Monday, August 03, 2009

My experience with the legal system

I believe I mentioned that I was on jury duty for the county I live in a few weeks ago. It was certainly an interesting experience. I ended up getting selected for a trial and serving on a jury for a criminal case. The case involved a defendant who had been pulled over and found with drugs in his car. While the arrest was happening, an officer sustained an injury.

(For the record, the judge did say that we can discuss these things, for anyone wondering. I am going to avoid specifics and stick with my impressions of the whole experience)

First of all, it amazed me that it took two full days to pick a jury. The first two days I served were not anything to do with the trial; instead, I was waiting in a jury box watching people get selected and then struck by the attorneys. What amazed me was that they interviewed each prospective juror individually. The problem I have with the situation is that so much of this could be improved with technology. You had 75 people come in a room Tuesday with me, and most of them ended up dismissed because of the ways they answered the juror questionnaire. In order to be dismissed, they first had to go and sit with the judge and lawyers for a few minutes. I immediately thought of little touch screen devices, asking the same questions they were asking people on paper, and based on people's responses, automatically filtering people out if necessary. There are certain reasons that people can be dismissed, and that I won't talk about, but if those reasons showed up during the survey, why did the person need to wait the entire day sitting on the benches waiting? People literally waited 6 hours to walk up to the judge, give him their juror survey, and be sent out of the room immediately. Some of the questions saw the judge ask a follow up question. The mobile devices I am imagining could be programmed to do the same - if someone says "yes" to this question, ask this follow up yes/no question.

I'm going to make up a silly example here, just so I am not specific about the questions on the actual survey. Let's pretend the case has something to do with cats, and they are going to bring in 10 cats. Your jury questionnaire would probably ask each juror if they are allergic to cats, because you then would not be able to be around so many cats. If we had this device, anyone who was allergic to cats would be able to be dismissed back in to the jury pool and either put on another case or send home (because you CAN be called as a prospective juror for multiple trials in the same day). Heck, the survey could even be done before you go in to any courtroom, and anyone allergic to cats could be routed to another trial that does not involve cats.

Now, why not do this survey from home, which did cross my mind? You can not yet assume everyone has access to the technology and the ability to use it, and you also don't want to worry about people's forms being stolen and used by a stranger, so an in-person verification at the courthouse may be necessary.

One the jury was selected, the judge asked for our cell phone and home phone numbers, in case there was an emergency. We reported to a jury room for 9 am and proceeded to wait each of the three days the trial was going on. It would be very labor intensive to expect someone to call all 14 of us (12 jurors, two alternates), but why not use an alert system? Much like PCCC's Emergency Alert System - the "Panther Alert" - the courts could have said "the judge is busy, be here for 10:30 am instead of 9 am today". That would have allowed me and the other jurors a little time to run a few errands.

At the end of the trial, if you want to see the transcripts (for example, let's say we wanted to see exactly what one witness said, word for word). In order to do so, they print things out and you have to look through pages and pages to find it. Why not put this on a very simple device that would let you view the document and use "Find"? You save paper waste, you also save on having to pay to shred these documents, and you make your jury more efficient. You don't need a cutting edge laptop to do this - you could do this on a very basic machine that needs only the operating system and Adobe Acrobat on it.

It was an interesting experience, but the only thing that really bothered me was the fact that so much of my time was wasted just sitting there. Technology can alleviate these issues and I am sure it will in the future.

3 comments:

David J. Csuha, CPP, CFE said...

The technology would be nice for the selection process, but there is a psychological element to the whole Voir Dire. In addition to the answers you give on the survey, you are literally "sized up" or profiled if you will, by the prosecution and defense attorneys, based on everything from what you are wearing to how you walk and speak.

Semi-related: Found this site a couple of semesters ago: http://www.crfc.org/americanjury/index.html

Thought you may be interested.

Professor Cameron said...

David, cool stuff. I definitely agree with someone who is a potential juror needing to be sized up - I'd want to be able to, as a lawyer, say to myself "this one scares me because he's wearing a NRA pin" and strike them from the panel. However, let's say someone is a police officer. In a criminal case, any defense attorney would knock that officer off the panel. However, this officer would be just fine for a civil case. There should be ways to route people away from cases they are not fit to deal with, and that's where the technology comes in. Likewise, if it's a car insurance civil case, you would assume anyone who works for a car insurance agency would be excused, so why not route them to the murder case down the hall rather than in the civil trial they will never get chosen for?

I'm just "spitballing" ideas here, with very little knowledge of the system, but it really seemed as if there have to be ways to make this more efficient. (in the interest of full disclosure: This comes from the guy who is in the process of posting his assignments already for the fall 2009 semester a month before the semester starts and loves being efficient)

David J. Csuha, CPP, CFE said...

Eric, I'm with you. Any Petit jury management system must have built it protections such as maintaining juror anonymity and obviously access control measures. (Thanks for the potential homework/project assignment!)

This would make an excellent joint meeting topic between us and the CJ club, BTW.

Also, came across a list of vendors in this area:
http://www.ncsconline.org/D_Tech/vendorlist/vendbyproduct.asp?id=27