The Barrier of Bias

My service to the county ended yesterday at 5:30 p.m.  I screened, I sat, I answered a question.  Done!

Out of 50 potential jurors, I was number 31.  I had a small inkling I would not make the final cut.

My seatmate, W., however, had number 2.

“Tradesies?” I asked her as I settled back into my blue plastic nest.

“I wish,” she said with a sigh. W. had never been tagged for jury duty.  She felt it a colossal waste of time.

“It’s the one day it’s sunny, too!” she moaned.  She had a point.

We talked for most of the four and a half hours.  We discussed parenting, forestry, the FBI and President Lincoln. We had a rather lengthy discussion about her dogs.  We seriously considered suggesting games for the jurors in our room to play.  Duck, duck goose came to mind.  Also karaoke.

“A cappella karaoke?” W. queried.

“Right.  Could be bad.  Maybe we get someone to smuggle in a keyboard,” I suggested.

One guy took frantic phone calls from his daughter.  He stepped in and out of the room several times.

“I have a teenage daughter, ” he said wearing a sheepish smile.  “And she’s a redhead.”

We commiserated.  The drama!  I have no idea, I’m sure.  I told him I had a teenage son.

“But we know your girl will be a dynamite woman.”   I stated it as fact.  I thought about all the great characteristics of stubborn children, since I have exactly two for two of those in my care.  The thing with stubborn kids is they grow up to be determined, focused adults.  Nobody can make them do anything they don’t want to do.  And if they’re people of strong moral conviction, so much the better.

At about 3:50, the party shifted into high gear.  We filed into the Superior courtroom in numerical order.  I looked for choir risers, but saw none. W. took a seat in the front bench.  I took one 4 benches back.

The lawyers tried to weed us out based on our particular leanings. Then the questions got more invasive.  “What do you think ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ means, Juror #6?” “What does it mean that the state needs to prove its case?”  “Juror #11, If you hear two conflicting stories, how do you decide which person is telling the truth?” Not a fair question, that one. I could think of no good answer.  “What if the defense presents no case and makes no arguments?”

Uh-oh. That last question stumped me.  Perry Mason never went down like that!  For me, several gray areas arose.  I thought, Do I raise my number?  Do I hold on?

The questions droned on.  Each lawyer seemed determined to dig up any bias, despite the brown-nose answers.  I squirmed on the hard wooden bench.  What if I were rail-thin like W.?  How much more uncomfortable would it have been?  God only knows. I thanked God for my “padding” right then and there.

I considered the conundrum.  We want our kids to think for themselves.  By default, this means a certain amount of understanding of the world based on experience, which could translate into bias.  How would I answer the questions truthfully? How could I, considering what I feel and know of life, keep an open mind and listen to all the evidence?  Is any one of us completely without bias?

I  hope they kept the “So help me God” part of the jurors’ oath.  We need it.




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