12 Disinterested Men… and Women

I think Sun columnist Dan Rodricks gets it just bassackwards.

In today’s column he takes a single juror to task for not engaging in a remake of 12 Angry Men at a recent trial in Baltimore.

The story, in brief, is that a young, black man is facing a prison term for firearms possession. The evidence and situation are ambiguous. The first vote reveals a 9-3 split for acquittal with some pretty hardened positions. The jury looks deadlocked but the judge sends them back to keep trying. Finally one of the undecided votes says he’s got tickets for a vacation and wants to finish up. The juror who was the hardest set on conviction says she’ll vote to acquit to let the guy go on vacation. This leaves Mr. Rodricks’ correspondent suddenly alone in demanding more deliberation. He caves and votes to acquit.

What exactly is the “travesty” here? Is the criminal justice system broken, as Jacobson suggests, or do jurors – some jurors, anyway – just kiss off jury duty as a nuisance?

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Maybe the case against the defendant was flimsy. But that should have been the reason the jury acquitted him – not plane tickets, not some bad-penny logic about criminals turning up again.

And Jake Jacobson, who cared enough about this to call here and tell about it, should have said as much when he had the chance.

Come on, Jake.

More follows after the jump.

I find it hard to fault Jake here. Not that what he did was right or honorable, but then again bashing one’s head against a concrete wall isn’t all that right or honorable either. Jake did what we all do when confronting an insurmountable obstacle that really doesn’t affect us directly, he followed the path of least resistance.

In Jake’s defence, he was facing impossible odds. A juror who declares, “I’m not putting no black man behind bars for five years,” was a pretty significant hint that reasoning and logic were going to be whipped like a rented mule in that jury room. When that is combined with eight other votes for acquittal the worst that was going to happen to the skell in question was a hung jury and another trial before a very similar jury. The State’s Attorney probably hadn’t bet his mortgage payment on winning this case from the way it is described.

The guy who slept through part of the testimony just kicked the can down the road, “If he’s a bad guy, he’ll be back,” opined this Solomon. Sure he will. After he’s killed or maimed someone.

What went on in that jury room, however, is in a way axiomatic for the endemic violence in Baltimore. The citizens most affected by the violence, black men and women, in this case were simply unwilling to entertain the idea that the defendant was guilty. At some level these people have made a prudential decision that finding the defendant not guilty is more important than the lives and safety of themselves, their friends, and families. It is Maslow’s Heirarchy turned on its head.

And that, in a nutshell, is why Baltimore, and so many other cities, are broken. It isn’t money or education. It is a poverty of the spirit that elects crooks to citywide office and sees it duty to right perceived racial injustice as superior to the rule of law when they are on juries.

I don’t know how you fix that. I don’t know if it can be.

So Rodricks was wrong. The best Jake could hope for would be to create a triumph of form over substance while needlessly harrassing his fellows. He can be faulted for not buying a clue on the first day of deliberations but not for his final action.

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