On April 6, 2017, I was called in for jury service and was sent to a courtroom along with approximately sixty other potential jurors for jury selection on a case involving the death of a thirteen month old child resulting from corporal punishment at the hands of his father.
The experience was surreal for a great many reasons, including the fact that every potential juror with whom I spoke was incredibly unimpressed with both the prosecutor and defense attorney, particularly the prosecutor.
In any event, before questioning the potential jurors in the voir dire process, the judge and both counsel explained enough about case from which to eliminate those potential jurors who felt they could not perform their role in an unbiased manner because of the nature of the case.
The judge gave an example of a case in which a parent was charged with murdering their young child by scalding him to death in the bathtub. He explained that during the trial in that case, it was established that the water was excessively hot on that particular occasion as a result of plumbing issues of which the parent wasn't aware until it was too late. The judge then advised us that the jury acquitted the parent in that case because of the circumstances involved.
The judge and both attorneys wanted to make sure, to the extent possible, that every member of the impaneled jury would be capable of keeping an open mind and providing the defendant with a fair trial. After all, in our system of justice, criminal defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Along those lines, they also wanted to know how the potential jurors felt about spanking and other forms of physical discipline. It was also important to them that the impaneled jurors understand and respect cultural differences with regard to the disciplining of children. In addition, they inquired whether any of us felt that parents were justified in losing their temper on occasion and disciplining their children while in such a state.
In any event, the first individuals claiming they couldn't perform the duties required of them as jurors expressed that they couldn't judge others because of their religious beliefs. One of those individuals said she was a Christian and the other a Seventh-day Adventist.
As somber as the mood was in that courtroom because of the nature of the case, I started laughing when both of those individuals stated their reasoning for not being able to perform jury duty. I wanted so badly to ask them their thoughts about gays, lesbians and transgender people, among others. Being pretty certain of the answer I'd receive, I found them incredibly dishonest because they likely judge others all day long, every day.
If I were the judge, I would have thought that contrary to their contention, they probably have more experience judging others because of their religious beliefs. I found it so hysterical that I posted it on Facebook during the lunch break and asked if those individuals sincerely believe they don't judge others. My post received many "likes", as well as the following comments:
* Hilarious! Can I share the story?
* Yes, you can bet your bottom dollar they believe that. I'm sure they believe that because the Bible "condemns" something, it's not THEIR judgment, it's God's.
* What? Wow.
* Good one!
* I would've loved to see that on cross!
Mind you, these comments were from Christian friends of mine.
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While those potential jurors were let go, I could guarantee that it was not because of their inability to judge others; rather, because of their inability to judge others fairly. Along those same lines, parents with minor children were excused, as were those who work with children, advocate on their behalf, or who otherwise appeared as though they might be biased one way or the other.
They dismissed so many potential jurors that they went past my number before they selected a jury of twelve, and I was potential juror number thirty-eight.
I had already been questioned, as had the other potential jurors, before a seat for me in the jury box opened up. As soon as I sat down, the prosecutor immediately dismissed me. Among other things they learned the following from me during voir dire:
* When I was twenty years old, my step-mother and father manufactured a crime against me (link is external) because I wouldn't do as they wished with regard to my mother, following their very contentious litigated divorce and that I ended up entering a plea of no contest in that case. The judge seemed intrigued by this revelation and elicited more information from me. As such, they learned my belief that it's not uncommon for parents to use their children as pawns when they are going through a separation or divorce and to spite them for not playing their game according to their rules. They also learned that my record has long-since been expunged, that it was disclosed and explained in my application for admittance to the Bar (despite the fact that it had been expunged), and that it caused no issue with regard to my being admitted.
* Approximately twenty years ago, I was held up at gunpoint by three individuals of the same race as the defendant in the case.
* My spouse is a first grade teacher.
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* I am an outspoken advocate for changing our legal system.
* I am a mediator and family law attorney and that my approach is very child-centered. In fact, I commented that the United States "stands alone as the only nation (link is external) that has not ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, an international human rights treaty to protect children."
* I am very aware of the empirical research regarding the outcomes associated with spanking (link is external), none of which are positive. However, I also told them that I am aware that this doesn't make spanking illegal or even improper from a legal perspective.
* I am well-known for my research and writing on empathy and compassion, including its importance within the legal field and have an ongoing blog on Psychology Today on that topic.
* I am the only person outside of the United Kingdom that will be presenting at the Symposium - Compassion: Child & Family Law (link is external) at University of London's Institute of Advanced Legal Studies in July.
Continued in Part 2 forthcoming next week...