Weighing Justice With a Jury of Her 'Peers'
September 10, 2017 9:44 AM   Subscribe

While serving as foreperson on a grand jury, Susana Morris confronts power and privilege in the criminal justice system.
posted by bardophile (15 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
For justice:
posted by Bringer Tom at 10:40 AM on September 10 [1 favorite]

I don't think I've ever known anyone who did jury duty and actually felt OK about it.

Actually, that's not true - a friend served on a jury for a case about intellectual property at Santa Monica courthouse and she said it was very interesting and really fun. Everyone else, though, felt much worse about the carceral state after their jury service. I've never actually had to show up - always managed to get my summons just as I was about to move out of town.
posted by potrzebie at 10:58 AM on September 10

I've say on juries and came away with mixed opinions. In the first one, there was super-alpha male who simply took over and pushed us to go along with his opinions. It sucked.

The second jury (which was for a far more serious criminal case) was a wonderful experience, with the entire group fully engaged and having some very important, deep discussions. It was an amazing group, with no single person driving us in any particular direction. I think we all came away feeling we did our best. I know we pissed-off the prosecutor, anyway.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:24 AM on September 10 [8 favorites]

That's a great piece—thanks for posting it.

It makes no sense to generalize about jury duty. I've had frustrating experiences, but also a good one: we got a couple of kids off that the cops were trying to have jailed on wildly insufficient evidence. It was one of the few times I've genuinely felt civic pride, or whatever you call it when you successfully fulfill your "civic duty." I may be an anarchist, but I feel strongly that taking part in the justice system (or, if you prefer, "justice" system) and trying to ameliorate its effects on the poor and helpless is one of the things we owe the society we live in.
posted by languagehat at 3:32 PM on September 10 [14 favorites]

That article was fantastic. And hard to read. Ugh.
posted by medusa at 3:47 PM on September 10

It must have been particularly hard to have been on a grand jury, since she's effectively turning people over to a justice system that's so frequently unjust. At least on a regular jury she would have been directing the final disposition of the case, and could have voted for a just outcome.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:02 PM on September 10 [4 favorites]

I always thought that you were supposed to be impartial when serving on a jury. Or at least try to be.
posted by Sphinx at 4:43 PM on September 10

This astounding article is particularly harrowing for those of us who feel strongly that jury duty must become much, much more common if American society is going to get any better. Have you ever noticed that jury duty is very rare nowadays compared to what our parents experienced? I've never served on a jury, and I know only maybe one or two people my age who have. But I know how we bought a society with almost no jury duty: the same way we bought a society with the most successful prison industry on the planet - through plea bargains. Plea bargains are the way that hideous, malignant scumbags - by which I refer to District Attorneys - trade the lives of innocents for efficient government and a lighter caseload. If we want this to change, we'll all need to be ready to serve on juries a couple times a year, at least. I won't hold my breath on this happening, but I can hope.
posted by koeselitz at 5:00 PM on September 10 [18 favorites]

I don't think I've ever known anyone who did jury duty and actually felt OK about it.

A friend's Dad was on a jury, for a civil case, where they found for the plaintiff, but awarded him $1. That was basically because there was no way they could vote that both sides should lose. I bet that was kind of fun.
posted by thelonius at 5:29 PM on September 10

I always thought that you were supposed to be impartial [...]

Why do you think she wasn't impartial? She actually sounded a lot more evenhanded than jurors who, e.g., started trying the merits of a case. Remember, she was on a Grand Jury and all they're supposed to do is determine whether something should be brought to trial.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:42 PM on September 10 [6 favorites]

My one and only time on a jury, me and the entire rest of the jury took 30 seconds in the jury room to decide that the case before us was a bunch of baldly racist nonsense with zero credible evidence and found a clearly innocent man not guilty. We decided so fast that we felt like we had to spend at least another 15 minutes just hanging out in the jury room chit chatting so as not to pop back out again so fast that the judge wouldn't think we'd not taken our duty seriously. So I felt pretty good about that, and pretty surprised that all the other white folks empanelled with me also saw it for what it was.

But that remains the only encounter with the criminal justice system I feel that way about.
posted by soren_lorensen at 6:22 PM on September 10 [13 favorites]

An amazing article to read, even if harrowing.
posted by greenhornet at 6:45 PM on September 10

Is jury duty less common because some astronomical number of cases are plead out before the case goes to trial ? (Google says 90% are plead out)

So of the 10% of cases that do go to trial, how many opt for a bench trial vs jury trial ? (harder to find that statistic :/
posted by k5.user at 9:59 AM on September 11 [1 favorite]

"My thesis is that there are remarkable parallels in origin, in function, and even in specific points of doctrine, between the law of torture and the law of plea bargaining." - John H Langbein, "Torture and Plea Bargaining," 1978.
posted by koeselitz at 10:22 AM on September 11 [2 favorites]

I don't think I've ever known anyone who did jury duty and actually felt OK about it.

I have, but it was an extremely clear-cut domestic abuse/stalking case with lots of irrefutable evidence. Knowing how often this shit against women doesn't get taken seriously in our justice system, I can say that I did feel good that we were able to put an end to this specific piece of the woman's legal battle against her ex-husband and hopefully give her whatever small peace of mind was still available after 3-ish years in and out of court.

A police-involved shooting was another of the cases I was on the pool for in that same jury duty period, though, and I'm sure that would have been a much different experience.
posted by augustimagination at 10:36 AM on September 11

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