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April 07, 2011

Woman Tries To Get Out of Jury Duty With Interesting Answer on Questionnaire; Judge Scolds Her, Keeps Her In Jury Service

Eugene Volokh is wrong:

An incensed federal judge sentenced a racist Brooklyn woman to indefinite jury duty on Tuesday after she trashed the NYPD and minorities. “This is an outrage, and so are you!” Federal Judge Nicholas Garaufis told the woman, holding up her bile-filled juror questionnaire....

Asked to name three people [the woman] least admired, she wrote on her questionnaire: “African-Americans, Hispanics and Haitians.”

When the judge asked why she answered the question that way, she replied, “You always hear about them in the news doing something.”

She also declared that cops are all lazy, claiming that they sound their sirens to bypass traffic jams....

She’s coming back [today], Thursday and Friday — and until the future, when I am ready to dismiss her,” Garaufis said....

Actually, if this story is accurate, what’s outrageous is the appalling abuse of power by the judge. The woman seems to have reprehensible moral beliefs. This is America, and she’s entitled to possess those beliefs. But government officials are not entitled to punish people for those beliefs, including by requiring them to serve more jury duty as a result of their beliefs.

Volokh's completely wrong. It's true she shouldn't be punished for her casually racist beliefs. But it's even more true that she shouldn't be rewarded for those beliefs, and sending her home, which is probably what she wanted, would count as a "reward" for most people.

Bear in mind that this isn't even the typical case of not wanting to serve on a jury -- the defendant is a mobster. So people might be extra-special inclined to get out of duty, right?

There's a series of jokes on the internet I love to this day from an old website I can't find anymore, about how to answer questions during voir dire to get excluded from the jury. Among my favorites:

"I can tell who's guilty just by looking at him."

"If a police officer told me I was a bug, I'd believe him."

And Homer Simpson himself endorsed this woman's answer: "The trick is to say your prejudiced to all races."

This is a real phenomena, of course. It's a real problem with our legal system, which is supposed to rely, at its heart, on the service of citizen-peers as jurors, randomly selected from as inclusive a list as possible, and, just as important, not self-selecting of only those who don't have anything better to do and maybe could use the $12 a day and free bus voucher. As the even older joke goes: "I wouldn't want to have my fate decided by 12 people too stupid to get out of jury duty."

So if this woman comes forward and offers her disqualifying answer, what do you do? You can't allow her to serve on the jury; she's made sure of that.

But do you then reward her by excluding her from even being there? Thereby telling everyone in the world there are foolproof methods by which you can serve exactly three hours of jury duty and then go home?

I don't think so. The incentives are all wrong.

If she gets to go back home or go to work, why shouldn't people follow Liz Lemon's example and dress up like Princess Leia when summoned?

Update: The judge relents.

In the end, Garaufis relented on his penalty yesterday, while giving her a stern wagging on his judicial finger: "I hope this experience will be an education for you and the next time you're called for jury duty you'll give honest answers."

He explained his rationale for threatening the juror, an Asian woman in her 20s who said she works in the garment industry, with indefinite jury duty: "My ruling was not based in any way upon whether or not you held any racist views. It was apparent you did not tell the truth. You were the only juror who indicated that you had every form of bias imaginable. You were lying to the court in order to be excused." The woman tried to get out of jury duty by writing that she couldn't stand "African-Americans, Hispanics and Haitians", declaring that cops are all lazy and corrupt, and mentioning that she had a relative who was a member of the Chinese Ghost Shadows gang. She was seen reading a pamphlet entitled "A Guide to Continuing Your Education After Prison" while waiting in court yesterday.

She was freed to go, but Garaufis said he would dock her the $40-a-day juror pay, which she didn't argue with. Of course, it was inevitable his unusual punishment would not be upheld. For one, her obnoxious opinions were not inherently criminal: "She can't be punished for being a racist. You don't check the First Amendment at the courtroom door," said NYU Law Prof. Stephen Gillers. Two, as many commenters pointed out yesterday, Garaufis couldn't have kept her more than three days anyway. But most importantly, it wouldn't have lasted because Garaufis is a real softie, the kind of Judge who lends shirts to murder suspects.

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posted by Ace at 10:46 AM

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