Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Who are your peers?

This morning I went to the county courthouse to sign in for Jury Duty. And I was really *hoping* that I would get called to serve. Because I've always wanted to sit on a jury. Truly. I know that sounds crazy to a lot of folks. But I've just thought that the American legal system, flawed as it is, does have this really interesting process--to have people be tried by a jury of their peers. I could go on and on about what I do think is flawed about our system (and I'm sure you could too). And yet, the opportunity to be part of the process--to see and experience what it looks like from the inside. I think it's a rare opportunity--to actually make a difference in our judicial system--to play a small (and in some cases like the Rodney King trial or Vincent Chin) or perhaps large and historic role.

I never made it into the jury box. There were about 50 people. About half a dozen claimed some type of hardship or medical difficulty or personal relationship with one of the people in the case that prevented them from serving. And the random shuffle didn't yield my name, so they selected the jury pretty quickly and the rest of us went home.

Of the 50 people in the room, I was the only visibly Asian American person. There were about a dozen African American people; gender-wise it seemed about equally male and female; and age wise we ranged the gamut--on the jury box was a young teen who just graduated from high school and literally JUST turned 18 and someone else who declared themselves to be in their late 60s (it wasn't mandatory that people announce their ages, but for some reason, the majority of people did).

And as I looked around me, I kept thinking about the phrase

"Jury of your peers"

Because if I were ever in a courtroom in this county, would I have a jury of my peers before me? I mean, race is really only one barometer, right? Clearly, outside of places like California or Hawaii, I'm not ever going to be faced with a jury that is going to look like me--at least not a significant portion. And in the South, it's conceivable that my "peers" would largely be white men born and raised in The South.

Are these my peers?

How about education. Or career/job history. Or gender and sexuality.

If you found yourself in a trial situation, who would YOU want to be the jury of your peers?

All I know is that I would *hope* that the jury would be a reflection of "My America"--the one I aspire to see around me--which is a diverse America and a mixed-race America.

Guess I better hope not to be taken to trial in my county. And I guess I'll wait another 2 years to see whether I make it into the jury box.


mike neal said...

I am a Filipino-Irish lawyer in Portland, Oregon. In my thirty plus years in Oregon, I have served on one jury. My fellow jurors were all white and of the twelve, eight were retired people.

It is, of course, a fantasy that one is ever tried by one's peers.

Jason Clinkscales said...

This one may be a little difficult to explain.

I never served in a jury, but I was summoned just a few days before starting an internship in the summer prior to my senior year in college. NYC, obviously, is a lot more of a mixed bag when it comes to the potential jury pool.

As crazy as this may sound, despite my educational status, I would probably consider folks who did not attend or finish college as closer to my peers than those who did. Yes, most of the people I went to high school with did attend and graduate college and were of a mixed bag of economics, ethnicities and faiths. Yet, I didn't necessarily grow up with them and because of my lack of love of the old HS, I sure as hell didn't ask to spend a lot of time with them outside of the hallways.

I guess my peers would be the folks who came from the same communities I grew up in. While there are common ethnic traits (black, Puerto Rican, Dominican), it was the economies and the basic education (elementary and junior high) that we all shared, therefore, there's a bit more of an awareness of the criminal elements that were around in our neighborhoods. Not to say that crime only occured where I live as it exists everywhere. Yet, if I'm on trial, that familiarity would go a long way.

I probably confused everyone or said it in a completely off way, but I tend to think more about where I live and where I've been rather than my 'credentials'. It's not dismissive, but that just my warped mind, though.

Jennifer said...

Thanks for your observation--I especially appreciate your insider pov as someone who works as a lawyer.

It may be a fantasy that we are ever tried by a jury of one's peers--but I suppose as an ideal it's something to, potentially, work towards. You know, to get people other than white retirees to sit in the jury box. But of course, what Fortune 500 CEO is ever going to find him/herself (and most are hims) in the position of serving? They'll get out of it or call in a favor or be dinged.

Totally lost my point in all this...I guess I mean that the system seems to favor the rich and powerful, which is one of my problems with the legal system as is, not that I can think of an alternative at this moment--I just want to acknowledge that point--which is why I see why "jury of one's peers" is idealistic but perhaps something we should strive for.

I think I do understand what you mean--and I always appreciate your comments and observations and your particular pov, especially because it's different from my own (your background not your pov perhaps--we seem to share like-mindedness in other ways).

I think what I hear from your comment is that your peers are the people you are comfortable with--the people you grew up with in your NYC neighborhood. Which is a mix of black and Latino people of varying educational and class and regional backgrounds.

In a different yet similar way, I think this is also what I feel when I think about a jury of my peers--I go back to my high school peer group, which was such a mixed-group of people. We were pretty homogenous in terms of class--solidly middle-class and some working-class but no one whose parents owend a Mercedes Benz (well, not a new one--I think someone's Dad owned a used one from the early 70s) and no one went to college outside the CSU or UC system--if you went to college that is.

So even though my current peers are other egg-head academics, when I think of who I'd want in my jury box, I think of the gang I used to hang out with in high school.

Maybe that's just nostalgia talking, because I know I have a way of romanticizing my California past, but it's what I grew up with and so what I seem to be most comfortable with.