I forget who it was who asked, ‘Who would want to be tried by 12 people who were so stupid they could not get off a jury?’. They have a point. There again – forget all that rubbish about civic duty – who would want to be tried by 12 people who actually wanted to sit on a jury?
But some people do want to sit and the bigger the case, the greater the desire. ‘I was on the jury that convicted the treble axe murderer’ is a bit like ‘I was at Ascot when Frankie Dettori rode seven winners in one afternoon’.
Some years ago, I was in a small town in California watching the jury selection in the trial of a man accused of killing his wife and daughter for the insurance money. It was amazing the lies potential jurors told to avoid being excluded.
The killings had been all over the media for months and yet hardly anyone in the jury pool seemed even to have heard of the case, let alone to have any preconceived ideas about it. There was also one young woman who would have missed a term at university, something she was quite willing to sacrifice because, she said, ‘This will be a more life-giving experience’.
Still, some people don’t want to have life-giving experiences and who can blame them? However, they have to do a bit better than those who have written recently to Australian courts offering the following excuses:
- I might fall asleep and my snoring will be a distraction. (I hope s/he means if the jury has to retire overnight, but I’m not sure.)
- I need to look after my cat. (This, of course, is only a version of ‘why I was late for/could not come into work today’.)
- I am allergic to air-conditioning and am scared of coming into air-conditioned rooms. (What does s/he do in the summer?)
- I have a public transport phobia and can’t attend because there is no one to drive me to court. (Good point. This is a version of the tale which district judges seem to accept when told a footballer earning tens of thousands a week should not be disqualified.)
- The planets are not aligned and it is not a good fit for me. (Actually it is probably better if this person goes nowhere near the jury room.)
James Morton is a writer and former criminal defence solicitor