Friday, July 19, 2013

American Justice: An Oxymoron (Part 2)

One of the tenets of the American criminal justice system is the idea of trial by jury.  Having its roots way back in the British Magna Carta, the idea that a "jury of your peers" could provide the purest, most unadulterated dispensation of justice possible has been a central pillar of the house of cards which passes for our justice system.

But just how good is this "jury of your peers" idea, and how does the court system maximize the ability of a jury to provide this invaluable service?

I have a little bit of direct experience with the jury system, having served on a jury in the city of Phoenix court several years ago.  I was seated on a case involving drunk driving, which make up like 95% of all court cases in this town.  I was chosen as jury foreman, which I wanted because I thought it was my best chance to hurry things along and get the hell out of there.  I had to almost immediately jerk one of the other jurors back in line, because he loudly announced that a long time ago some cop gave him a traffic ticket which he considered unfair, and because of that he was going to vote for acquittal no matter what.  I explained to this dickwad in no uncertain terms that nobody gives a crap whether he was fairly ticketed or not, and he wasn't there to exact some kind of vague revenge against the system which he felt unfairly persecuted him.  His job was to examine the evidence of this particular case and render a verdict, and not launch a vendetta against some perceived injustice he suffered years ago at the hands of a traffic cop.  Admittedly I was tired, in a really REALLY lousy mood and I would have slapped the shit out of any fellow juror who pissed me off in a hot second.

Fun fact: I was called for jury service a couple of years later and yet another drunk driving case (I know, boring as hell) but since I think people who drink and drive are absolute scum of the earth, I made those feelings abundantly clear during the courtroom interview.  When asked about the law providing a "legal limit," or a level of alcohol intoxication under which it is permissible to drive, I loudly announced that "I don't care what the law says," (exact words) and I would vote to convict anyone who has a B.A.C. other than 0.  Needless to say I was hustled out of the court room and actually dismissed from serving on a jury that day.  I was home by 9:30 that morning and was incredibly happy and delighted with myself.  I will definitely do that again the next time I'm called for jury duty.

Jurors bring with them all manner of batshit-crazy experiences and biases which have nothing to do at all with the case at hand, but which can affect any decisions they make, and in the privacy of the jury room the judge knows nothing about these biases unless someone tells them.  When jurors are selected, the judge and lawyers are looking for people who don't know a lot about the case being tried, and supposedly their ignorance about the facts of the case would be a "tabula rasa" (empty tablet) on which the relevant facts would be written and their conclusions drawn, outside of the refractive lens of pre-existing knowledge.  The case of George Zimmerman was such an immediate national sensation that it's very difficult to understand how anyone in the Sanford, Florida, area could have missed hearing about it.  Call me an elitist, but I think the more intelligent you are, the more you know about news events happening around you.  Smart people tend to follow current events and watch news shows on television; less intelligent people watch "The Bachelorette" and other such drek.  Therefore the lawyers favor people of limited intelligence to serve on juries.

Because it seems that jurors are kept in the dark about a lot of stuff happening during the trial, and the more poorly-informed you are about everything the more desirable you are as a juror, that is the best incentive I can think of to live a crime-free life.  I consider going on murderous rampages at least two or three times a week, but it's the prospect of having my fate decided by a bunch of clueless, detached "peers" in a circus court of law that keeps me from acting on these feelings.  I may have regular homicidal urges, but I'm not stupid enough to get caught for them.

So, I really was not surprised by the torrent of outrageous idiocy when one of the jurors on the Zimmerman case decided to speak out to the media about her experience.  "Juror B37," as she was cryptically called, spoke to Anderson Cooper about her jury service and you can read her bewildering thought processes here.  Some highlights:

"I think George Zimmerman is a man whose heart was in the right place, but just got displaced by the vandalism in the neighborhoods, and wanting to catch these people so badly that he went above and beyond what he really should have done."

Since when does "above and beyond what he really should have done" include shooting a 17-year-old to death?  That's a little bit more serious than having a minor lapse of judgment.  Poor judgment is when you post something stupid on Facebook or say something horrible about your boss when they are standing right behind you.  A lapse in judgment usually does not result in a teenager being shot and killed.  Also:

"...I think his heart was in the right place. It just went terribly wrong."

Well yeah, occasionally things do go "terribly wrong."  But I thought in our justice system there are legal consequences when things go "terribly wrong."  This shooting was no accident; Zimmerman knew what he was doing from the moment he racially-profiled Martin in his hoodie.  He took deliberate, intentional actions despite being warned, and precipitated this confrontation.  He could not be more guilty, and yet he walks.  Because the state of Florida has decided that under a wide range of circumstances, you have a right to act as judge, jury and executioner of someone whom you think is acting in a threatening manner.  Another quote from Juror B37:

"Anybody would think anybody walking down the road, stopping and turning and looking -- if that's exactly what happened -- is suspicious."
"I think all of us thought race did not play a role. We never had that discussion."
That is one of the most transparently stupid and simple-minded things ever spoken.  Anyone who thinks race is not a major factor in what went down that night is either a complete idiot or being deliberately disingenuous.  Zimmerman was clearing gunning (pun not intended) for a black youth because he felt they were responsible, as a subset of citizens, for all the vandalism and crime occurring in that neighborhood.  The fact that Martin was wearing a hoodie branded him as a "thug" in Zimmerman's mind.  Juror B37 even went so far to say that the fact that it was raining also contributed to Martin acting "suspiciously."  How many people do you see on a daily basis who look, act and walk "suspiciously?"  If I took a shot at every dirtbag in Phoenix who I thought was looking or walking in a suspicious manner, the police wouldn't be able to keep up with the bodies piling up.

Reading through a transcript of everything Juror B37 said in her interview illustrates every single thing that is wrong with the criminal justice system in America.  The fact that someone as blatantly stupid and ignorant as she would get anywhere near a courthouse is an abomination.  Sadly, the whole vast spectrum of things that have made up the regrettable jigsaw-puzzle that is the Trayvon Martin case show how spectacularly dysfunctional, unfair, and racist the American justice system is.

No comments:

Post a Comment