Jury Duty Job Fairs: An unworkable idea to help people find work

Here are three things I noticed during my day of jury duty last week:

1. It’s a hassle to have to skip two days of work to spend that time instead sitting around in a courthouse. For some people, it means losing two days of hourly pay. For others, it means falling behind at work and needing to work harder to catch up when they get back.

2. Much of jury duty consists of sitting around for hours waiting to be called on (or not called on). The day I served, 120 of us sat in limbo from 9 a.m. until noon. Some of us read books, some worked on laptops, some chatted in the back of the room and some just stared out the window.

3. Jury duty pays a tiny stipend. I got a check for $11.04 — the equivalent of earning $1.38 a hour, or about $2,900 a year if jury duty were my full-time job. That’s obviously not a living wage, but it’s still greater than zero, and thus not wholly meaningless.

These three things gave me an odd idea. It’s a pipe-dream of an idea to help address the historic jobs crisis that America is mired in right now. It’s also, I think, a wholly unworkable, impractical and impossible idea.

So let me first describe what I’m imagining, and then let me tell you why it can’t — and probably shouldn’t — happen.

I’m imagining a system in which jury duty gives preference to the unemployed. Jobless citizens will get called to serve jury duty once a month.

This involves Nos. 1 and 3 above. First, it reduces the frequency of jury duty for those with employment. They’d still be called to serve, but less often, thus reducing the total level of inconvenience and hassle due to missing days at work. And it would channel more of those tiny, inadequate stipends to unemployed people who could use even such trivial sums. A check for $11.04 won’t pay the rent, but it’s still (slightly) better than nothing.

Mainly though — and this is the promising part — the idea is to take advantage of item No. 2. I want to repurpose all that mostly wasted time prospective jurors now spend sitting around and waiting and put it to use trying to find jobs for jurors.

The idea is to turn jury duty into an ongoing job fair, to turn the waiting room for prospective jurors into an employment office. Job-seekers called for jury duty wouldn’t just bring a good book to read, they’d bring their résumés. The time now mostly squandered sitting around would instead be used to try to connect the unemployed with potential employers. Every business in the county would be encouraged/required to keep the county jobs counselor informed of any job openings. These would be posted in the jury room near the computers and the tables where the jobs counselor works with prospective jurors to facilitate networking and to assist them with résumé-writing, interview preparation, etc. (Yes, this job counselor would be a full-time county employee. See? We’ve created one new job already.)

Many days employers would be visiting to conduct mini job fairs. This could even be tailored to align with what the counselor’s database shows about the skills and experience of each day’s jury pool. (“I want to introduce Ms. Daniels, who’s visiting today from a local IT firm. Would the following six people please go to the table by the coffee machine to speak with her …”)

On the one hand, I see some real potential in such a scheme — an active mechanism for helping job-seekers in the county find employment and for helping businesses in the county fill any vacancies. But I also see many problems with the idea — including one huge, insurmountable obstacle.

The first problem is that any effort like this, designed to match job-seekers up with existing job openings, doesn’t do much to address the root of our jobs crisis. The main cause of our current massive level of unemployment is a lack of aggregate demand. Businesses aren’t hiring because customers aren’t buying. And customers aren’t buying because businesses aren’t hiring. Efforts like this one that don’t directly address that root problem are mainly just nibbling around the edges.

Right now, we’ve got between three and four job-seekers for every job opening in America. Set aside for the moment all the logistical difficulties of matching up geographical and skill differentials and just pretend that tomorrow, in a single day, we were somehow magically able to fill every existing job opening with a qualified applicant. That would be a frabjous day, but unemployment would still be somewhere between 66 percent to 75 percent of what it is now. That’s not enough of a difference to get overall demand up to where it needs to be for job creation to kick in as vigorously as it must to solve our crisis.

But it would help. We’d have some 3 million to 5 million more people receiving paychecks, and thus 3-5 million new potential customers for every existing business. That many new customers would surely encourage some of those businesses to hire more people to meet their growing demand and we would, at least, be moving in the right direction. So connecting job-seekers with job-openings is not a panacea, but it could contribute to the cure.

But the real problem with my scheme here — the reason it’s an unworkable fantasy — is that it would involve expanding the function of jury duty to include purposes other than jury selection in service of our justice system.

The jury selection process does not exist to help employ the unemployed. It exists to fill juries with a random cross-section of our “peers” so that those juries can determine the facts of criminal and civil cases fairly and impartially. Trying to piggy-back on that system for any other purpose potentially jeopardizes its ability to do what it needs to do as well as it does now.

My scheme would skew the pool of prospective jurors. It would mean that any given jury would likely contain a larger proportion of unemployed people than any other random grouping of 12 county residents would. It’s imaginable that this would affect the process and possibly undermine the integrity of the system. So basically there’s no way the justice system could or maybe even should allow such a scheme.

Still, though, I wonder if such worries are correct. How would having juries with a larger percentage of unemployed citizens serving alter the current system?

I know there’s a vast body of literature regarding jury selection. Prosecutors and defense attorneys have weighed every imaginable variable concerning prospective jurors to gauge how each might be more or less favorable to their side of the case. I’m sure studies have been conducted and articles have been written pondering the effect of having jury members who are currently unemployed.

I haven’t read any of that. It may be compelling and persuasive. Or not.

It’s quite possible that stacking the pool of prospective jurors with a larger proportion of unemployed citizens would not meaningfully change the random selection of the current system. Unemployment, just like jury selection, is a phenomenon that affects a representative, random cross-section of the populace. Thus juries composed of a greater proportion of unemployed citizens should, in every other respect, be indistinguishable from current juries.

In other words, I don’t believe that a prospective juror’s status as employed or unemployed is in any way worthy of consideration. Some might suggest otherwise based on the mistaken assumption that those who are currently jobless are more lazy, dependent, immoral, unskilled or stupid than other people. But despite all the demagogues preaching such nonsense, none of that is true. It’s simply a common way for the unprincipled to pander to the insecure. Reassure them that the unfortunate somehow deserve their misfortune and you thereby reassure them that such misfortune won’t and can’t happen to them.

Such foolishness is at least as old as the book of Job, but it has never been true.

It seems to me that if you’re looking to assemble a random and representative cross-section of American citizens, then starting with a pool of unemployed citizens is not meaningfully different from starting with a pool of all registered voters.

It is true, however, that the demographics of unemployment are not perfectly representative. Unemployment tends to affect a higher percentage of non-white Americans than of white Americans. And I’m told that, broadly speaking, prosecutors prefer juries that skew more white while defense attorneys prefer juries that skew more non-white. Since my scheme might make the pool of prospective jurors somewhat more non-white than the current system, it could be viewed as potentially making juries more friendly toward the defense. I don’t think this is a problem of my scheme itself, simply a factor that potentially might exacerbate one of the major existing flaws in our justice system. But I doubt that is a winning argument from me. (Likewise with potential skewing for gender, age and other factors that may be disproportionately affected by unemployment.)

Bottom line, then: This idea is fun to contemplate, but it is, and probably should be, impossible.

It is, as I said, an odd idea. Mainly I’m just hoping it’s odd enough to be the sort of odd idea that sparks other odd ideas that might prove to be closer to the realm of the possible.

And at the very least, maybe we could get a county job-posting bulletin board there in the jury room. Couldn’t hurt.

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  • octopod42

    Interesting idea. I’d first like to know how skewed the representation on juries already is — people who get off of jury duty are probably doing so for a fairly consistent set of reasons, and I’m kind of curious as to how that already biases the set of people who are there.

  • Elizabby

    I’d first like to know how skewed the representation on juries already is — people who get off of jury duty are probably doing so for a fairly consistent set of reasons, and I’m kind of curious as to how that already biases the set of people who are there.

    Lots. There is a saying around here “Juries are made up of 12 people too stupid to get out of jury duty.” I think this is stretching the point a bit – but there *are* a lot of exemptions. I don’t actually know anyone who has ever served on a jury – I work in a hospital and that seems to pretty much be a reason for exemption. I also have a young child, and that seems to be an exemption too.

    I suspect jury duty is *already* biased towards the unemployed, because so many professions seem to be exempted. I really don’t see the job fair idea working for the reasons given above – that there are so many applicants for jobs already, the problem isn’t so much one of matching as of job generation.

  • Lori

     

    I don’t actually know anyone who has ever served on a jury – I work in a
    hospital and that seems to pretty much be a reason for exemption. I
    also have a young child, and that seems to be an exemption too. 

    I think this depends a lot on where you live. Being the primary caregiver for a young child seems to be get you an exemption everywhere, but in LA just working in a hospital doesn’t. LA county churns through jurors in huge numbers* and it’s tough to get an automatic out.

    *LA has long had a large number of court cases per population and when the (idiotic) 3 strikes law passed 15 years or so ago it got so much worse. More cases go to trial because defendants (quite rationally) are less likely to accept a plea that gets them a “strike” and no one in their right mind pleads to a 3rd strike.

  • keyne

     In my area, being primary caregiver to a young child will get you a postponement, but not an exemption; you’re expected to find childcare eventually or else.  And no, I don’t think there are exemptions for nursing moms either. :(

  • Xclamation

    I can only think of one practical reason why your jury pool/job fair idea might be a bad idea (warning, I am not an expert in the field of law and/or justice, please feel free to ignore the following). Let’s say I’m a recruiter for an oil company and I’m looking to fill some positions with possible jurors. Let’s also assume that on this particular day there’s a trial involving some environmental funclusters created by a different oil company. My bosses are a little worried that this trial may open some regulatory doors that we’d just as soon bolt shut. “Hey, possible jury pick, want a job? You’re hired, provided you can pass a drug test, a background check and promise that you’ll render Big Oil a fair, impartial and favorable verdict.”

    That seems far-fetched, but consider all of the negligence cases brought against businesses, or workers’ comp claims. Getting juries to reach good decisions is hard enough (says the anonymous poster who claims to be employed with a company which works with a large-ish court system – I guess you’ll just have to trust me), why make it harder by making it easier for the less scrupulous industries among us to dangle signing bonuses in front of the unemployed?

  • aunursa

    My bosses are a little worried that this trial may open some regulatory doors that we’d just as soon bolt shut. “Hey, possible jury pick, want a job? You’re hired, provided you can pass a drug test, a background check and promise that you’ll render Big Oil a fair, impartial and favorable verdict.”

    Something like that happened in The Runaway Jury.  Juror Lonnie Shaver is  the manager at a local grocery store.  The entire supermarket chain is purchased, and Shaver is offered a promotion after he is persuaded to side with the defense.

  • VMink

    Basically, the jury pool would be skewed, and I can see such jury pools being generally in favor of a person versus a corporation.

    On the other hand, if it’s even so much as implied that the potential employability of a person hinges on what verdict gets associated with them…..

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Charity-Brighton/100002974813787 Charity Brighton

    My concern is how the unemployed are counted in the first place for this purpose. If they’re just counting the number of people drawing unemployment insurance, that skews the number in several different ways. People who had large savings before their job loss would probably be less likely to draw on the insurance, and people who are long-term unemployed (and whose benefits have run out) would be left out — which is kind of like what’s happening with them now.

  • Zavire Shiran

    Fred, are you a straight white cis man? Because you sound like a straight white cis man. Unemployment does not strike everyone equally. Those most oppressed in society are hit hardest. I can’t look up statistics because I’m on my phone, but it shouldn’t be hard for you to look up the difference in unemployment rate between various demographic groups.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    A highly visible job-ads board sounds like the safest method of reaching out to jurors without necessarily inviting a conflict of interest.

  • Monala

     It also tends to hit people without a college degree harder–they are more likely to be unemployed, and to remain unemployed longer.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Charity-Brighton/100002974813787 Charity Brighton

     This is the third time in a week that I’ve noticed someone criticize Fred for “forgetting” about something that he explicitly referenced in his article, and it’s not even by the same person. It’s always a little alarming, because it makes me feel like I hallucinated an entire paragraph that no one else saw.

    Charity – “People who had large saving before their job loss would
    probably be less likely to draw on the insurance…” Not if they had
    been unemployed previously; in most states, the benefits you can claim
    from UI are based on your earnings for the past 16 months; if you wait
    three or six months before starting a claim, your benefits could be
    significantly lower.

    You’re right, I forgot about that.

  • http://thatbeerguy.blogspot.com Chris Doggett

    Xclamation’s observation is quite correct: this would open the door to some very easy, while-you-wait jury-tampering schemes. 

    Charity – “People who had large saving before their job loss would probably be less likely to draw on the insurance…” Not if they had been unemployed previously; in most states, the benefits you can claim from UI are based on your earnings for the past 16 months; if you wait three or six months before starting a claim, your benefits could be significantly lower. 

  • MikeJ

    My immediate concerns would be issues around what sort of burden this imposes on people.  Like you pointed out, unemployed people aren’t missing out on work, but they’ll still have other obligations, child care comes to mind immediately, and have to get to the courthouse.

    If we were going to put money into the jury selection process, I’d rather just see used to up the compensation for serving.  

  • Mary Kaye

    I’m not clear why a mini jobs fair with a few hundred randomly selected unemployed people would be useful.  Given that during the worst of the recession (it is slightly better now) any job offer in my city seemed to get several hundred applications, there’s really no incentive for employers to bother.  They are not having any trouble finding candidates, and as a way to find particularly qualified candidates, something specialized to their area of interest (i.e. a computing event for companies looking to hire programmers) would be a lot more promising than a jury pool.

    Frankly, I don’t think that unemployed Americans stand to gain much from additional opportunities to compete for existing jobs.  

  • Zavire Shiran

    Weird, could have sworn that wasn’t there before. XD

  • Anonymous

    I appreciate the idea of giving jurors who are stuck waiting around all day something constructive they can do, but… even if I can’t put my finger on it, there just seems like there’s something iffy about preferentializing any one group of people in jury selection.  Even if it’s for things that make no difference, it just… seems wrong, somehow.  Juries are supposed to be true cross-sections, I guess.

  • http://thatbeerguy.blogspot.com Chris Doggett

    The other  problem with the “Jury Duty Job Fair” is that most of the job fairs I attended during my 2ish years of unemployment were simply worthless.

    The company representatives could answer some questions, but they weren’t HR, and often weren’t involved in the hiring process. They weren’t actively hiring at the job fair, or setting up interviews. They would accept resume’s, but few had any applications to fill out; all of them wanted on-line application submissions.  I could network with other unemployed people well enough, but the rest of it was a total waste.

  • http://twitter.com/mattmcirvin Matt McIrvin

    Weirdly, I actually got my first job out of grad school–a good job that I stayed in for 6+ years–through a job fair.  That was during a boom, but job fairs seemed to have a reputation for uselessness even then, both for job-seekers and for hiring companies.  So I don’t count them out entirely.  Still, they don’t seem to be how most people get jobs.

  • Aaron

    Aristophanes described many problems with Jurors who went to Duty as a form of ’employment’ nearly 2,500 years ago…

  • Ursula L

    Hmm…

    Favoring the unemployed in jury selection would sekpw the jury pool towards certain subgroups in the population.

    But we had a jury system skewed towards a particular group (white men) for about two centuries.  And it was absolutely skewed to including some groups and excluding the other (men allowed, women forbidden, and whites allowed, non-whites forbidden) during a very large proportion of that time.  

    And, despite that  severe bias, we have not thrown out verdicts decided with such non-representative, non-peer juries.  We have not offered any compensation to the people convicted under this severe discriminatory system.  We have not offered any compensation to plaintiffs and victims who saw the people who harmed them let go due to the discrimination in the system. 

    By our actions, we say that the effects of discrimination don’t really matter and don’t need to be corrected for.  

    So, if we were to institute some changes that skewed the jury system slightly, I’m inclined to ask whether it would improve the long-term statistics of jury inclusion or make it worse.  If it improves the long-term statistics, then we are not creating a problem, but rather correcting a problem.  

    In particular because both sides of the legal system, prosecutors/plaintiffs attorneys and defense attorneys, have, due to the institutionalized discrimination in the system, developed habits that take advantage of that discrimination.  Temporarily skewing the system in the opposite direction would force them to correct any bias in their habits, so that we could gradually move towards a genuinely neutral system in the future.  

    If we just go from “biased towards the majority” to “neutral, but the majority is still the majority” there is less incentive to correct other biases stemming from the original bias, because while the majority is no longer disproportionately favored, it still remains the majority, and catering to the majority at the expense of minorities can still be beneficial on the level of an individual case.  To get genuine equality, you can’t just institute numerical non-bias, you have to shake the foundations of a discriminatory system. 

  • Anonymous

    I couldn’t get behind that.  Much as it may seem dehumanizing to reduce this to a question of mathematics, I think it presents a useful model in this case.

    Let us imagine that every trial has an X-value, reflecting the ‘fairness’ of the trial. A negative X-value would indicate undercompensation for discrimination – members of minorities getting their minority status held against them unfairly.  A positive X-value would indicate an overcompensation for discrimination – members of minorities getting too much benefit of the doubt, vis-a-vis their status.  A trial with an X value of 0 would be perfectly fair.

    What I /think/ you are saying is that historically, trials in the United states have averaged negative on this X scale – they’ve been biased towards undercompensation.  I won’t doubt that for a second; it’s a historical fact.  But if we then take measures to skew trials towards a positive X value… they average out in the sense of positive-vs-negative, but not if you take the absolute value of each trial’s X-value – it isn’t actually getting us any closer to 0.  If anything, it’s keeping us even farther from 0, because now we’re building biases explicit into the system – we are actively trying to stay away from 0 in each particular situation.

    I don’t see ‘long term correction’ as anything but the gambler’s fallacy; I think the real goal would have to be decreasing the real value of distances from this Platonic 0.  I’m amenable to the idea of correcting biases through shock, if that’s what this is, but it would need to be something more precise; the goals would have to be more explicit.  Otherwise, I think we’re just trading in vengeance.

  • Monala

    I need some advice. I am currently collecting unemployment in my state, and I just received a job offer — for a 20 hour a week job. I had a second interview this morning for a FT job, for which I am one of three final candidates. They are making a decision next week. I also have a first interview tomorrow for another FT job, and I won’t know until then how many candidates they are considering or how soon they plan to make a decision.  The 20-hr per week job knows I am looking for FT work, and has asked me to give them an answer by Friday.

    In my state when you file your weekly UI claim, one of the questions asked is, “Have you turned down any job offers?” So if I turn this offer down, I have to tell them, and I have to explain why. If they don’t accept my response, I lose my UI benefits. One of the acceptable reasons for turning down a job listed on the UI website is, “The hours or working conditions are not as favorable as most other jobs in your occupation in your area.”

    So I called today, put my # in queue and waited 45 minutes for a call-back to ask whether my situation falls into that category. The woman I spoke to said she didn’t think it did, because after all, I haven’t been offered either of the FT jobs yet, and they could both turn me down.

    Her suggestion was that I accept the PT job, and if one of the FT jobs comes through, to quit. I explained that I didn’t want to do that, because that wouldn’t be fair to the PT employer. So she said that she would transfer me to someone else who could discuss it with me further. However, I was disconnected during the transfer, and so now I am waiting 45 minutes in queue again for a callback.

    Does anyone have any advice for me? Should I accept the PT job (which, by virtue of being only 20 hrs/week, pays a lot less than the other two)? Not accept it, and take a chance of losing my benefits if I don’t get one of the other two jobs?
     

  • Monala

     OK, I got my callback. The person I spoke with said that the general rule is, you are not required to take a part-time job, if full-time work in your field is available. She said that she couldn’t guarantee that whoever gets my case if I report that I turned a job down will rule that way, but that’s the general standard.

  • Nirrti

    Eleven dollars for three hours of jury duty would probably be how much someone would spend on gas just to get to and from the courthouse. You’d spend all your potential earnings leaving you with no more extra income than you had if you had just sat at home.

    Besides, with the austerity kick the government is on now, I’m actually surprised they’re paying people called for jury duty anything at all these days.

  • Cissa

    Yep. This seems to me like governmentally-imposed slavery.

    They want/need our participation? Pay us a fair rate.

  • Münchner Kindl

    While the plural of anecdote is not data, there is still an overwhelming impression from past stories that jurors are already skewed heavily against employed people and freelancers – because they can’t afford to take time off, they will try everything to get off, and given the wide leeway and the many questions during selection, it is easy to do so.

    In addition, the attorneys themselves skew the juries because they want to influence them with facts or emotion.

    So Fred’s worries about skewing juries would only be a problem if juries weren’t already skewed.

  • http://twitter.com/EyeEdinburgh EdinburghEye

    Meh.

    There are state-run Job Centres in the UK – and if you’re claiming unemployment benefit you have to go there at least once every two weeks.

    They’re appalling.

    For one thing, the jobs listed there tend to be of the “we need unskilled labour and we’ll pay very little” sort –  last time I was required to job hunt at a Job Centre, the job most relevant to my degree they could find involved stuffing computer-generated letters into envelopes at a bank’s offices on a night shift.  There’s no obligation on employers to make use of the Job Centres, and it may be a kind of vicious circle – but I think it’s also affected by another factor@facebook-100002974813787:disqus

    The people who work there are expected, not to match suitable jobseekers with suitable jobs, but to get as many people as possible off claiming benefits. You’re allowed to refuse to attend two interviews they offer you, but after that any refusal leads to your benefits being sanctioned.

    I can see a state-run Job Centre could be good, but the system in the UK is profoundly not, and hasn’t been for at least twenty years from my own personal experience and direct reports from others.

  • Münchner Kindl

    There is another idea here, though: instead of just keeping unemployed people around for a pittance, make them professional jurors. That is, educate them, using latest research on psychology about biases and perception, to evaluate eyewitness testimony; to understand why some people appear “cold” on the stand, but aren’t killers; what science experts are valid and which (graphology) are not and why.

    If it’s actually true that people are working on removing the skewing in a jury and make it as best as possible, than a group of people trained to be objective would be much better than random dude. I personally doubt it, given the high rate with which lawyers strike rational jurors or people from science professions during the selection process, but if the aim were to improve the court system, professional jurors would be a way to go.

    Once they were pros, they could be paid more, and leave the employed people off the hook. You would still have a large enough pool to avoid biases, esp. if you made the process of certification the same for all states (instead of every state having their own rules) so that if one state or county has only a handful of jurors, the next state lends them a few during busy season.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

     

    make them professional jurors. That is, educate them, using latest research [etc.]

    If we’re willing to toss the whole “tried by a jury of one’s peers” idea, it seems simpler to just let judges rule on guilt.

  • Münchner Kindl

    If we’re willing to toss the whole “tried by a jury of one’s peers” idea, it seems simpler to just let judges rule on guilt.

    If you can make a convincing argument for the advantage of “jury by peers” vs. “by judge” (I think it’s called bench trial in English?) then please do so.

    An advantage meaning “better justice” not “more convictions”

    A convincing argument meaning something else than “we’ve always done it / it’s in the constitution”.

    Especially given that the rules on what crimes are tried by judges without jury and which must be tried by jury apparently vary by state, and that in many states, lower cases are already decided by judges alone, yet apparently justice still works in those cases, too.

  • Anonymous

    The demographic makeup of the American judiciary being what it is – that they are predominantly white and male, and universally highly-educated – replacing jury trials with trials by magistrate would even further tip the balance of privilege.

    The two big models of jurisprudence in the world are the adversarial system (American/Commonwealth system) and the inquisitorial system (French/almost everywhere else).  In the inquisitorial system, they generally don’t have juries; they have procurators to determine guilt, and magistrates to determine culpability.  In inquisitorial systems, people generally do not have access to trial by jury, or may only have it for special cases or very severe crimes.

    The fact that the inquisitorial system is the most popular justice system in the world (handily beating out our American system and the Islamic system both) means it probably has a lot to recommend it.  It’s the system of choice in Scandanavia, and they’re smart people – I trust their judgement for what works best for them.

    But the only country that’s gotten rid of juries while keeping the adversarial system (defense attorney vs. prosecutor arguing with each other in front of a judge or panel of judges) is India.  They explicitly removed juries from their system in 1960.  What’s the state of Indian justice these days?

    But I suppose that my real point, aside from the first about demographics, is that we’ve got system X, and they have system Y.  Both please their people, for the most part, and both are highly developed.  Taking bits and pieces from System Y and creating some kind of mash-up monster might not be as efficacious as sticking with the one we’ve already got, and refining it on our own terms.

  • Münchner kindl

    But I suppose that my real point, aside from the first about demographics, is that we’ve got system X, and they have system Y. Both please their people, for the most part, and both are highly developed. Taking bits and pieces from System Y and creating some kind of mash-up monster might not be as efficacious as sticking with the one we’ve already got, and refining it on our own terms.

    If there was any refining going on – is there? Or doesn’t the overwhelming majority of Americans believe in the myth that the US is the best system in the world/ the only just system? Different groups have shown scandalous failures of the system on all levels – cops who mess up the initial investigation, prosecution attorneys who don’t know or care that exculpiating evidence is supposed to be handed over to the defense (and who don’t get punished in any way for hiding the evidence)…. – yet I never hear large majorities pushing for a big reform.

    Most reforms in the past decades were driven by the white men in power, revenge is justice mindset: things like 3 strikes laws, outsourcing prisons to private companies to make money (without proper control to ensure that judges wouldn’t be bribed to inflate the numbers of sentenced prisoners), Sheriffs running cruel prisons not being illegal because only federal prisons are regulated…

    So the first question is not: does systemY “please the people” or is it “highly developed” – I’d say it’s highly complicated because rules vary from state to state, but complicated =! good; but rather “Does it achieve the intent and aim of providing justice?”

    And the next question is “If it fails large-scale to deliver justice, how do we improve it?” At that point, minds should be open to learning from how things are done elsewhere and what works, instead of standing on American exceptionalism “We are the best, we are the greatest, we are unique, nothing that works elsewhere could possibly work here”

  • Münchner kindl

    The two big models of jurisprudence in the world are the adversarial system (American/Commonwealth system) and the inquisitorial system (French/almost everywhere else).

    But even in the other countries that have the jury system like the UK,
    – it’s used only for big crimes, not for traffic violations or small theft (as reported in the other thread for some US states)

    – and the jurors are not put through a convulted selection process. At least according to Wikipedia on the process, and also going by some of the comments in the other thread from the commonwealth poster.

    So if the US were actually interested in improving the process and looking at similar countries, it still doesn’t make sense to exclude so many people (or pay so little compensatioin).

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    You were proposing a mechanism for replacing the current jury system with professional jurors, and I was objecting to that.

    Now you seem to have changed your proposal, and you seem to be assuming that I object to your new one as well. You also seem to be making assumptions about the basis on which I object to it (maybe? it’s hard for me to be sure).

    I think I’ve lost track of your point.

  • Münchner kindl

    You were proposing a mechanism for replacing the current jury system with professional jurors, and I was objecting to that. Now you seem to have changed your proposal, and you seem to be assuming that I object to your new one as well. You also seem to be making assumptions about the basis on which I object to it (maybe? it’s hard for me to be sure).I think I’ve lost track of your point.

    Because your argument against my proposal was a technicality: that professional jurors would not meet the current letter of the law. So I wanted to know a real reason. Of course changing things means changing the current laws, otherwise it’s not a change.The question is, if the judge is a professional, and the attorneys are professionals, what argument is there against the jurors being professionals, too, aside from “the law as currently written/ we’ve always done it this way?”In the 50s and 60s, “Jury of peers” didn’t include black jurors for black accused. But it had always been done that way and required an effort to change.So why does “Jury of peers” not include people trained to evaluate evidence critically? Should an Intelligence test be given, so that dumb people are judged by dumb jurors, and smart people by smart ones, to make it more peer-like? How exactly is peers defined?

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

     My objection to your proposal wasn’t that it violated the letter of the law, but rather that it created a lot of complexity to achieve a result (having a trained professional caste making judgments of guilt and innocence) that could be achieved both more simply and more effectively by eliminating juries altogether and letting judges make those judgments.

    I continue to resist your efforts to define my position out from under me as something you would prefer to argue against. I wish you’d cut it out; it gets on my nerves.

  • Münchner Kindl

    I continue to resist your efforts to define my position out from under me as something you would prefer to argue against. I wish you’d cut it out; it gets on my nerves.

    Yes, keep resisting against something which I’m not doing anyway – I made a proposal, I don’t want to argue it. If you dismiss my proposal (as I expected), fine.  Keep your system the way it is with all the problems, I don’t suffer from it (directly, that is. As human being I’m still disturbed by injustices being committed generally).

  • hf

     it created a lot of complexity to achieve a result (having a trained
    professional caste making judgments of guilt and innocence) that could
    be achieved both more simply and more effectively by eliminating juries
    altogether and letting judges make those judgments.

    Except we don’t train judges to evaluate statements scientifically. And if we did, unless we also produced many more judges, getting rid of juries would have other effects by changing the number (and social class) of the deciders.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    Yes, that’s true.

  • Münchner Kindl

    Except we don’t train judges to evaluate statements scientifically.

    So basically, you admit that in the US system, the professionally trained person without a personal stake in the trial – the Judge – is the one who doesn’t evaluate the evidence, instead handing that job over to uneducated, untrained, “peers”.

    Yes, that sounds like a good, sensible, thought-out system … wait it doesn’t.

  • hapax

    The weird thing about the notion of a “random, impartial” jury nowadays, is that it’s just about the opposite of the original idea behind the jury system (as it began in medieval England).

    Back when judges were circuit-riding court appointees with huge territories, the thought was that a “jury of their peers” — that is, the local folks, who knew already that Mildred was a liar and Robert tended to drink too much and Kate would let her children get away with anything and Big John ALWAYS had a spare knife on him — would be much more able to understand and properly weigh evidence and testimony. 

    Somehow that idea became twisted into the notion that any juror who has any knowledge or opinion about the matter under trial was automatically disqualified.

  • JenL

    First, it reduces the frequency of jury duty for those with employment.
    They’d still be called to serve, but less often, thus reducing the total
    level of inconvenience and hassle due to missing days at work.

    Is that really a problem, though?  Okay, all of my post-college work has been in one region, but in 15 years I haven’t seen all that many of my co-workers be called up for jury duty.  I was called once – and was on the jury for a one-day trial.  Two or maybe 3 of my coworkers have served on juries for a few days.  A boss once had to serve on a federal grand jury – now that was an investment of time, because it was a few mornings a week for a few weeks.  But we’re a big organization, and the typical reaction to someone getting jury duty is surprise and curiousity, not “oh, boy, here we go again…”

  • Mrwebb

    “Unemployment, just like jury selection, is a phenomenon that affects a representative, random cross-section of the populace.”

    Not true, not even close.

    Yes, intelligent, hard-working, well educated individuals can be unemployed, but that does not in any way mean that the  unemployed are a representative sample of the population.

    Compare the unemployment rates for high school dropouts, high school graduates, college graduates, and those with advanced degrees. A jury of the unemployed would be skewed towards lower educational achievement.

    Compare the unemployment rates for whites and blacks. A jury of the unemployed would be skewed towards blacks. (Yes, you say as much in your post, which makes it that much stranger that you thing it’ll be a representative sample.)

    Compare the unemployment rates for different college majors. A jury of the unemployed would skew towards architects and away from nurses.

  • Apocalypse Review

    Please to see the section where Fred also notes the demographics of unemployment are skewed.

  • Mrwebb

     Please see the section of my post where I acknowledged that and noted that that makes his statement that much stranger.

  • Bill

    As a trial lawyer who defends physicians in malpractice cases, I would absolutely cringe at a prospective jury panel full of the unemployed.  There is too great a concern that the unemployed juror might bring something of a victim mentality to the case, creating a bias in favor of an injured plaintiff, or an accused. 

    I’m aware of a few plaintiff’s lawyers who will intentionally drag their cases out to two, sometimes three weeks, for the sole purpose of  trying to get self-employed jurors and jurors with unique circumstances or job demands off the case.

    If I face a prospective jury panel of 12 unemployed people, who likely therefore have no health insurance and are receiving minimal-or-no healthcare, my doctor is not getting a jury of his peers.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    You should have a listen around here or at Personal Failure’s blogs sometime for the way in which ordinary, working or middle class women have been dismissed by doctors, wrongly labelled as ‘drug-seeking’ by pharmacists … the list goes on.

    The medical profession as a whole is sometimes too arrogant and out of touch with patient needs, particularly those of women.

    It would behoove your physician clients to show a little more humility and avoid gettng into civil suits in the first place.

    Not to mention that the reason for the frequency of such suits is likely highly associated with the variable and patchwork nature of the American health insurance system.

  • hapax

    If I face a prospective jury panel of 12 unemployed people, who likely
    therefore have no health insurance and are receiving minimal-or-no
    healthcare, my doctor is not getting a jury of his peers. 

    Well, if by “peer” you mean “person of equivalent status, wealth, and privilege”, no, your doctor is not.

    If by “peer” you mean “fellow citizen and rational human being”, yep, he is.

    If your interest is solely in protecting your client’s status, wealth, and privilege, I’m amazingly comfortable with him “not getting a jury of his peers.”

  • Münchner Kindl

    Well, if by “peer” you mean “person of equivalent status, wealth, and privilege”, no, your doctor is not.
    If by “peer” you mean “fellow citizen and rational human being”, yep, he is.

    So again it comes back: in order to claim that Fred’s proposal doesn’t work because it’s no longer a jury of peers, we would first need a good definition of “peer.”

    Especially taking into account that 50 years ago, black were not peers of whites – no black jurors – but white were peers of blacks – white jurors for black accused.
    Or that prior to giving women the vote, women were not peers of men – no female jurors – but men were peers of women – male jurors for female accused.

    And if peer means “most similar in terms of skin colour, class, education, income, IQ” so they can evaluate best what the accused did or why – then you need a lot more screening than what is currently going on.

    If peer however does simply mean “fellow citizen” – then an all-white jury for a black accused, an all-lawyer jury for an uneducated redneck or an all-female jury for a White Old Man is not selectivly biased or unbalanced, but “peer” enough.

    If peer actually only means “fellow citizen”, then why are potential jurors that are in any way connected to the legal profession routinely excluded?

    So is the term, given its importance, defined anywhere? Or just decided ad hoc by Supreme Court decisions for specific cases that can’t be easily transfered to other cases?

    Of course, it’s also connected with other questions: “What is the official purpose of jurors at all in the whole process – weighing and evaluating facts or seeing the accused points of view?”

    If evaluating the facts presented as evidence is the only or most important part of juries, then only people trained to evaluate evidence should be jurors, not a random dude from the street who left High School in 8th grade or was home-schooled as creationist, not a TV viewer who believes in CSI http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/TheCSIEffect .

    If the main point is however empathy – how would I react under these circumstances? Do I believe the accused and his own testimonial? – then the jurors should be as similar as possible to the accused in terms of class, skin colour, education etc.

    Other questions nobody has brought facts for: Is the current process of jury selection under critical review? Fred (optimistically) thinks that people are interested in making juries better by removing biases, but I have not heard of any studies to that effect. I know that psychologists have done tests, confirming group pressure and prejudices to play a big part in sentencing.

    I also know sociologists and similar who have looked at statistical data whether all-white juries deliver different sentences than all-black juries, all-female different from all-male etc. Again, a lot of prejudice was shown, but I’m not aware of any effort to improve the selection process to make it fairer. The only purpose seems to be lawyers trying to tweak the selection in favour of their individual client.

    The last question would be whether juries generally have been shown to advance the pursuit or achievement of justice compared to other methods. (Like Judge/ Bench trials – which are used for a lot of cases anyway!)

  • Bill

    Invisible Neutrino,

    I’m not going to argue with any of your statements.  Those would be interesting to discuss as separate issues.   I’m only suggesting that the idea of a jury made up of unemployed individuals would have a difficult time passing judicial muster.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Aside: The words “victim mentality” were perhaps more revealing than you might suspect regarding your thinking on the homeless, the unemployed, and on medical patients.

  • Bill

     Aside:  I’ve tried hard to stay on issue.  You might be surprised at my thoughts on the homeless, unemployed and medical patients, but those aren’t part of this issue.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Marta-Layton/100001373579092 Marta Layton

    Personally, I think there’s a problem with any proposal that skews the jury toward any demographic, and as you rightly point out minorities are much more likely to be unemployed than whites. There are other demographics affected, e.g. women and (I believe?) older workers that have higher salaries. Prosecutors may prefer white juries, but that doesn’t mean having a jury of a different ethnicity (or gender, religion, whatever) is any better. What demograhpic we’re talking about is really irrelevant here.

    Two other issues occur to me. First, in families where one spouse works and the other is unemployed, that spouse tends to become a de facto stay at home parent. They may cook all meals at home to save on money, or stop putting the kids in childcare or whatever. I’d imagine those unemployed spouses are actually less able to get away for the day than the employed ones. Also, I know there have been studies showing the unemployed have more mental health issues. That makes perfect sense – you’ve got betrayal, anger, perceived impotence, desperation – of course that will affect your mental state. But I think it also makes it harder to give defendants a fair hearing.

    Still, this idea has merit in other situations. For instance, I’ve never been to a government agency where I didn’t have to wait a long while. Could these mini-job fairs happen at welfare and unemployment offices or something like that?


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