Jury of your peers
'That’s the challenge because objectivity is kind of a thing of the past.' Also, 7 other things worth knowing today.
Here's an under-appreciated result of our over-polarized society:
In a criminal case involving violence between supporters of former President Trump and supporters of President Biden—in which the victims' political support explicitly prompted the alleged attack by the defendant—how hard would it be to put together a jury of 12 who can be trusted not to let their own political biases crowd their judgment?
Let's set out the facts. As an exercise, I'm going to try to describe everything here without saying who in the case supported which candidate, so that you can come to your own conclusion without knowing whether the defendant or alleged victims supports your political views.
Think of it as my monthly opportunity to cite John Rawls's Theory of Justice, which suggests you should set the rules of society as if you didn't know what your place would be in that society afterward. No fair Googling, or if you live in the Miami area where it's all going on, watching the news.
OK. It's pretty simple, sadly:
On Election Day in 2020, some supporters of ... let's just say Candidate X ... were on jet skis decked out with a giant flag (or maybe it was two flags; not sure) expressing their support for Candidate X.
The defendant, a big-time supporter of Candidate Y named Eduardo Acosta, came by on his own jet ski and exchanged words with the victims, telling them exactly what he thought of anyone who would support Candidate X.
Eventually, according to the charges, Acosta took out a pistol and began shooting at the Candidate X supporters. Now, Acosta stands charged with premeditated attempted murder with a weapon, two counts of aggravated assault with a weapon and robbery with a weapon.
(I know we're a nation of 50 states and each has its own laws, but as a guy who lives in strict-gun-control New Jersey, the idea that someone is carrying a firearm while jet skiing is kind of startling.)
Anyway, these are super-serious charges that would require at least 20 years in prison if convicted on everything, and possibly up to life. (I believe the "robbery" part of this likely stems from Acosta allegedly trying to steal the watercraft after the shooting.)
Fast-forward to today, almost two years later, Acosta is set to go to trial. Only, it's turning out to be awfully difficult to get 12 jurors, since almost everyone has strong feelings about Trump and Biden (one way or another) and their supporters.
Even accounting for folks who might say things like this just because they don't want to spend time on a jury, I had to laugh at some of the things potential jurors have said, which led to them being excused:
One potential juror: “It’s not that I think Biden is awesome, but Trump represents everything that I... have a disdain for. I think he’s a vile human being.”
Another potential juror: I've been to many Trump rallies. The only time things got ugly or rowdy is when anti-Trump protestors showed up, throwing bottles and cans.
Another potential juror: I've lost friendships with people over the idea that they could think like that or support someone like that. “Things have been said that there’s no taking back.”
"[B]y far the most heated and vociferous opinions on the first day of jury selection were from citizens who did not feel they could fairly judge someone who supported Trump," the Miami Herald reported.
But, the defense lawyer in me thinks: That only tells us so much; we don't know if others in the case were hiding their biases because they actually wanted to be on the jury.
(To use a counter-example some people were raising after the Parkland shooter escaped execution last week, sort of like a strict opponent of the death penalty hiding his or her opposition specifically to get on the jury and vote against death.)
Now, I'll be shocked if they don't eventually sit a jury here; eventually they'll find 12 people who say with a straight face that they can be impartial. But it's a tough job to find them, and jury selection for this otherwise run-of-the-mill case has already been going on for a few days.
“[It's] not to say that all our jurors are going to be Democrat or Republican, it really doesn’t matter to us. We just want a fair and impartial jury, as to who’s going to rightly and fairly decide the facts in this case,” Acosta's lawyer said. “That’s the challenge because objectivity is kind of a thing of the past. We all reside in our political echo chambers.”
I'll include a link to the story below, but I'd invite your comments—especially if you comment or think through what you'll say without knowing which people in this story were the Trump supporters, and which were the Biden supporters.
Could you be confident you'd set aside your political biases or assumptions about people on the other side politically? And how confident would you be that if you were the one on trial, you could trust your jury in the current environment?
7 other things worth knowing today
Russia is literally grabbing men off the street and enlisting them into the military to fight in Ukraine, according to Washington Post reporters. "At a predawn sweep on the Mipstroy1 construction company dormitories on Thursday, they took more than 200 men. On Oct. 9, they rounded up dozens at a Moscow shelter for the homeless." The story includes video of the construction company raid, along with diners approached by police at a Moscow restaurant. (Washington Post, gift/free link)
A 33-year-old London physicist says she's written more than 1,600 Wikipedia entries for long-ignored women scientists, and she has firm beliefs on ideas on how to support girls interested in the field. (Today)
A former Wall Street Journal reporter is accusing a major U.S. law firm in a lawsuit of having used mercenary hackers to oust him from his job and ruin his reputation. Jay Solomon, the Journal’s former chief foreign correspondent, accuses Philadelphia-based Dechert LLP of working with hackers from India to steal emails between him and one of his key sources, Iranian American aviation executive Farhad Azima, floating the idea of the two men going into business together. They were then circulated in a successful effort to get him fired, Solomon claims. (Reuters)
In her first lengthy interview since her conviction on sex-trafficking charges last year, Ghislaine Maxwell said she still cared about Prince Andrew, who has been stripped of royal duties over his relationship with the convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. (The Guardian)
Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg said on Wednesday that he made a huge mistake in failing to anticipate the way people share videos on social media platforms and missing the trend of A.I.-driven content curation that ushered in the success of TikTok. (Fortune)
Disney now has a $5,000-a-night Star Wars hotel, but reports are almost nobody is booking it. (Fatherly)
“Cops say a Trump supporter attacked Biden fans in Miami. Does an impartial jury exist?” Yes, this is the story I wrote about above. I wanted to share the link, but I think it's a lot more interesting to approach as a thought experiment without knowing which political sides the defendants and alleged victim were on. (Miami Herald)
Thanks for reading. Photo credit: Unsplash. See you in the comments.
Remember, it only takes one juror to hang a jury. But, what if they are fortunate enough to get 12 objective citizens willing to listen to the facts and make their decision based on the law? If they vote to convict would they be in danger of retaliation by Trump supporters? The effects of this case could be far reaching and long lasting. I believe I could be objective and make a fair decision. That being said, I am very happy to be a resident of Ohio.
Objectivity: Unfortunately, your assessment is valid. A couple months ago I was pulled into a jury pool selection. It wasn't political, but it was commercial grower vs big oil & gas. It was a pretty large pool. It was tough for the attorneys to find 14 (12 plus 2 alternates). The process went on for 3 days of selection and almost 2 weeks of testimony. Once the witness process came to a close and we were to hear closing arguments, we were sent back to the jury room "for a break". Two hours later, they brought us back into the courtroom and announced that we were dismissed. The attorneys settled out of court -- because they could not read the bias of the jurors. Believe me bias is alive and well whether the subject is criminal or civil. Sad indeed!