Jury Duty – The Lessons I Learned About The Breakdown Of American Society

I have a question that’s vexing me, and I am curious on your all’s take on it, but first, some background.

So I was at Jury Duty today and I was seated on the Petit Jury with 30 other people, and I was excused after the first question. Funny thing is I wasn’t even supposed to be there as I had told them I had a trip planned for the week, which was cancelled at the last minute, but I went anyhow to avoid jail time. I ended up getting selected third (random, my ass!) Here’s how it went….

The judge told us what our duties were, to be honest and have an open mind, and all that jazz. The clerk stood us all up and asked us to swear (or affirm) that we would tell the truth. We all said yes.

Then, they introduced us to the people in the court, like the DA and the staff, then the Defendant and his defense attorneys. The judge asked us if anyone knew any of them, and none of us did. He then explained he’d be asking some questions about things that may be personal, and if we didn’t want to tell something in front of God and country, to raise your hand and approach the bench.

The second question was, “Do you know anyone who has ever been charged with a crime?” I looked around as I put my hand up, and I was the only one in the room. I found that difficult to believe, but apparently I was the only one with the balls to admit it.

The judge called me to the bench, and I was swarmed with a bunch of lawyers. He asked me about it, and this is how it went:

Judge: Mr. Ruth, tell me about why you raised your hand.

Me: Sir, I have a great many friends who have been charged or convicted of a great many things.

Judge: (smiling weirdly) OK, like…?

Me: Well, domestic violence, drug trafficking, drug posession, assault, assault with a deadly weapon, battery, DUI, reckless driving, and other things like that. I was always the “good kid” in the friends I’ve had, never getting in too much trouble, but my friends tend to be those who lack good, sound judgement. Well, in reality it’s arguable that they’re just incredibly, incredibly unlucky, if nothing else.  Wrong place, wrong time type things.

Judge: Well, what do you think of that? Does it preclude you from being able to be fair and impartial?

Me: Nope, they all deserved what they got, I suppose. None were unjustly accused, in my opinion. I knew how they were and they did what the DA said they did.

Judge: So you don’t harbor any ill feelings against the police?

Me: Nope. I believe them to be a bit lazy and in some cases incompetent, at least in Boone County, but all in all they do their job as well as they can, I guess, and as well as the law allows. They’re OK in my book, I guess, in short.

DA: So, do you believe that the police always tell the truth?

Me: In general?

DA: In court or in police reports.

Me: Yes. I’m up here and I could lie through my teeth. Nobody would ever know and nothing would happen. They are sworn to be honest and do their best to do their job. They do it for a living. If they got caught in a lie, they’d lose their jobs, pensions, and generally be screwed. It’s not in their best interests to lie just to put one guy away when there’s so many people they can be going after if they are honest.

Defense Lawyer: So, Mr. Ruth, you’re saying that a cop will never lie?

Me: No, I’m saying if I took 2 people of equal stature in the community, one being a cop, and they had different stories, I’d believe the cop first.

Defense Lawyer: Well, what if part of my defense was to tell you that the police officer involved was lying?

Me: You’d have to prove it to me, I’d believe the cop unless he said something so absurd that it would be completely unbeleivable, and that’s not going to happen, I’d think.

Judge: There is no proof, they don’t need to prove anything, it’s your job to determine who is more credible.

Me: Well, it would take a lot of convincing.  If it’s a he-said-she-said thing, I’m going with the cop pretty much every time.  They do it for a living.

Defense Lawyer: So you’re saying cops can’t make mistakes?

Me: That’s not what you asked me. You asked about lying. I’m telling you that I don’t believe that a cop would stand up here and intentionally lie. If they’re wrong, hey, we all make mistakes, but I don’t think that telling what you believe to be true, even if it isn’t, is lying. It’s making a mistake.

Judge: So you don’t think, like all people, that a police officer might tell a little fib, or shade the truth?

Me: No. I don’t think a cop would intentionally lie. I mean, what’s the point? If he doesn’t get you this time, and he believes you’re a criminal, he’s just going to go and pick you up anyhow later on, so what’s the point?

Defense Lawyer: Wait, what do you mean, pick you up again?

Me: If a cop sees you go free from a trial and truly believes you’re dirty, he’s going to stalk you and wait for you to screw something up. It’s just how they are, I believe. If you’re a habitual criminal or something, and known to the police, you’re on the radar and you’re going to get picked up again.  It’s not by accident that a guy who screws up early in life is in and out of the system a bunch of times. They get picked up because the cops know they’re screw-ups and the cops keep an eye on them.

Defense Lawyer: So what you’re saying is that you don’t believe a cop will ever lie on the stand?

Me: You’d have to convince me otherwise.  I just don’t think some witness who is aquainted with the defendant saying a cop is a liar is going to be proof enough that the cop is actually lying.  If a guy is on the stand trying to save his own skin, or his buddy is saying something to save his own skin, unless there’s something else there to tell me that the cop is lying, I’m going to believe the cop pretty much every time. I told y’all I wouldn’t lie when I swore a minute ago, and I’m telling you how it is. It’s going to be very hard to convince me that a cop is lying to put a guy away unless there’s some evidence to show me that he’s lying, intentionally.

Judge: Do you have any more questions?

DA: No, your honor.

Defense Attorney: No, your honor.

Judge: Mr. Ruth, you may have a seat.

Me: Yes sir.

Judge: Mr. Ruth, you’re excused….

So here’s my question:
Why is it that believing a cop is honest and will uphold his oath MORE than an average individual something that is exclusionary for you to be in a trial, on a jury? Isn’t it that we’re SUPPOSED to have faith in our judicial system, and the enforcers of that, the cops? I mean, isn’t it that you’re supposed to have faith in cops? 

It seems a sign of the times when cops are to be considered just as dirty as the people on trial, by default?  I mean, am I all screwed up here in thinking that cops are duty-bound to do their level best and give a truthful accounting of what they know, and be held to a higher standard than some other guy off the street?

This whole thing has shaken my faith in the judicial system a bit…you’ll have to excuse me, but I just think that cops are the only thing standing between us and complete chaos, and if they are assumed to be flawed liars from the standpoint of a trial, then it seems to me that we’re completely and totally fucked, as a people.  It comes down to this: Who can you really trust, if you can’t trust a cop? Nobody trust priests anymore, and nobody trusts elected officials like politicians, so who the hell else is there? The media? HA! They’re more full of shit than Johnny Cochrane was! It’s a sad state of affairs, folks.

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6 thoughts on “Jury Duty – The Lessons I Learned About The Breakdown Of American Society”

  1. I think you’re right in spirit, but it sounds like you may have overstated.

    I agree that a cop’s oath should make them less liable to lie, and I – like you – would believe them over someone else, all other things being equal.

    But a cop is a human being like anyone else, and is as capable of lying as anyone else. Remember that by arresting someone, a cop is personally stating that the person did something illegal. His professional reputation is now invested in affirming that person’s guilt and as such he is no longer a reliable source of information.

  2. Your attitude is framed around the assumption that cops behave rationally. But of course they don’t; they’re human beings after all. If one feels an emotional need to put somebody away, that could well overrule their judgment vis a vis prudently guarding their own self interest as you described. Besides which, suppose a cop IS contemplating lying on the stand. No doubt he knows that many people think just like you do, that cops should generally be trusted. This would give him (justified) confidence that he can get away with it.

  3. Let me put it like this: Cops are not the prosecutor, they are the enforcers of the law. By picking up someone, they are only stating they believe, based on their own observation or by witnesses, that a crime ocurred and that they have a reasonable belief that the person they picked up did it.

    If the evidence clears them, all the cop is doing is stating what they believe, and if they believe it, they’re telling the truth about what they believe, be it factual or erroneous. Like I said, they can be wrong, but I don’t see them lying about it on the stand.

  4. The judge and court did not dismiss you based on your answers… 1 of the 2 lawyers did. A jury is comprised of random people, and each lawyer on each side gets to dismiss people to create “a fair” jury. Do you think they do it based on fairness? No, they do it based on who they think will help them win. It works because both sides get to do this, thus the outliers are removed and the jury is equalized.

    Don’t think of it as a flaw in the court… it is simply that one side of the case felt you were pre-disposed to deciding against them. It could’ve been the guilty side.

    (I am not a lawyer, I do not know what I’m talking about, do not quote me)

  5. To expand on what Kevin said, lawyers can dismiss a jurors in two ways. First, if they can convince the judge that a juror is not capable of rendering an unbiased verdict, then that juror is dismissed with justification (or whatever legal term they use). They can, IIRC, try this on any number of jurors, but the judge has to agree with their reasoning.

    Secondly, each side gets to dismiss a certain number of jurors (two I think) without needed to provide any justification.

    I wasn’t there, so I obviously can’t say which type was applied to you. It is possible, I suppose, that the defendant’s lawyer convinced the judge that you would not respect the principle of innocent until proven guilty or burden of proof based on your statements. Remember, the choices are guilty or not guilty, not guilty or innocent. There is an important legal distinction.

    Or you might simply have been the second type, in which case you were removed for strategic reasons.

    To quote Michael Garibaldi, “Everybody lies.” Cops can have incentives to lie in court, but those incentives are balanced against the disincentive of perjury charges. A cop has to decide it is worth the risk to themselves in order to get some guy who is quite likely a complete stranger to them. Sometimes, they decide it is, and that’s why the lawyers get to question them in court rather than just handing everyone on the jury a copy of the police report.

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