Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Shirking Your Duty

Want to get out of jury duty but don't have a good enough excuse, and don't want to stoop to the lows of feigning racism or stupidity? There's an easier way.

Prosecutors bring cases because they believe they have compelling evidence of the defendant's guilt. Weak cases can always be abandoned, or left to fester until more evidence can be collected. Attorneys for the defense have a harder job because if a case is pressed it's sure to be a relatively strong one.

This asymmetry between the two sides is easily exploited by the clever would-not-be juror. Because prosecutors believe they have the stronger case, and the moral upper hand, they are more likely to accept any juror of average or greater intelligence who is free of bigotries that will make him overly sympathetic to the defendant. The counsel for the defense, by contrast, will often be hostile to jurors who are accomplished, rational, or overtly moral or responsible. After all, they are going to ask the jury to put themselves in the shoes of a person who has likely made some poor decisions and displayed bad behavior, whether or not they are actually guilty of the crime of which they are accused. Remember that the prosecutor will bring charges against easy targets, and a person who has a history being a screw-up is an easy target.

How does this help you get out of jury duty? Because the easiest way to be dismissed from the juror pool other than for cause (e.g. extreme bigotry) is to be dismissed by the counsel for the defense without cause. To accomplish this you should try to present yourself as logical, successful, free from the spots of a checkered past, and most crucially, sympathetic to the person of the prosecutor. When the attorney for the defense is speaking, you can act as bored as you actually feel, but when the prosecutor speaks you must feign rapt interest, smile frequently, and show involvement. A nearly sure way to be dismissed is to raise your hand and ask a question (rarely done by potential jurors during the selection process) that is sympathetic to something the prosecutor has just said. Ask the question with a sincere and upbeat tone.

In fairness, I've never tried to avoid jury duty, and have only been called once. I was disappointed to be dismissed by the defense attorney, but it was my own fault because I did the things I suggest here. I couldn't help it. I had just graduated from college (literally a week before), had landed a great job as a rocket body design engineer, and on top of all of that the female prosecutor was attractive and intelligent, and frankly interesting to listen to. The accused was a sullen young man of approximately my age who, it came out, had frequently made a public nuisance of himself in the past and was accused of doing so again. I don't know if he was guilty, but I probably wasn't very likely to be sympathetic to him and that was painfully obvious to his attorney.

I do hope that someday I can actually serve on a jury because I'm interested in the process and the concept, and because I want to participate in this important part of government. I don't know if I will, though. Do people like me ever get selected to serve on juries?


  1. I've always wanted to serve on a jury as well! Sounds like that may never happen, from your experience and what other engineers have said.

    Question: what kind of a jurist would the defense and prosecution EVER agree on? They both want to eliminate the most extreme jurists for their interests. Are you saying that the reasonable moralist is the most extreme personality a defense attorney screens?

  2. cashworth,

    I don't know what kind of jurist they'd both agree on...Your opinion? Both sides get to eliminate as many extreme individuals (bigots, etc.) for cause as they want to, but I do tend to think that "reasonable moralist" is a pretty good description of the kind of person the defense is likely to peremptorily dismiss. The kind of person the defense wants to keep is one who understands what's it like to have gotten into trouble (maybe repeatedly), and believes that criminal behavior has more to do with an unfair society than it does with personal limitations. I think this is even true if the defendant really is innocent, because even then the defendant is probably an easy target (screwup), and that's why he's been selected for prosecution.

  3. Depending on jurisdiction, (in my experience) the prosecution and defense generally have a limit on how many potential jurists they can eliminate (absent obvious bias, which is generally taken care of before the attorneys start actually picking, as the judge reviews this issue with the jurors directly). If you really want to serve, make sure you avoid being eliminated in the early rounds and they may be stuck with you. In my local county, they take the entire jury pool into the court and those first to enter are those first to be seated in the jury box and examined (enter last, sit in the back, etc.). And try to avoid sucking up to either side. We need more engineers and generally rational people serving on our juries!

  4. Anonymous,

    That's the way I understand it too. They can get rid of as many potential jurors as necessary for cause, but can only toss out a few peremptorily. Trying to keep a low profile is probably good advice for trying to get accepted onto a jury, but let's face it, how many teetotalers are going to be allowed on a jury hearing a drunk driving case? I am, and it was, and the attorney asked about whether I drank.