Tuesday, May 10

RED STATES vs. BLUE STATES VOIR DIRE

I was assigned to a District Court yesterday -- a member of a group of prospective jurors that filled the courtroom's benches six rows deep. The voir dire (a French term meaning "to speak the truth") questioning by the Assistant D.A. and the defense attorney was nothing akin to what you see on television or in the movies. Each was given 45 minutes to ferret out the predispositions and biases of about four dozen people they didn't know and each seemed to go about the process haltingly and with prefatory comments that consumed needless amounts of time. If they were skilled at the process than mine is truly an untrained eye.

This was a criminal trial for a felony indictment for illegal possession and distribution of Methamphetamine. So, no surprise, they wanted to know if any of us had friends or family members who did drugs, had addictions, or had been arrested and convicted. In the course of a dozen or more prospective jurors responding to those kinds of questions, one heard (or gleaned between the lines) an array of perspectives about the criminality of controlled substance abuse, from the hard-nosed to the permissive. I cringed when one individual thought there was no big deal in possessing and using marijuana and pontificated mindlessly that it ought to be legalized. Worse was when the anorexic, body-pierced, heavily-tatooed woman seated next to me announced forthrightly that she had been a heroine addict for over 10 years! (She's ready for the Jerry Springer Show, I thought!).

But the question that took the cake came from the defense attorney who polled every member of the group, asking each to state their political party affiliation. All but one answered the question with "Republican," "Democrat," or "Independent." To my surprise, more than a simple majority answered "Republican," to which the defense attorney concluded, following the last response, "No wonder Democrats cannot get elected in this state."

I'm a Reagan Republican, a traditionalist, and a center-right poliblogger. Do my political viewpoints render me incapable of being objective, hearing and evaluating the evidence, and arriving at an impartial determination of innocence or guilt? I think not; I know not. But the defense attorney asked the question for a reason and I suspect he wasn't looking for conservative republicans to fill the jury box. It struck me that in the face of time constraints, he believed this to be the best litmus test to find jurors who would side with his client. I, for one, was offended by the question, as he wasn't interested in the least in drawing even a single prospective juror out on what political party affiliation had to do with being a good juror in this case. There were no follow-up questions. His bias was all too apparent in a process that is conducted to weed out bias.

The jury ended up being composed of 8 women and 4 men. Yours truly was obviously not among them.