James Patterson’s “Judge and Jury” — Part 2

While I’m turning the pages in the books rapidly–eager to see what happens next–I stumbled over a couple of things in the early part of the book’s depiction of jurors and courtroom personnel.

1) No one in the book wanted to serve as a juror, except a woman whose employer was going to pay her even for the time she spent on the jury, because she wanted the extra “$40” jury pay per day. (In Cook County it’s only $25 and has been for the past 30 years. I know, because I’ve been summoned at least five times since 1976.)

I can’t believe that anyone who’s showed up at a courthouse with a jury summons in hand is really so jaded as that. I’m sure that most people who make the effort to show up understand how important jury service is in a democracy. I’ve heard my fellow jurors grouse about the pay, the vending machines, the uncomfortable chairs, etc., but no one ever told me they thought it was a waste of their time. At least, not anyone who actually honored the summons. Once in a doctor’s waiting room I heard someone say she had thrown away the summons so she wouldn’t have to go to court, and if anyone ever challenged her for not showing up she would claim the Post Office never delivered the summons to her. She said her postal carrier was so lousy that half the time her mail went to a neighbor. (I must have the same postal carrier.)

2) The jurors are depicted as ignoring the judge’s admonition not to talk about the case before deliberations begin. At every break they make disparaging remarks about the defendant and his attorney.

In my case, a few jurors made some tangential comments about the defendant (such as that his girlfriend had a baby on her lap), but they were cautioned by other jurors not to talk to them about the case. There were several jurors who enjoyed policing the group. I’m sure that in longer trials the temptation to comment on the proceedings is greater than in my case (three and a half days). And I can imagine that some juries are made up of 12 people who simply can’t control themselves. But in most cases, I believe that jurors try very hard to remain objective, even in the most horrific of crimes.

3) The court clerk went into the jury deliberation room with the jurors, and when a juror made a remark about being afraid of the defendant, the court clerk dragged her in front of the judge.

Now, I’m no lawyer, but I can’t believe a court clerk is ever permitted anywhere near the jury or jury room. The jury is escorted into the jury room by a baillif, who’s a county sheriff or federal marshal. He or she is only supposed to give the jury a few instructions about logistics, such how to send a note to the judge. Nothing else.

And while I’m at it, I might as well complain wearing my editor’s hat. In the beginning of the novel the court clerk is named Sharon Ann Moran. In part 2, a court employee named Monica Ann Romano turns up. Is it just a coincidence that every woman who works in the courthouse has Ann as a middle name? I can’t help but wonder if Mr. Patterson and Mr. Gross didn’t have their acts together. It would have made more sense plot-wise for Ms. Moran to be the court clerk in part 2 who gets involved in a serious crime. If they intended it to be two different characters, then the middle name should have been cut out. (Where was the publisher’s editor?)

And, how do you get to be a co-author with a bestselling writer like Patterson, anyway? I’m willing to work cheap.

James Patterson’s “Judge and Jury” (with Andrew Gross)–Part I

An addition to my list of books featuring juries and jurors:

James Patterson’s Judge and Jury

I plan to review this book on Amazon.com and I’ll give it a good review, because I’m enjoying reading it. But I’d like to make a few comments on the depiction of the jury in this novel, which have little to do with whether or not I think anyone else would enjoy reading it (and that’s what a review should be).

The initial premise of the book is that jurors are at risk of retaliation and threats from defendants, especially gang-related defendants. I agree. I fear that in the future–perhaps the near future–something very like the disaster that kicks off this novel will actually happen. (I won’t say what it is, because I don’t want to be spoiler.)

The American criminal justice system is based on principles that protect the rights of defendants against the seemingly vast powers of the state. I believe firmly in these principles. In fact, my jury experience taught me that my fellow citizens feel the same way. Our jury panel was very concerned about the rights of the defendant. Among the ways that defendants are protected are by means of public trials and by allowing the defendant to select his jury (to some extent).

However, these days many defendants have enormous power themselves (mob bosses and gang leaders, for example, and sometimes even terrorist leaders). Others have power through their membership in the mob, gangs, and terrorist organizations.

If a defendant or his associates were so inclined, it would be easy for them to track down sitting jurors and their families for nefarious purposes. Even the press is able to track down jurors during a trial. In the Phil Spector trial, for instance, one juror reported to the judge that he received a phone call from a journalist.

The names of jurors are public knowledge both through public court records (easily available after a trial) and through announcements made in open court during voir dire. Often, a juror’s name alone is enough to enable anyone to look them up in public directories. (My name is fairly unique, for instance. Not everyone is named Susan Smith. And not every jurisdiction has more than one resident named Susan Smith.) In addition, in jurisdictions comprising several towns, the town in which the juror resides is also announced in court.

Judges seem to be reluctant to sequester juries these days, even in high-profile cases. For example, terrorist Zacarius Moussaui’s jury wasn’t sequestered. Supposedly sequestration is intended to prevent jury tampering and jurors hearing information about the case which is not in evidence, but it also would prevent jury intimidation or attacks. But even a sequestered jury can be at risk (as in Patterson’s jury) and their families can also be at risk, since they aren’t protected during a trial.

Let’s face it. There are a lot of thugs out there.

Before there were jury trials – – –

In my historical novel, “The Posthumous Wife,” the congregation of the Torah Talmud calls for a bet din, that is, a rabbinical trial, to determine the truth or falsehood of several life-and-death matters. A bet din is a panel of rabbis, scholars of sacred texts and analyses of theological matters (similar to priests and ministers in Christian churches).

In the past, many, if not most, European “trials” were conducted under the auspices of religion. The European Inquisition was a trial by priests–it was intended to ferret out heresy and blasphemy, but most “crimes” were viewed as sins and they were often handled by the Inquisition, too. Political crimes were dealt with by the civil authorities, usually without any form of trial–other than the trials of torture, fire, and water.

In my research into the history of jury trials, I’ve found that the Greeks were the first to institute a sort of jury trial. They determined a defendant’s fate by “the black ball” method. Every citizen cast a vote by dropping either a white or black marble into a container. A majority of black balls was a conviction. It was a jury of peers–if the defendant was a citizen. If not, my guess is he just died by the sword.

After that, though, the next iteration of the jury was brought to us courtesy of the Vikings (yes, those marauders were democrats). Every Viking who was the head of a household would sit on a jury panel in all disputes. In some of the sagas, these householders included women, too. I believe that when the Danes invaded Britain they brought this tradition with them.

So, we really owe the right to a trial by jury to those wild and woolly Vikings. Thank you, Bluetooth, et al.

(It just occurred to me that it is rather odd that the Bill of Rights is so specific about certain aspects of trials. Why were the framers of the Constitution worried that these aspects of British Common Law might not be respected in the United States when they left so many other aspects of common law unstated and implicit?)

Is the jury punished for failing to reach a verdict? Here’s my take on it.

There most certainly is a stigma attached to serving on a jury that hangs. (I won’t even analyze the origin of the phrase “hung jury” to prove my point.)

When you’re summoned to jury duty, during voir dire the judge will ask you whether you ever served on a jury before and, if so, whether you reached a verdict. What she means when she asks this is whether you and your eleven colleagues were able to reach a consensus. If not, you are not a good candidate for a jury in her courtroom.

Once a hung juror, always a hung juror. It’s a privilege to serve on a jury, and, if you waste the court’s time once, you aren’t likely ever to have a chance to do so again.

If the judge doesn’t dismiss you from the jury panel, the prosecution most certainly will. The only lawyers who like hung juries are defense lawyers.

I might add that the media also view hung juries as failures. The Phil Spector trial coverage proves this. After the trial, the jurors were interviewed on camera and all the commentators clearly sided with the jurors who voted guilty (ten of twelve). The two jurors who felt there was reasonable doubt were characterized extremely unfavorably by the press.

Is the jury punished for failing to reach a verdict?

When the jury hung in the 2007 Phil Spector trial, the judge graciously told them that there was no stigma attached to a failure to reach a verdict. After all, that’s what the burden of proof is all about–the prosecution has to prove conclusively that a defendant is guilty in order for the jury to convict.

My question is: Is it true that there is no stigma attached to a hung jury?