A jury of their peers? Hardly

A federal jury is set to begin hearing opening statements Tuesday in the trial of four defendants in the Bunkerville standoff.

There are six women and six men on the jury and there are four alternates, three men and a woman.

The judge said the trial is expected to take four months. A number of potential jurors were dismissed because they could not take four months out of their lives to devote to the trial. How many people can or are willing to? Is it a jury of their peers?

On trial are rancher Cliven Bundy, 71, sons Ammon Bundy, 42, and Ryan Bundy, 45, and a self-styled militia member Ryan Payne, 34, who showed up to protest the confiscation of Bundy’s cattle by the BLM. They are charged with conspiracy, extortion and various firearm charges. They have all been jailed for going on two years.

How can 16 people be found who can devote a third of a year of their lives to sitting in a jury box listening to tedious and repetitious testimony who are resentative of the population as a whole? It is not possible. The jurors are by definition outliers.

The jurors were asked 110 questions about their opinions on guns, protests, ranching, familiarity with the case, etc. Who but a hermit hasn’t heard of the case? Who doesn’t have opinions on guns, protests and ranching?

Peers? Hardly.

Federal courthouse in Las Vegas (AP pix)

According to The Oregonian, the jurors include:

— An Oregon native who moved to Nevada about four and a half years ago. She said she used to spend time in the Portland, Bend and Sunriver areas before moving to Nevada, where she enjoys the weather.

— A man who works at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino and was there when the Oct. 1 shooting occurred and was escorted out of the casino at the time. He’s lived in Nevada for 25 years and said he likes the entertainment and slow place.

— A Texas native who said he’s lived in Nevada for nine years.

— A Nevada native who has spent 35 of his 45 years in the state. He said he liked Las Vegas for its 24-hour lifestyle.

— A woman who has lived in Nevada for 25 years, and during questioning, said she felt protests have become more violent in recent years.

— A Nevada native who recalled that her high school graduation was held at the Las Vegas convention center.

— A Minnesota native who said she has lived here about 30 years and likes the weather.

— A Nevada native who cited some “mild reservations” about repercussions to her family from serving on a jury in this case.

— A New Mexico native who said she enjoys the city parks and dog parks in the Las Vegas area.

Among the alternates is:

— A man who was questioned often about having seen some campaign literature that mentioned Cliven Bundy. The man said his step-uncle tried to show him the flier and believed Cliven Bundy was innocent. But the man said he wasn’t interested in looking at it. He also said he didn’t know much about the case. He raised his hand when Ryan Bundy asked if jurors understood what a “redress of grievance” is and he voiced his opinion that he doesn’t think an average person should have a “weapon of terror.”

— A man who said he understands there’s a constitutional right to bear arms, but that over time, amendments are adopted that reflect changes in the environment or society.

10 comments on “A jury of their peers? Hardly

  1. Reziac says:

    As someone once put it, a jury is twelve people who aren’t smart enough to get out of jury duty. There’s some unfortunate truth to that.

  2. Mark Twain in “Roughing It”:

    When the peremptory challenges were all exhausted, a jury of twelve men was impaneled–a jury who swore they had neither heard, read, talked about nor expressed an opinion concerning a murder which the very cattle in the corrals, the Indians in the sage-brush and the stones in the streets were cognizant of! It was a jury composed of two desperadoes, two low beer-house politicians, three bar-keepers, two ranchmen who could not read, and three dull, stupid, human donkeys! It actually came out afterward, that one of these latter thought that incest and arson were the same thing.

    The verdict rendered by this jury was, Not Guilty. What else could one expect?

    The jury system puts a ban upon intelligence and honesty, and a premium upon ignorance, stupidity and perjury. It is a shame that we must continue to use a worthless system because it was good a thousand years ago. In this age, when a gentleman of high social standing, intelligence and probity, swears that testimony given under solemn oath will outweigh, with him, street talk and newspaper reports based upon mere hearsay, he is worth a hundred jurymen who will swear to their own ignorance and stupidity, and justice would be far safer in his hands than in theirs. Why could not the jury law be so altered as to give men of brains and honesty and equal chance with fools and miscreants? Is it right to show the present favoritism to one class of men and inflict a disability on another, in a land whose boast is that all its citizens are free and equal? I am a candidate for the legislature. I desire to tamper with the jury law. I wish to so alter it as to put a premium on intelligence and character, and close the jury box against idiots, blacklegs, and people who do not read newspapers. But no doubt I shall be defeated– every effort I make to save the country “misses fire.”

  3. Anonymous says:

    I’m with Mark Twain on this.

  4. Vernon Clayson says:

    Time and money ill spent, it’s about cows grazing in the west, what the hell???

  5. Steve says:

    A friend of mine was on the second jury for this man who was being railroaded by the system back then.
    There are jurors who work for major corporations that pay regular wages while on jury duty.
    We both worked for Eastman Kodak at the time.
    I was selected to be on a coroners inquest at one point, then released and haven’t been asked since.
    The cycle takes a while.
    Contrary to what Patrick aka “deleted” has said about me in the past, I am not an idiot, neither is my friend.
    And both of us have since obtained employment that will pay us if either of us are ever again asked to be a juror.

    Victor Fakoya is and was innocent, this payoff is far short of what it should be.

    Juries are people who have the time and necessary support needed to serve.
    We are not stupid.

  6. Rincon says:

    I agree with both Steve and Mark Twain. Most jurors are normal, intelligent people, but the jury selection process tends to eliminate some of those who have the best judgement.

    The jury system is very worthwhile, but has been corrupted. Some needed changes in my semi-humble opinion:

    1) The courts need to pay jurors a far more reasonable sum to serve. This would encourage more of us to serve willingly instead of weaseling out of it. Employers should not be forced to pay directly for the work done by a jury. Employers pay taxes, so taxes can pay for jurors just as efficiently as employers. Sorry Conservatives, but whether the tax man or the employer pays, society as a whole still pays the same amount.

    2) Jurors should also be allowed to schedule their times to serve. I was called to jury twice during my fragile first three years of business. One was for a grand jury – a month long commitment. Since one cannot hire a relief vet on short notice, I would have had to close the practice both times. Instead, I wriggled out. I would have been happy to serve at a later time, but that was not allowed.

    3) Trials need to be a reasonable length, so we need to set time limits on trials. Any juror who sits through a four month trial has forgotten 80% of what was presented, so better verdicts are likely with shorter trials. It would force lawyers to present only relevant and important information. It would also reduce the crowding of court dockets and the often ridiculous expense both on the court system and the parties paying the lawyers.

    4) There should be very few reasons for lawyers to disallow jurors. This would speed up the selection process and ensure a jury more representative of the population. In return, a vote of 10 or 11 out of 12 should be sufficient to convict. This guards against nutty people and zealots hijacking the process.

    5) The power for the judge to disallow evidence or testimony should be more limited. Part of the jury’s job is to decide on credibility. Let them do their job.

  7. #3 is a key point, Rincon.

    A judge would call #5 jury nullification, but I agree.

  8. Bill says:

    Jurors do occasionally lie and sometimes give answers designed to get them off jury duty or get them on, the latter being the more egregious sin, in my mind.

    For the most part, jurors are conscientious and take their jobs seriously. Trials are too long and thew entire legal process is horribly expensive to all parties. Should we change things? I am not sure, as the devil is in the details.

    One thing has always bothered me in high profile cases. What does it say about the level of awareness of someone who never heard about a case spread all over the media? In most instances, I would not want that person sitting on the jury.

  9. Rincon says:

    Good point. I suspect that the supposed bias generated by prior knowledge mostly disappears when the facts are presented in a thorough and cohesive manner. Casual knowledge of a case shouldn’t be grounds for an an automatic dismissal.

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