David R. Henderson  

My Daughter the Juror

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My daughter, Karen Henderson, a resident of San Francisco, recently served on a California jury for almost two weeks for $15 a day. She is self-employed and her opportunity cost, therefore, was quite high.

But as she said in a text to my wife and me, when the jury pool was being narrowed down, "Part of me wanted to lie to get out of it but I'm just such an honest person I can't lie." Sure enough, the pool fell from about 100 to 24, and then down to 12, and she was juror #6.

I'm not going to write about the economics of involuntary servitude and the associated huge waste of people's time compared to paying closer to market wages and getting people to volunteer. That's an interesting topic, but I'll leave that for another day.

Instead, this is proud papa complimenting my daughter's insights about the housing market in San Francisco and about revealed preference.

First, the housing market in San Fran. Karen pointed out that in the pool of 24 people, 23 had a Bachelor's degree, and the 24th had an Associate's degree. One third of the people had at least a Master's degree or a professional degree (doctor or lawyer.) What does this tell you about incomes in San Francisco, she asked me, and then answered: there are few low-income people in San Francisco because they are priced out by the high rents and high housing prices.

Second, revealed preference. The case was about a young man who was clocked speeding at 77 mph in a 35 mph zone. The SFPD chased him and he led them on a wild chase indeed. The serious charge against him was evading the police officer in his vehicle.

Most of the case involved the prosecutor trying to prove that he was willfully evading and the defending lawyer arguing that the driver's car went out of control. Given the way the chase occurred, e.g., the car suddenly turning from the furthest left lane of three to make a right turn, the defendant had a tough road ahead (pun intended.) Also, it came out that the defendant was a race car driver, making his argument that the car got out of control suspect.

As the evidence mounted, my daughter found the defendant's case less and less credible. Jurors were allowed to write out questions. The bailiff would then come and pick up the question and take it to the judge. The judge, consulting with the attorneys on both sides, would then decide whether the question was legitimate. All of Karen's questions, she said proudly, passed muster.

And here's the question that pushed her beyond reasonable doubt. It had come out in the testimony that the defendant's friend had picked up his car for him the next day after it had been impounded. Karen's question: "If the car had gone out of control, weren't you worried that your friend would be at risk if he drove it?" The defendant answered that he wasn't.

The initial vote among the jurors was 12-0 in favor of Guilty. And here's where the stereotype I held about jurors, based on stories I've heard from others who have served, broke down in a positive way. Even though that was their initial vote, they knew that the charge was serious but, of course, they weren't allowed to know or research the range of penalties. They knew that he was a race car driver, which means that maybe at 3 a.m. he wasn't putting people at much risk with his evasive maneuvers. So they spent a whole extra day sifting the evidence. They asked to see the transcripts or view videos of the trial (I wasn't clear which) before voting 12-0 in favor of Guilty.


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COMMENTS (8 to date)
Khodge writes:

Are you allowed to laugh if the defendant's lawyer's argument is too ridiculous? Will that get you dismissed?

David R. Henderson writes:

@Khodge,
I don’t know. My impression is that the jurors took it very seriously. BTW, my wife, who was on a jury in a civil case a few years ago, rolled her eyes when one attorney kept calling his client by the other side’s name, and the attorney on the other side did the same. She then caught the judge looking at her. When he saw her roll her eyes, he grinned.

MikeP writes:

"Part of me wanted to lie to get out of it but I'm just such an honest person I can't lie."

Living in California, I'd have to lie to get onto a jury.

I was excused during voir dire 20 years ago because I said I could not follow the judge's instructions on the law if they contradicted what I thought the law should be or how it should be applied. I haven't been asked back since. I assume I've been black-listed.

To get on a jury, I'd have to lie my way through the perjury admonishment:

"Do you, and each of you, understand and agree that you will accurately and truthfully answer, under penalty of perjury, all questions propounded to you concerning your qualifications and competency to serve as a trial juror in the matter pending before this court, and that failure to do so may subject you to criminal prosecution?"

...and then the juror oath:

"Do you, and each of you, understand and agree that you will well and truly try the cause now pending before this court, and a true verdict render according only to the evidence presented to you and to the instructions of the court?"

The brochure clarifies:

Each juror is obligated to follow the law as explained by the judge; if you can not follow the law, you must let the judge know.

I suppose there are worse problems to have than not being able to serve on a jury, but it is a sad reflection of the heavy hand of the state on the scales of justice.

Greg G writes:

Juries don't always get it right but they come a lot closer to that than any other system. I think you make a good point about paying jurors more David and I'm sure your daughter was a great juror. But I would worry that if you restricted the jury pool to volunteers you might get a lot more people with hidden agendas.

The last time I got called for a jury I was rejected because I truthfully told them I couldn't be objective because I thought the plaintiff's case was ridiculous on its face. She had tripped on a tear in the carpet she admitted to having been well aware of. I later found out the judge threw out the case the first time the defense was able to ask him to.

john hare writes:

Twelve high income jurors, two or more lawyers, and a judge tied up for two weeks on fleeing to evade, not including the time of various officers, bailiffs, rejected jurors and witnesses. Sounds like a good use of resources to me.

Matthew Moore writes:

I learned an interesting fact about Scottish jury law recently. They have a third verdict of 'not proven' - which is generally taken to mean 'not guilty and don't do it again'

john hare wrote:

Twelve high income jurors, two or more lawyers, and a judge tied up for two weeks ... . Sounds like a good use of resources to me.
Yes. I have been struck that the right to a trial by jury (paid for by others) may not survive scrutiny, either practical or libertarian scrutiny.

Yaakov writes:

@Matthew Moore

Israel also has a de facto "not proven" outcome, but not a jury system. It is a big mess and controversy in the supreme court because people do not like being acquitted with a "not proven" label.

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