Juror No. 799

I came across this article this morning and I just had to comment about it. It involves a potential juror in a capital offense case in Brooklyn, New York, who provided bigoted and generally anti-police answers on her juror questionnaire. In the questionnaire, which is presumably used to identify desirable or undesirable characteristics in potential jurors for the prosecution and defense to consider, the woman remarked that her three least admired people were “African-Americans, Hispanics and Haitians.” She was subsequently dismissed from this case for obvious cause and then summarily ordered by the federal judge to an indefinite period of jury duty.

I have to say I have a couple of problems with the way this particular incident was handled. One, regardless of this woman’s vitriolic opinions or ulterior motives she answered honestly a solicited question from a federal court. At least, we are left to assume she answered the question honestly. If she were lying to the court to avoid jury duty (or any other reason) then that is a chargeable offense and the state must prove its case before punishment can be doled out. As this has not happened I am confused as to what legitimacy the judge has acted with in this case. How can she be punished for simply providing an opinion that was asked for, even if that opinion is disgusting? Since it is a punishable offense to lie to a federal court she was essentially damned if she did and damned if she did not. Is this not a violation of the 1st and 6th Amendments, a situation in which the judge effectively acted as the Thought Police simply because he did not agree with her opinion? I wonder how much worse it would have been on her if she would have named the judge as one her least admired people…

Second, if this woman is so despicably racist that she should not be serving on a federal jury – a point I do not disagree with given the presented evidence in the article – then why exactly is it appropriate for her to indefinitely serve on other peoples’ juries for the foreseeable future? Why should other accused persons be subjected to the same bias that the judge in question has already deemed incredibly inappropriate? This situation reads to me as if the judge overstepped his constitutional and ethical bounds by allowing emotions to adversely affect his decision making. Dismissing her is his, the prosecutor’s, and/or the defense’s prerogative – for virtually any legal reason – but applying his governmental authority to teach someone a lesson without due process simply because he found her solicited opinion revolting is unacceptable.

I am quite sure this act would be deemed unconstitutional by any neutral appellate judge in the country if the woman decided to file suit. Of course, I could be wrong – judges rule incorrectly all the time; this case serves as a prime example of the human fallibility of the ruling class. And, to be fair, we (or at least I) are only privy to one side of the story via this article, and there are always three sides to every story – his side, her side, and the truth.

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