I read a news story recently that disturbed me. It was about a man in Oregon who was freed after serving his first year of a 50-year sentence for molesting an underage girl. I don’t know how underage she was. Given the stiffness of the sentence, my guess is plenty. Or maybe he had priors. I have no idea.
The man was convicted by a non-unanimous jury. He may or may not have been innocent. One thing is certain. The girl was lying her ass off.
The story was centered around a dog (no, the dog did not fuck the underage girl). According to the girl’s testimony, the man threatened to shoot her animals if she went to the cops. To demonstrate he was serious, he gunned down her pet Labrador Lucy. It was a vile act of villainy. It also never happened.
While the man languished in prison, the Oregon Innocence Project was hard at work trying to clear his name. They managed to enlist the help of the prosecutor, who was both admirable and uncommon for holding justice in higher regard than his conviction rate. Through their concerted efforts, they found Lucy very much alive and living with another family. The prosecution’s case relied heavily on the girl’s. testimony. With that testimony now proven to be false, the conviction was overturned.
There are unanswered questions here. Was the man innocent? Quite possibly. The girl’s credibility was blown so unless you’re willing to cherry pick what parts of testimony to believe, you have to dismiss her as a liar. And what about her family? They apparently believed her when she said the man molested her. Fair enough. But believing her story about the man killing the same family dog that they later put up for adoption? That’s a tough sell. Then again, trying to convince the world that you’re not a kid fucker is also a tough sell. Accusations of that sort come with an assumption of guilt.
However, the wrong conviction is not what bothered me about this news story. For one thing, I cannot see it happening to me. Creepy as I am, no one is ever going to accuse me of molesting children because I think they are gross and I can’t stand being anywhere near them. “Susie, can you point to the part of the doll that the man wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole?” See how ridiculous that sounds?
No, my issue was with what I see as the backward idea of non-unanimous juries handing down guilty verdicts. I did not even know that such things existed in this country. It turns out they do in two states: Oregon and Louisiana. Louisiana I can kind of understand. It’s not like it’s part of the civilized world. But Portlandia-progressive Oregon with its legal weed and an openly bisexual governor? That just doesn’t seem right.
With 12 Angry Men and countless lesser efforts, we are acquainted with the hoary trope of the lone, holdout juror preventing a gross miscarriage of justice. This rarely happens in practice of course. Most jurors want to be done with it as soon as possible. If that means convicting someone who only probably committed the crime, so be it.
I can see their point. I have been summoned for jury duty several times, but have never been selected to serve. Even though I’ve been lucky so far, each time is a period of dread.
The prospect is not that bad now as I work for a company that pays for the first four weeks of jury duty. Back when I was contracting, there would have been a sizable loss of income. You can be excused for severe financial hardship, but you’re at the mercy of the judge for that. Judges are not known for their merciful nature.
Despite the dent that jury duty can put in your finances, there are people who take its civic-duty element way too seriously. One time, I was in a bar griping about a recent summons and some guy admonished me with “your country asks so little of you.” He happened to be a career officer in the US Army, an organization that routinely asks people to die, so I guess it’s all a matter of perspective.
Still, I’m willing to do what I can to avoid sitting on a jury. One way is to call my impartiality into question. I don’t outright lie, but I strategically give parts of the truth top billing. There was this one personal-injury case where I pulled out my opinion on tort reform and wore it like a codpiece. The judge was unimpressed by this dodge, but the plaintiff’s attorney saw it differently. Being on that jury was going to cost me money, but it was going to cost thatlawyer a whole lot more. He quickly asked that I be excused.
There may come a time when I may be forced to sit on a jury and if it’s a criminal case, I have one last card to play. I’ll be the holdout juror, but motivated by spite instead of justice. I’ll hang that jury like it’s Anthony Bourdain and there’s not a goddamn thing anybody can do about it. I figure there’s a list of known assholes who should never be summoned again and if they put me on it, they will never have to worry about me again.
All that goes out the window once I move to Oregon. Unless it’s a first-degree murder case, they don’t need a unanimous verdict. I won’t be able to cause any mistrials up there and that is a sobering thought. Fortunately, sobriety is a treatable condition.