THREE DAYS in the JURY POOL
March 14, Monday. First day of this jury pool. 100 people in jury waiting room in basement of courthouse. We are told there are about 300 hearings a day upstairs, many being trials. Maybe 3 black people, 1 Latino in the whole pool from what I can tell. 2 panels were called on Monday – 18-24 people a piece. I was not called. The majority left sat and dozed, worked, read, cruised the internet or just stared. One woman started a puzzle.
Tuesday, March 15, 3 panels were requested and I was called on one. As you go up to the courtrooms, they actually scan you like an airport, as if someone would plan to kill someone by accidentally getting called on a jury for their case! It is a ‘criminal’ matter. The Hennepin county attorney is there, representing the ‘Government v Hassan’ or some caption like that. Charges are 5th degree assault and ‘disturbing the peace.’ 4 police officers are the witnesses – the only witnesses. A black Somali man is the defendant. In voir dire (the process of asking questions of jurors to choose a jury), they wanted to know if anyone was related to police. 3 people were. Lord.
The panel was asked if they could be impartial about police. This question was put to an all white panel, with no Somalis. No real peers for the defendant! I told the judge I was a supporter of Black Lives Matter and did not believe cops told the truth, even under oath. I was dismissed. No one else said no, and perhaps they lie to themselves. The setup is familiar - a black man before a white jury, brought up on bullshit charges, with cop witnesses. 5th degree assault and ‘disorderly conduct’ probably mean he breathed heavily on a cop and 'disorderly conduct' meant he called him a name. Hennepin County is wasting our time and money – represented by a wet-behind-the-ears prosecutor who is probably carrying out the will of the police. The all white panel was youngish, with two psychologists - boy and girl scouts eager to do right. You know that bad feeling you get when something looks like a trap or a setup?
Wednesday, March 16, I was called again in the first pool. This time a civil insurance case – ‘State Farm v some appliance repair business,’ over costs to flooded home. In voir dire again. State Farm did not want to cover the flood, of course. Insurance is about making profits, not insuring people. They rejected an unemployed black man who said he had been upset that he was called to serve on a jury. Also a fat white Burger King worker, a working-class guy that said he had a bad experience with State Farm and some girl who assembled catheters. I was also rejected, as I had a bad experience with State Farm too and said I didn’t like insurance companies.
They actually ask questions like, “Will your opinion of insurance companies allow you to make a fair decision in this matter?” To answer these questions without lying would require most people to be born yesterday or to be completely ignorant. They actually asked how you felt about being in the jury pool – like it’s some kind of great event. You are supposed to be ‘interested,’ ‘no problem,’ ‘excited,’ etc. You are supposed to believe justice will be done.
Rest of Wednesday, sitting with other rejects from other panels. Now the proportion of black people is still about the same - 3 out of 20. Looking at this group, my gut feeling is that they are filtering out lower working-class people, mostly black but also white ones. Then they let us rejects go, and everyone cheered.
What would you do if you were on a jury about some bullshit marijuana charge? Prostitution? Loitering? Sodomy? Or all the other things that are illegal that shouldn’t be? Or the plaintiff was some rich corporation or person? One theory is you lie, risk contempt of court, get on the jury and vote innocent or guilty depending on your politics. I chose not to go that route.
To get on many of these juries, it seems you have to have no opinion about much of anything in society. Or at least not be honest about it. You must have a ‘spotless mind.’ And have the presence of a clean-cut, obedient Eagle Scout. Yet even these very-filtered juries are an exception to the rule of justice in the U.S. Nearly all criminal defendants, without adequate defense counsel or funds, are forced to plead guilty to lesser charges. Most civil cases settle, at least in Hennepin County. As you can see here, few juries, many trials. Justice grinds on, but, like raising and slaughtering animals for meat, you don’t want to see the sausage-making.
March 25, 2016