The wisdom of the uninformed

I just finished four weeks of jury duty. Upon completion we were admonished by the judge not to tweet or blog about our service so I’m going to blog about my service.

Jury duty is an odd duck. The less you know about the topic being discussed the more the lawyers like you and want you on their jury.

Seems counterintuitive.

A few years ago after getting my pilot license I attended a flight safety lecture put on by the FAA and NTSB. The lecturer was a crash investigator. He said the best witnesses to an airplane crash aren’t pilots but small children. A pilot who witnesses a crash will tell the investigator his impressions of what the pilot did before the crash, based on his experience:

“Yeah I could tell the pilot stalled it then spun in. Should have dropped the nose then added opposite rudder.”

Whereas a child will tell the investigator what he saw:

“The airplane was pointed up and going really slow, then it rolled over and fell.”

Maybe good jurors are like that child, with no preconceived notions.

Mistrial

The trial ended with a hung jury. Four weeks of focussed work…gone. I discussed the reasons with my wife: “Some of the jurors couldn’t believe that X was true.”

“But X is true! Anyone knows that.”

“No. Buried in the 100 hours of testimony and evidence was a snippet of testimony from a witness that proved X could not be true. If a juror wasn’t paying attention during the 20 seconds it took the witness to explain, the point would have been lost.”

Which brings me to this:

How to second-guess a jury like a boss

Lots of people like to second-guess jury verdicts based on the extensive knowledge they gleaned from reading one or two articles in the newspaper about the trial. Sometimes reading an article is too much work, so they base their opinion on a 128-character tweet instead.

I’ll teach you how to second-guess properly:

  1. Block off 40 hours a week of time for the entire duration of the trial.
  2. Grab a notebook and watch every minute of the trial. Don’t just turn on the TV and cook lunch or whatever. Sit in a chair and pay attention as if someone’s life or property depends on it (because it does).
  3. You’re allowed to go to the bathroom only when the jury goes to the bathroom so watch your liquid consumption.
  4. No eating snacks when the court is in session. If the jury can handle sugar crashes so can you.
  5. No googling for information on anything. You must base your decision on the testimony and evidence, the judge’s instructions, and your own common sense and reason. If you’re confused about a legal or technical point that makes it difficult to render judgement, join the club.

When you’ve watched every minute of testimony and evidence, only then do you have a well-informed opinion of the verdict.