What the fuck happened to innocent until proven guilty?
People don’t grasp the law. I don’t mean the fiddly bits even lawyers barely understand. I’m talking basics. If I am ever arrested, God save me from a jury of my peers.
In any criminal trial, the defendant is innocent until proven guilty. The burden of proof is on the prosecutorial team. The defendant need not prove innocence. The prosecutor must prove guilt. The judge reminded the jury pool of this as the selection process began.
Through their answers, numerous of my peers revealed they clearly presupposed the defendant’s guilt and considered their own presence a technicality.
That guy’s ass was in a fucking sling.
One potential juror said his religion forbade him from judging his peers, and then turned right around and said something to the effect that owning up to your crimes and accepting the consequences was best. Another got up not once but twice to say that repeat offenders shouldn’t be released. We knew almost nothing about this case, particularly not whether the defendant had prior convictions of any kind! The defense attorney followed up, repeating the “innocent until proven guilty” mantra, but it was obvious it didn’t sink in. (Hell, at one point, the prosecutor followed up with this reminder to no avail.) Neither of these two individuals was ultimately chosen, but they were only the most blatant.
It was the kind of trial that all but invited the presupposition of guilt anyway. Obviously, I can’t talk specifics. But fill in the blank with the topic of your choice. It was the kind of case that , when presented by a newspaper, makes the reader shake the head and say, “yup, happening all the time”. All we were told was the nature of the trial and its overarching theme, but that was enough to send potential jurors into conviction mode.
We knew almost nothing. But it seemed so easy for some to forget the presupposition of innocence.
Moreover, though the case had nothing whatsoever to do with race, there were inescapable racial overtones. The prosecutorial team was a bunch of white guys. The defendant had only a lawyer. And they both were black. Five powerful looking white men on the left. Two black guys on the right, only the lawyer fully dressed out. No, that’s not going to influence a jury. Not at all. The jury pool itself was more racially mixed, but that front-of-the-room divide was disheartening.
The judge trying the case was not the same one involved in the jury selection ,who was white. I don’t know the trying judge’s race. Plus, I’m sure the prosecutors will call black witnesses and the defense will call white ones (though the prosecutors had a mile long list of potentials while the defense gave few names). So there may be a better visual balance during the actual trial. I hope so. But during the selection, I can’t help but feel like the jury was affected by the appearance of the black defendant and black lawyer against an all-white prosecutorial team.
Maybe juror responses would have sounded the same if everybody at the front of the room had shared a race. Maybe my skepticism is my bias. Whatever the reason, many in the pool revealed through their answers their ignorance of a basic legal principle.
I felt guilty when I left. I was grateful not to be selected. The trial is scheduled to run long, and it would have caused us pick-up-drop-off hell with the kids. But I also felt like I was one of the few people in the room who understood the very concept of impartiality. I hope there were fourteen others. And that those were the people selected.
Because I repeat, guilty, innocent, whatever, that defendant’s ass is in a fucking sling.
Jessie Powell is the Jester Queen. She likes to tell you about her dog, her kids, her fiction, and her blog, but not necessarily in that order.