What is Jury Duty Like & My Thoughts on Truth

Sometimes it’s really hard to come up with an idea for a blog post. You can think and think, yet nothing interesting comes to mind. Then you can be doing something which isn’t related to blogging or law at all, and an idea will jump out at you.

That happened when I went a walk earlier. It was a really obvious idea too. I’m going to tell you about the time I was on jury duty. Nothing too specific, just my general feelings and thoughts. This post was actually longer and a bit more interesting. But I didn’t want to give too much away and be in contempt of court so I deleted some!

Getting jury duty at the time was actually really convenient. As anyone who has been on jury duty (or has worked in courts) knows, there can be a lot of waiting around. This was good because it gave me time to read my law books for the upcoming year. I literally had nothing else to do. No distractions. No chance to procrastinate. And then I got to see bits of what I was reading in action.

There was so much waiting because, if you’re not assigned to a case, you just wait until you’re needed. It comes down to luck really. In theory you could be called up for jury duty and not be put on an actual case. Alternatively you could be called onto a case which lasts several months. I was on 2 cases over a two week period. And if I remember correctly I was only doing something jury related about half of that time.

The case started with your name being called along with the other people who may serve on the jury. You were then led by the court clerks to the location outside the courtroom. You got a brief overview of what would happen next. When in court the 12 jurors were randomly picked and sworn in. More than 12 people are initially selected to be potential jurors just in case one of them knows the defendant / others in the courtroom.

Obviously I can’t say much about the trial itself. But the offences in question weren’t overly serious. The facts of one of the cases was actually mildly comical.

Thinking about more general philosophical matters, one of the cases essentially came down to one persons word against the other. So believing that one person was telling the truth, rather than the other person, would decide the outcome. This made me think – can you ever be sure beyond reasonable doubt that someone is guilty when it comes down to this? I don’t think so. Not without further evidence. And the evidence wasn’t conclusive one way or the other.

Although you would think one person more reliable, and more likely to tell the truth than the other, this still wasn’t enough. Hypothetically speaking if there was a witness on the stand who I knew to be very truthful, what would I think? In my opinion it would still be very hard to say beyond reasonable doubt that they were telling the truth.

Think of all the times you’ve felt so sure that you’ve seen something happen. Or so sure that you’ve done something. You’d say “I’m 100% sure I locked the door.” And that wouldn’t be a lie. Yet you check the door and it’s unlocked. This happens from time to time – people make mistakes. They may also have preconceptions about a person and just believe they’ve seen something. They also could have other reasons to lie. Reasons you don’t know about.

Now think about the above in relation to, not someone you know to be truthful, but a complete stranger. You don’t know them, you don’t know if they hold any bias, you don’t know if they though they saw something when they didn’t.

I think there needs to be some more physical evidence there, apart from a witness. Otherwise you’re claiming some sort of psychic insight into others…

I’ve never liked the idea of one person essentially being able to get the other sent to jail because they seem more trustworthy. However I’ve seen a lot of TV/moves where someone get framed, so I’m probably a little paranoid.

However if you discount all witness evidence then it would be very hard to get a conviction. I suppose that’s why it’s better to have several witnesses and make sure their stories match up.

Overall I actually enjoyed the experience. My fellow jurors were reasonable and I believe the correct verdicts were reached in both cases. It was also a good chance to test some legal skills too. You need to put forward your own justifications for your decision and express yourself clearly.

If only law students could volunteer for jury duty!