hassles an employee for serving, that employee has grounds for a civil suit.

  12. jon Says:

    Civil suit? Wow! So, it might take how many months before that hits the court, how many court fees and filing fees and lawyer fees, to do what? take time off for your own trial, which your new and different boss probably isn't obliged to give you.

    Court remedies are available. But you have to have time and money to get them.

  13. Anubis Bard Says:

    George Zimmerman was truly judged by a jury of his peers then. So there's that.

  14. Greg Says:

    My criminal law professor stated without citation that studies have found the average jury in Amrikkka to be composed of people at a 6th-8th grade degree of literacy and education. Not sure if that's 6th-8th grade from 40 years ago or today, since those are vastly different levels of skill. Sigh.

  15. Greg Says:

    Also, forgot — Jon, those fees are usually taken out of your award if you win, and covered by the lawyer if not. Time, yes, but theoretically the contingent fee is there to allow greater access to suit from all levels of income. Of course it also gives the lawyers bigger incentives to take riskier cases and seek settlement, which gives Rethuglicans talking points to justify tort reform. So you get less money because the lawyer gets up to 40% but you get some money. And maybe still lose your job.

  16. J. Dryden Says:

    All of what you're saying is correct–although I will say, having served on a jury quite recently, that I found my colleagues to be patient and thoughtful and eager to come to the correct ruling according to the law, but one anecdote does not a rebuttal make–but it's worth remembering that the jurors in the Martin/Zimmerman case actually returned the *correct* verdict under Florida law.

    That is, given the insane burden of proof placed on the prosecution and the absolute horrific idiocy of the Stand Your Ground law (which might as well be called the Is The Big Black Man Scaring You Then Kill Him law), the jurors pretty much had to find Zimmerman Not Guilty according to the instructions that were given to him. The defense put forth a claim that Zimmerman acted under the Stand Your Ground law, which the prosecution did not–*could* not–adequately rebut. (Because, you see, the only other witness was dead.)

    In short, the only way for the jury to find Zimmerman guilty beyond a reasonable doubt would be for them to nullify the law, which, sure as you're born, would have led to an appeal and an overturn.

    Juries are always a gamble–it's why lawyers avoid them as much as possible. But this one didn't give the wrong verdict. (Same as the Casey Anthony jury, which was entirely correct in its finding of reasonable doubt.) It gave the correct verdict under a terrible law. Which, if you think about it, is much much worse.

    Also, as a side note: If you're upset about the quality of jurors, stop fucking trying to get out of jury duty yourself, and chastise your friends and family members who do so. Trust me when I say that it only takes one or two really smart people on a jury to guide the others to a verdict–the 12 ANGRY MEN thing, it's actually an accurate or juror dynamics. *You* can make a jury work–so don't dodge the call when it comes.

  17. J. Dryden Says:

    *an accurate portrait of juror dynamics*. Dunno what happened there, apart from I'm an idiot.

  18. Mo Says:

    Bingo, Anonymouse. The simmering humiliation, hatred and fear burns like the Centralia coal fire.

    Alas, smart sociopaths do indeed give us something to worry about. Exhibit A, Rush Limbaugh. Exhibit B, the Kochs.

  19. Death Panel Truck Says:

    I thought the other issue was that as one HS Civics teacher put it: "Weren't bright enough to come up with a half-way decent excuse why they couldn't serve."

    I live in Washington state, where if you refuse to show up for jury duty, there's not much they can do about it. The sheriff doesn't have the resources to track down and lock up every juror who fails to appear. The summons states that it is a misdemeanor, but it's just not enforced, because it's impossible. I served in 2001, and haven't been called since.

  20. Big dog Says:

    Dryden called this right from start to finish. The evidence points to one juror being a nincompoop but the jurors had no choice. Reasonable doubt about the application of a horrendous law required setting the kid killer back on the street. The cruelty and incompetence of the Republican legislatures passing one outrageous bill after another shakes my faith in this country. The problem as I see it is that once these laws are established, like the War on Drugs laws, we seem unable to change them in spite of the fact that the majority wants to roll them back. I would be delighted to eat crow if stand your ground laws were to be repealed, but I'm not gonna hold my breath.

  21. Doctor Rock Says:

    I have to question the wisdom of getting jurors who don't have opinions/haven't heard much about extremely high-profile cases. I get that you want untainted juries. But at the same time, this philosophy is only going to get the most oblivious, uninquisitive minds on the juries of high-profile cases.

  22. JohnR Says:

    Funny how that works – people who think you exercise citizenship by cheating to get off jury duty complaining how juries are made up of idiots. Gosh. Golly. Kind of a shame the smart people are too darned important and busy to serve on a jury.

  23. Doctor Rock Says:

    @ Xynzee Well, I take issue with this blind cynicism. I've never used an excuse to try to get out of jury service. Even growing up in Miami I was happy to do jury duty. My mother was a public defender fer Christ's sake and she told me to pretend I didn't get the summons because it wasn't certified mail. Part feeling of civic duty, part genuine interest, part realizing I have no right to complain about moron jurors if I don't at least show up.

    Also, the best law school professor I had was a criminal trial attorney. He told us how he practically begged to get on a jury to get some insight. People like that aren't common I don't think, but I'd want to be on a jury for the same reason I used to like watching Jersey Shore.

  24. Doctor Rock Says:

    "It is hell having your fate determined by a bunch of people too dumb to get out of jury duty."

    For a civil suit, either side can request a trial by jury (at least at the federal level), but you know that as a criminal defendant, it is entirely up to you? Maybe there are some weird states, but I've never heard of a jurisdiction where you couldn't get a bench trial.

    Sometimes, you're so obviously guilty to any intelligent person that you WANT a jury full of morons. See, eg OJ Simpson (yes, even with an incompetent prosecution, they're still morons).

  25. sluggo Says:

    CBS Morning News reported that the initial vote was 2 manslaughter, 1 for 2nd degree murder and 3 to acquit. It sounds like once they got into the details and language of the law, things changed.

  26. ladiesbane Says:

    Can we agree that Florida law seems to have been written by a crack team of howler monkeys at an open bar? I seem to recall that we discussed this after the 2000 election and then again after the Casey Anthony trial. The Zimmerman chapter won't be the last in the Big Book of Florida Fuck-Ups.

  27. Sarah Says:

    Also, as a side note: If you're upset about the quality of jurors, stop fucking trying to get out of jury duty yourself, and chastise your friends and family members who do so. Trust me when I say that it only takes one or two really smart people on a jury to guide the others to a verdict–the 12 ANGRY MEN thing, it's actually an accurate or juror dynamics. *You* can make a jury work–so don't dodge the call when it comes.

    I'd love to serve on a jury. I never got a summons before, though, and I suspect that if I got one now the attorneys wouldn't want me–I've heard that lawyers don't want other lawyers on their juries, and it seems to me very doubtful that they are going to want someone who holds a paralegal certification.

  28. Sarah Says:

    Civil suit? Wow! So, it might take how many months before that hits the court, how many court fees and filing fees and lawyer fees, to do what? take time off for your own trial, which your new and different boss probably isn't obliged to give you.

    Court remedies are available. But you have to have time and money to get them.

    I did hear of someone who used that successfully, once. It's also possible that a manager or other PTB at a given place of employment would be held criminally liable for hassling an employee who goes to serve jury duty.

    I don't doubt that there are problems with the system. It's such a shame that we don't have enough liberals in Florida who are willing to be politically active to try to change the system, and so many of the ones we do have can't even be bothered to go vote once in a while.

  29. Pat Says:

    "Think of how dumb the average guy is, and then realize half the people are dumber than that." It's a Carlin line.

    Juries are biased actually to be dumber than average, because while courts can't exclude jurors for stupidity, they can exclude them for having previously-arrived-at information about the case. In People v. Zimmerman, anyone who had been following the slaying of Trayvon Martin would have been stricken; the remainder of the population is going to tend to resemble Juror B37. That's the magic of our legal system.

    Of course, it'll be about nanoseconds until the folks cheering the prudence of the jury system in this case are back to complaining about runaway justice when there's a civil case against a pharmaceutical company that sold poisonous boner pills to a couple million people.

  30. J. Dryden Says:

    @ Sarah: I'm a former paralegal myself (fistbump), and have a workaholic litigator for a father–I practically grew up in a law office–so I have a strong grasp courtroom procedure, rules of evidence, etc.

    Oddly enough, this has made me more, rather than less attractive to trial attorneys looking to fill a panel: I'm very upfront during voir dire about my background, and how I take jury duty and the oath of impartiality seriously, how I understand that "reasonable doubt" does not mean "any doubt whatsoever" but also how I recognize that the defendant is legally innocent until proven guilty. In other words, I come across as the kind of guy who'll give both sides a fair shake, and will make his decision according to the evidence and the law rather than my biases. In general, most lawyers *want* people with brains and no axe to grind, because stupid people are erratic and likely to vote their mood or some random nonsense like "he's wearing paisley, so he must be guilty."

    As for never being called, that just the Vegas aspect of it–my father has literally never been called his whole life, my mother over 7 times. No reason for this; it's just how things break. Point being, if you do get called, I wouldn't discount the possibility of being empaneled just because you know what the letter SJM stand for.

  31. elizamg Says:

    There is plenty of stupidity to go around, don't just pick on the jury. I recently served jury duty and was less than impressed with the lawyers on both sides. It was criminal case about the theft of a scooter and even though the police were able to pinpoint the defendant fairly quickly in their investigation (given the dates associated with the admitted evidence) the prosecution made a hash of presenting the case and the defense attorneys just picked on the police officers. When it came time to deliberate we decided fairly quickly that there wasn't enough evidence to convict the defendant and we wondered why the prosecution had bothered.

    That said serving on a jury wasn't that onerous, so if you have the opportunity, go ahead. And if you work in a small college town get used to it since there are only so many permanent residents to call upon.

  32. J.D. Says:

    The median, mean, and mode are all averages. So, while "average" isn't a very precise term, it's not incorrect to say that half of all Americans are dumber than the average American, because it's clear from the context that this use of the term "average" refers to the median.

  33. Nate Says:

    Jurors get paid free parking and paid peanuts to serve on a jury. Anyone who makes more than minimum generally provides an excuse to not serve. It's really not that shocking that some jurors are dum-dums. Most of the smarter ones with better paying jobs opt out. I opted in for the pool because I honestly like doing my civic duty. I haven't been called in for duty this month yet, but we'll see, there's still a few weeks left.

  34. just me Says:

    What Nate says makes good sense, so my civic minded (and publically funded) employer (at the behest of my union) actually pays employees full salary for seven days if they are called to serve on a jury, and application can be made for longer periods of partial compensation if necessary. Oh, the horror of Soshalizm!
    Doctor Rock is also on target: would anyone really want someone with their head in the sand re: a high profile case, or would they rather have someone like J Dryden – knowledgeable about court proceedings and aware of current events yet still stable and balanced enough to be impartial with the case presented? The answer would have seemed obvious to me before my own experience with the question.
    Three times I have been called to present evidence to a jury about how particular medical tests are performed and how the results might be interpreted. And once I was called to jury selection in a case where medical tests would be presented in evidence. During voir dire I gave an account of my professional background and stated that I was aware of the newspaper coverage of the case, but had no preconceived conclusions from such information and would certainly be able to render an impartial decision based solely on the facts presented.
    I was rejected by the defence who felt my analysis of the situation would be too clinical. Sometimes they really are looking for the paisley-lovers.
    And just to split hairs, JD, it is only from the mean, and not the median, that one would be able to say that half of Americans are dumber than avarage.

  35. just me Says:

    or average… whatever

  36. Kmtberry Says:

    I was called for the jury of (wait for it) TOM DELAY!!!! And I was disqualified at the last minute because I am a food writer. Yes, I write restaurant reviews , not for a living but I do write them. Apparently ANY member of the "Press" is NOT EVER WANTED.

    I cried for two days. I wanted to be on that jury so fucking bad.

  37. Xynzee Says:

    @DrRock: I think that was the point he was trying to make. That it's *too* easy to get out of jury duty.

  38. Andrew Says:

    In Alameda County, California, jurors most certainly do not get free parking.

  39. guttedleafsfan Says:

    I was called once,and selected for a jury, but after 2 frustrating days the trial was aborted I got to know my fellow jurors pretty well and they were not that much dumber than me. Not that that is saying much.

  40. lless Says:

    "Knock, knock." "What am I supposed to say?" "The Defense passes this juror, your Honor."

  41. Pat Says:

    Doctor Rock, the prosecution actually often has the right to demand a jury trial, even if the defense attempts to waive it. I'm not entirely sure how many of the 50 states allow this (New York, Oregon, and Ohio do not), but it's the federal rule:

    http://www.law.cornell.edu/rules/frcrmp/rule_23

    Here's New York, contra:

    http://codes.lp.findlaw.com/nycode/CPL/TWO/J/320/320.10

  42. Doctor Rock Says:

    Wow too much time in New York I guess.

  43. Bitter Scribe Says:

    A prosecutor I once dated told me that "jury selection" is actually jury exclusion. The jury is what's left after the obvious mental cases get culled. Even then you get goofballs who hold out for acquittals in the face of overwhelming evidence. (Well, she was a prosecutor so she would focus on that.)