I guess my question is, “Can you be compelled to serve on a jury?” If I had been summoned for the Miami trial of Damon Darling, knowing what I know now about the jury system, I would not have wanted to serve on his jury – but not out of any lack of civic responsibility.
Evidence of Gangs
Yesterday, the defense called a convict in a jail jumpsuit to testify against the defendant’s chief accuser, the other known participant in the shootout that killed a young child. In rebuttal, to expose the witness as a liar, the prosecution called a police officer who was supervising this witness at the time. Regardless which side is right about the witness, all that his testimony and the counter-testimony proves is that this was a gang shootout.
Gangs are all about drugs. Drugs are all about international drug cartels. So I can’t help but feel the trial really isn’t about the murder of a little girl: The jurors in this case are being asked to convict a gangbanger (and I’m sure they will). But are they safe?
The current American jury system requires jurors to reveal extensive personal information to the court. This information is made available to both the prosecution and defense. I understand the need for this, but the system also makes this information available to the public. For example, anyone present in the court during jury selection can take notes and subsequently track down a juror.
In addition, after the trial jurors are free to speak publicly about what went on in jury deliberations. In the event of an appeal, the defense can charge jurors with misconduct based on what jurors report. In the event of a mistrial (hung jury), the prosecution can charge jurors with misconduct based on what jurors report. I understand the reason for this: the system has no other way to ensure that jurors were truly “impartial.”
But why would any Miami resident want to expose herself to this invasion of privacy or to run the risks associated with jury service?
On the other hand, judges seem to have the power to restrict jurors’ post-trial speech. For example, in O. J. Simpson’s La Vegas trial, the judge warned the jury against post-trial book deals. But by what right?
Under the First Amendment, the government “shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press . . . .”
Under the Constitution, jurors have an absolute right to speak or write about their jury-duty experience and to express their opinions about the trial.
This freedom is actually a means by which the citizenry can ensure that the justice system operates in an impartial manner—not only the jury. Freedom of speech and press is almost the only power an individual citizen can exercise to curb the government’s power.
Crimes against the People versus Crimes against a Person
If any case illustrates why American law views crimes such as the murder of a child in gang crossfire as a crime against the people rather than a tort (injury to a person), it is this one. And because it is so clearly a crime against a community, I predict this jury will find Darling guilty despite reasonable doubts about who fired the AK-47 bullet that killed the child.
But if I were a juror in this trial, I would be outraged at the way the prosecution handled the case. The prosecution chose not to charge Leroy Larose with first-degree murder. The prosecution permitted the defense to hide behind a bizarre sort of self-defense argument. The prosecution permitted the police to ignore the evidence of a third party in the shootout, probably because they did not have sufficient evidence to charge the individual. (Although, according to TruTV’s Beth Karas witnesses identified an individual, who subsequently claimed to have an alibi. He was supposedly with his mother—hardly an ironclad alibi.)
- Sidebar: Given that this was clearly a gang shootout involving drugs, perhaps the feds can bring charges against all three of these people—since the city of Miami itself cannot find a way to control drugs and gang violence in their jurisdiction.
So, what if I had been summoned to jury duty in this case? And what if I expressed reluctance to serve for fear of reprisals? What if I said I thought all gangbangers ought to be in prison? And what if, despite this, both sides decided I was qualified to serve? Could I have appealed to the judge to dismiss me, or could the judge have compelled me to serve?
I suspect that a judge can charge a citizen with contempt of court for refusing to serve on a jury. And “contempt of court” would be an apt description of my attitude toward the way the system treats juries.