I was recently selected to sit on a jury panel after receipt of a summons from the 35th District Court of Texas. I was not surprised, as my name seems to roll around the random selection process every two years or so, but attending and participating got me to thinking.
My thinking, along with statements made by the judge and the attorneys regarding how our system of justice is built upon juries, is precarious at best. I willingly attended; others were obviously not as willing and loathed the entire idea of the jury system (or at least as it directly relates to them).
I believe as the attorneys stated that a jury of peers is necessary. The idea of a jury is deeply engrained in our fifth, sixth and seventh amendments to the constitution. I also believe when our system was still in a platonic “form,” the architects believed the petit and grand jurors would be willing participants. Partici-pants who may read the news of the day, have taken a citizenship class, taken a civics lesson in high school, or have read about the foundations of the government.
I went to google.com and searched, I went to bing.com and searched, and I went to ask.com and searched. I found a plethora of information about getting out of juries. I was researching the traditions for the use of juries throughout the ages and where the practice originated. Not in a million years did I believe I would come up with ways to get out of my civic duty…all right, maybe I did not think it would take a million years…but not the first topic that search engines brought up.
I am not certain, but I believe the local and district judges in our area have already seen these tactics used on them, so I am willing to share my findings.
Go into the voir dire (where attorneys question potential jurors) seemingly knowing everything and an expert on law. I wrote “law”, as you may need to be an expert in all variations of the law. If you will potentially decide a homicide… be an expert on that. Custody…be an expert in that field.
You could play stupid, even to the point of incapacity. I am not certain this tack will work, but shoot; it’s on the Internet so it has to work. Play a mind-numb person, drool upon your own chest. When asked a question, seem disinterested or feign waking up in a rush.
In many states it is possible to ask the judge to be excused on financial grounds. If you can show you may lose your job or make no money when serving, you may be excused. The Internet source does not recommend lying during this phase of your operation, as the judge has the power to invoke penalties.
Request a date change. This seems crazy to me, but I read you can ask for a date change by stating you have a pressing matter in the next day or two and you would be happy to return in two weeks. This may work…but it potentially only kicks the can down the road two weeks.
Mention the right of a jury to veto. This goes to jury nullification and returning an innocent verdict if the jury does not believe in the law. Well, anyone who read my column last week will not seat me on a jury involving weapons charges stemming from simple registration issues. This was an explosive topic in for civil rights, women’s rights and others. I do not believe in a law that gives me the right to trample a black man’s rights or a woman’s rights, but that is how the law remained for many decades in our country. We are fortunate to be out of most of those times.
Oh…I got a one…serve. The defendant in the case is most likely scared and is hoping informed individuals, just and fair, will be seated on his or her jury. The defendant does not want a group of clowns. Imagine if you a caught up in something, in the wrong place at the wrong time and you are arrested and falsely accused. Your last line of defense is the jury who will decide your guilt or innocence. Take that civics class at your local university’s outreach center and learn a little.
Go into the process hoping to learn about our legal system. Listen carefully to the evidence presented on both sides and render a just judgment. Remember accused citizens of this country do not have to prove innocence. The state is responsible for proving guilt in criminal matters.
Please, fulfill your duty and participate willingly. It is estimated 80 percent of all jury trials are held in the United States of America. This is wonderful for Americans and makes me more than happy about being born in the U.S.
By the way, the practice of juries comes from our forefathers in England with many, many changes. Don’t take my word for it, check it out.
Art Veneris is production manager of the Brownwood Bulletin. He writes his column for the Brownwood Bulletin on Thursdays. He may be reached by e-mail at art.veneris@brownwood