Tue09022014

Spiritual Life

A day in court: Who would constitute a jury of his peers?

I recently received a jury summons, so I dutifully appeared along with 50 or so others in a Palo Alto courtroom, waiting and watching while the attorneys followed the process of choosing the jurors who would be called upon to render a verdict in this criminal case.

The judge explained that the accused would be representing himself, and that he had been fully advised of his rights according to the law.

We learned that he had been accused of an instance of abuse involving his spouse/significant other, and that there was a secondary accusation of having violated an order to refrain from contacting children related to the accuser.

As the attorney/accused questioned prospective jurors, it became evident that this was an interracial relationship.

Each attorney is permitted 10 peremptory dismissals, plus further dismissals “for cause,” such as admitted bias or strong emotional reaction to some aspect of the case.

Both attorneys explored the possibility that jurors had either personally suffered abuse or were in a close relationship with someone who had. The number of prospective jurors who fit this description was startling, and a significant portion were dismissed after declaring themselves unable to set aside their emotions for the sake of a decision based on the facts of the particular case.

Another group of individuals receiving closer scrutiny involved those employed in some form of law enforcement or who were closely related to someone who was. This category included attorneys at law, child welfare workers and those closely associated with women’s shelters – none of which surprised me, considering the nature of the accusation.

One line of questioning that took me completely by surprise: The accused asked each prospective juror whether he or she is religious or deeply involved with a church or community of faith. I was further dismayed that only three out of 30 or so jurors claimed any significant involvement in matters of religion or faith. The attorney/accused offered no explanation or excuse for his obvious presumption that a Christian either would not or could not weigh evidence as fairly as, say, an atheist or agnostic.

For decades, our society has pounded out a drumbeat of inclusiveness, diversity and nondiscrimination. We have very recently seen nonstop news coverage decrying racial profiling in reference to a case that was not predicated on racial profiling. And yet this man in a courtroom plunged ahead, profiling Christians and people of faith as being incapable of rendering a just and fair verdict, effectively excluding them from the justice process.

I have one question for him: Exactly what would constitute a jury of your peers?

Faye M. Brown is a Los Altos resident.

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