I, the jury
Journalist passionately pleads to perform service for Sacramento Superior Court
There is no higher calling in American civic life than jury duty. We are a nation of laws, and as such, it is incumbent upon all of us to answer when summoned. Nevertheless, when that fateful notice comes in the mail, the first impulse most folks have is to figure out how the hell they’re going to get out of it.
Such is not the case with yours truly. For years I’ve yearned to serve on a jury, to no avail. The letter calling me to service just never came. So you can imagine my elation when I finally received a jury summons from the Sacramento Superior Court late last month.
Still, I’m trying not to get too excited. The fact that I’m a journalist will almost certainly lead to me being bounced from the jury pool. I wish to implore the court not to make this egregious error.
The court’s reluctance is certainly understandable. In fact, in the 19th century, California passed a law exempting newspaper employees from sitting on juries, according to an 1872 Sacramento Union article. The legislation succinctly summed up the prejudice that, although no longer codified, dogs journalists to this day:
“Not only are the workers upon newspapers entitled to the exemption, but in some cases they ought to be excluded from the jury box on account of the nature of their business. An editor is the receptacle of information much more than prudence or the welfare of the public will allow him to publish, about criminal affairs, on which he forms an opinion of guilt or innocence, if he does not express it.”
What about the notion that journalists are more fair and balanced than the average person? You can ask no less a luminary than ABC News anchor Diane Sawyer about that one. When she turned up for jury duty, the judge asked her if she could be fair and impartial. “That’s what journalists do,” Sawyer responded. She was literally laughed out of the courtroom.
However, I would suggest to the court that I bring much more to the jury box than Sawyer, a pampered millionaire who’s only experienced one side of the law—the right side. I, on the other hand, have not only worked the crime beat, but have a relatively extensive arrest record. (Fortunately, I’ve only been convicted once, for a misdemeanor, because a felony conviction automatically disqualifies you from jury duty.)
To wit, my experience on both sides of the law makes me an excellent candidate for jury duty. For example, if a criminal defendant claims he was assaulted by a cop, I’ll be more inclined to listen to his or her side of the story, since I’ve been beaten up by police on three separate occasions, including once when I was Tased in my own backyard while lying passed out in a lounge chair. Believe it or not, this kind of stuff happens a lot more often than you think.
My own time in the docket has also taught me the value of retaining a first-rate defense attorney. The record clearly shows that defendants who are willing to shell out that kind of dough are more likely to be found innocent. Clients with public defenders will get a fairer shake from me as well. There are almost always mitigating circumstances. First off, there’s a good chance their attorney is either overworked or just plain sucks. Also, any kid who forgoes a plea bargain to risk 25-to-life in front of a jury with a public defender must be telling the truth, at least a little bit.
As a member of the jury, one thing I’m not going to take is any bullshit from the judge. This is where my experience as a journalist really pays off. Thanks to the many stories I’ve done on Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Peter J. McBrien—who recently received a severe public censure from the California Commission on Judicial Performance—I’m deeply familiar with the state’s judicial canons and will keep a sharp eye out for any indiscretions.
Perhaps the most important thing I’d bring to any criminal proceeding is, for lack of a better term, what I call my “gut.” I have an uncanny ability to tell if a given individual is guilty or innocent just by looking at them. Always have.
Not that I’ll be in a hurry to convict or acquit. I have a massive number of days off from work at my disposal, and assure the court that I will share all of my legal insights and knowledge with my fellow jurors. We will go the extra mile, no matter how paltry the case, even if it takes months. Justice demands no less.
I know SN&R has a lot of boxes down by the courthouse, and it is my hope that if some officer of the court should happen to read this column, he or she will pass it on to the proper authorities. I’m sure after they’ve read it, they’ll understand why I’m preeminently qualified for jury duty. See you in court.