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Jury service: The verdict

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Posted 12 December 2014 - 01:30 PM

Jury service: The verdict
NIKKI MACDONALD
Last updated 11:38 02/11/2014

http://www.stuff.co....ice-The-verdict

Every year more than 150,000 New Zealanders are called to decide another's fate. On condition of anonymity, twelve jurors volunteered to share their trial experience; their verdict on the system is far from unanimous.

FEMALE JUROR, MURDER TRIAL INVOLVING GANG MEMBERS


The gang members in the public gallery were quite intimidating, watching, laughing at us, and it just felt really awful. A lot came from where I lived so I really didn't feel safe. I wanted to dye my hair and wear glasses.

It was a good jury - five men and the rest women, in their 20s to 60s. They were very supportive, but a couple had very definite views.

The trial lasted two weeks. We had to decide if it was deliberate or accidental, whether it was self-defence. I thought the same as the majority - that it wasn't even manslaughter.

It was quite gory, with books of photos. But I'm glad we had them, because you can be told something, but to actually see it is quite different.

We went over our time for deliberating. Two were very definite that they wanted manslaughter; one stuck to her guns. We got by on a majority. The other one, because it was borderline manslaughter or self- defence, he just changed. He thought it would be easier that way.

I would feel confident being tried by a jury. I think no one person can decide your fate - it's got to be 12 people discussing it properly.

MALE FOREMAN, RAPE TRIAL


The jury was a fairly even gender split, predominantly white and middle-aged. We had someone who w0as retired, a builder, clairvoyant, union organiser, student.

There were some clear personality conflicts. The one I had trouble with was the clairvoyant, who would say things like 'Did you see the aura on that policeman? He's obviously trustworthy.' She held up a crystal and said, 'Everybody focus their thoughts and we'll see which way the crystal swings for guilty or not guilty'. I don't think it actually influenced her.

People got a bit upset by how one of the male jurors reacted to the exhibits - her [the complainant's] skirt was skimpy and this juror said something like 'if she's dressed like that she's asking for it'.

There was an indication that the accused was in custody for something else. I think the judge told us not to consider it, but everybody did anyway and that made some jurors think he was definitely guilty.

You can't help but do part-time deliberating during the trial. You'd go in after one witness and say 'definitely guilty' and later you'd have swung all the way back.


We deliberated for about two hours. Eight of us believed not guilty. I think the four who thought guilty were all women. It was a difficult verdict because we all thought he did it but the evidence just didn't quite get us there. Quite a few jurors wanted to fill in the gaps by saying what probably happened then.

It was like dominoes with the jurors who didn't agree. One changed her mind and the other three followed straight away. The tipping point was when we all said 'Yes it sucks to have to let him go, but it's not our job to fill in the gaps and the police haven't made the case'.

Some of the jurors were saying they would feel troubled by it. They thought legally we'd done the right thing but morally we'd done the wrong thing. I thought we came to the right decision but it wasn't confidence-inspiring how we got there. If I wasn't guilty I'd want to be tried by a judge, and if I was guilty I'd probably want to be tried by a jury.

FEMALE JUROR, DRUGS TRIAL


The jury was quite a professional crowd: civil service workers, one retired person, a taxi driver. It was quite complicated, it stretched to six weeks. There were two defendants and multiple charges. There was a lot of information - great big files of photographs and phone records. I think some people didn't grasp certain aspects. We had to deal with conflicting expert evidence - we determined what was not in dispute and felt that was sufficient to deliver a verdict.

One person volunteered to be foreman. I was relieved - I think that would be the worst job in the world. We deliberated for close to a week. They made us come in on the Saturday - they wanted a decision.

We made sure everybody was following and that we had total consensus before we moved on to the next point. I thought we were incredibly thorough. Two people I think would have just gone with whatever we said and somebody else just wanted it done. The rest were fully dedicated to doing it properly.

We found them guilty on all counts. Some of the jury were in tears. The whole six weeks was incredibly emotionally draining and mentally exhausting. If I had had even a sliver of a doubt I would have at least caused a hung jury, but I have such total conviction, I haven't lost sleep over it. And that's unusual - I'm quite a nervy person. Afterwards the judge came into the jury room and told us we had got the decision right. I think that helped us.

On this particular jury there were a lot of very clever, quite moral people and I'm perhaps too cynical to think the average person would be quite as thorough and impartial. I would have complete confidence in the judge delivering the right verdict. But a jury - there are too many variables.

MALE JUROR, RECEIVING STOLEN PROPERTY


Our jury was about 50/50 male-female, mostly Pakeha, 30s to mid 50s, professionals, working class, clerical workers, students, a housewife juggling the kids.

It was a four day trial. It was relatively easy to get an overview of the case but there were times I had to force myself to pay attention, particularly just before lunch. If it had been more complex or a really boring financial thing I think it would have been a struggle.

We deliberated for about two hours. What impressed me - knocking against your assumptions of the mix - was I didn't find anyone that had an agenda, or wanting to be a smart arse, or ignoring people. Everyone was very clear and thoughtful. Actually, the public aren't thick. Even this 19 or 20-year-old student, who was a bit of a lad, was pointing out things no-one else was realising.

I didn't think about the impact of judging someone till we gave our verdict. When we said guilty my heart sank and I felt sick. Suddenly I realised this isn't an intellectual exercise. I still feel confident in the decision but I did feel a bit guilty and uncomfortable. He didn't look like a big thug who'd scare the shit out of you. This weedy little guy was going to prison. Emotionally for the next few days that stuck in my head.

Based on my experience, I would be happy to be tried by a jury.

FEMALE JUROR, SEXUAL ASSAULT TRIAL


We ranged from 18 to 70s. There was an officer worker, a retired councillor, a traffic controller, a produce manager, housewives. It might have been 7-5 in favour of women. Nobody had been on a jury before. I volunteered to be foreman.

It was a historical sexual assault case. It was pretty emotionally taxing for everybody, in terms of the things that were said to have happened and in terms of a family pretty much torn apart.

It started with a number of different charges, a couple of which were laid in the alternative, so that if you found them not guilty of that they would lay a lesser charge. One charge was withdrawn and two were added, so it was quite complicated. We were told it was going to last 3 1/2 days and it ended up lasting nine, so one or two people by the end were getting anxious to get back to the real world. But everyone was keen to go through it very thoroughly.

We deliberated for two days. One young man was absolutely set from the get go in what he thought. It looked for quite a while like we were heading for a hung jury. I said 'We are going to have to say we can't make a decision', and no-one was happy with that. When we started on some of the verdicts they were pretty well split half/half. We got there through discussion, looking at what a reasonable person might think. One of the more serious charges we went to the alternative charge, which everyone could then agree to. The young man didn't change but the judge was prepared to accept a majority verdict of 11-1.

People put in a lot of time, some at some expense, doing their very best to get to the bottom of a really nasty situation. If our group did a good job I would have to back another group to similarly approach it responsibly.

MALE JUROR, SEXUAL ASSAULT TRIAL


Our jury was older, predominantly white, more females than males. The evidence took only four or five hours. The judge gave very direct advice - that we had to be convinced penetration had taken place.

It was evident quite quickly that there was a split, 10-2. The foreman and myself both thought there was inconclusive proof and that we had to take the direction of the judge. There was a long discussion and it was pretty evident that some of the jurors, particularly the female ones, didn't really take on board what the judge had said.

We went home for the night and were warned not to do any research. So first thing in the morning one of the guys said 'I've been on my computer and researched this case', which I thought was pretty appalling. We were unable to budge past the 10-2. I stuck to my guns and we couldn't reach a decision. The thing that concerned me at that point, once we'd decided we were not going to make any progress, was some of the jurors basically said 'Oh yeah, I think that's best, because I wouldn't like to have a conviction on my conscience when it's not really clear that he did it'. Yet that person had argued all the way for a conviction.

I thought the whole thing was quite disturbing. If it had been 11-1, I would have told the judge what had gone on to stop the process.

If I was ever charged with anything I'd want a judge. I would have no confidence in a jury.

FEMALE JUROR, MURDER TRIAL, MULTIPLE DEFENDANTS


There were only about three men on the jury. There were two girls in their late teens, three or four aged 50 to 60 and the rest were 30s and 40s.

The evidence was easy to follow. Everybody was very responsible and clarified points. It was really important to do the right thing. Because it went on so long it was getting quite tiring towards the end.

Deliberating in the jury room we took one defendant at a time. Because we had discussed it over six weeks as the evidence was unfolding, for a lot of us there wasn't anything to sway us from our position. There was only one dissenter. It was only one defendant she was unsure about and until that point she had been sure he was not guilty. I don't know if she had had some outside input, but she changed her mind on the day. Because majority ruled, 11 found him not guilty.

When the guilty verdicts were read it was actually quite scary - it was somebody's life. You felt a bit shaky. You've done the right thing but you're condemning them to a long time in prison. But there was no doubt in my mind.

I would be happy to be tried by a jury. I have confidence in the process.

MALE JUROR, BENEFIT FRAUD


I've been to countless jury call-ups. Things have changed, for the better, because it's not so easy to get off. In earlier days it was the unemployed people, the retired housewives, the old blokes. Now there are more younger people, better dressed people - not all the people who weren't smart enough to get out of it.

I was one of only two males on the jury. There was a nurse, a teacher, someone who once worked for WINZ.

The case was pretty bloody obvious. But there was a middle aged and younger woman there. The younger one thought she was pretty smart, almost writing a novel - pages and pages of notes. The other one was a mousy little thing. I said 'You don't actually think that when they stood up there and swore an oath on the bible that they're telling the truth, do you?' She looked at me straight and said 'Oh yes'. She was mumbling prayers to herself. One of the other women had a go at her. It started to get quite snarky. There was a lot of pressure on her. She would be off in the toilets having a cry. She eventually complained to the judge, apparently, about being bullied. So she just dug her toes in, sat in the corner and sulked, wouldn't really participate or give her reasons.

So it was hung 10-2 for every charge except for one, where the younger woman's question was about law. We asked the judge so she had to grudgingly give in on that one. So of the 10 or 11 charges there was one conviction and that was 11-1. The whole week was a frustrating waste of time. I'm self employed so I wasted a grand. I decided as I went out that I'm not going to do that again.

I definitely wouldn't be confident being tried by a jury, especially if it was a complex charge. If I was innocent I'd rather have some hard bitten old judge who has sat through all this stuff before. If I was guilty and I wanted to spin some bullshit story and cry a lot, I would probably get myself in front of a jury.

FEMALE JUROR, DRUG TRIAL


The guy was charged with two counts and the second count just was not proven by police. There was the attitude by some that because he was guilty of the first he must be guilty of the second. Trying to get through to them that the police hadn't actually proved the second charge, so therefore we could not reasonably find him guilty on that one, took quite a long time. It told me that there would be people found guilty on charges that actually hadn't been proven.

On a jury, people have all sorts of agendas. There were those who would hold out because 'I don't want a decision now because I don't want to go back to work today'. You don't necessarily know at the time what is driving them.

If it's handled right by whoever you pick as foreman it can be quite a rigorous system. But then you get people who just cannot or will not give up their view. In some ways it comes down to having the power to persuade other people.

I was confident we arrived at the right decision but if I were charged with a crime I think I would prefer a judge, because they would understand the legalities.

MALE JUROR, ASSAULT TRIAL


The jury pool was pretty representative for the court area, but it wasn't at all representative of the community where the people involved lived. Once we got onto the jury itself, there were no women under 50, because they were challenged. As the case progressed it became clear why - the defendant was also alleged to have hit a pregnant woman so the defence didn't want female jurors of child-bearing age.

The trial took three days. It was complicated simply because every single witness was drunk except for one and the only sober witness got one of his facts completely wrong. It became a mission to work out what was actually an accurate memory. But the court process worked really well.

We only deliberated for about 40 minutes. All but one of us were confident it was not guilty, and the one that wasn't confident was leaning heavily towards that.

When we first got selected one guy (probably mid to late 40s, fancy-looking suit) was really pissed off that he was there. But after the first session he was completely switched on. I was quite inspired. He obviously didn't want to be there, but he wanted to take the job seriously. I thought it was a really cool experience.

I would be happy to be tried by a jury. I think it's always going to be harder for Maori and Pasifika to get a fair deal from a jury, but I'm white so I'd feel pretty confident. It's not perfect - the pay is completely insufficient if you're on a fixed income, or need childcare, so that will obviously impact on the sort of people who turn up.

FEMALE JUROR, ATTEMPTED ABDUCTION TRIAL

We had a reasonably good mix, in ages and outlooks, but a lot of people didn't really understand the process. They plonk you on a jury but they don't really give you much guidance. For example, no-one knew what 'beyond reasonable doubt' meant.

One guy heard the evidence and said 'But everything the prosecution said the defence seemed to have an answer'. A couple of us said 'Well, they give them the evidence ahead of time'. He didn't understand disclosure rules, so for him that was evidence of innocence.

A lot of them, the only thing they knew about juries was what they saw on TV or movies. They were waiting for the big confession, the big reveal, and it never happened. Some said the evidence was circumstantial - but that's how cases are, a lot of little details pieced together. If they don't get the big TV moment they're expecting, they feel it's not strong enough.

One guy, even though he thought he'd done it, said 'I'm not going to convict him unless I get a say in the penalty'. The rest of us had to take about half an hour to say 'Look, it just doesn't work that way'.

Everybody took it seriously. One guy, who was not the foreman, jumped up and said 'How about everyone say on a scale of 1-5 whether you think he is guilty or not'. Most people were somewhere in the middle. Then we'd discuss it and every few rounds we'd have another vote. That worked quite well - everybody had to contribute.

I decided at the beginning that this guy was guilty and I wasn't going to let him off. I think everyone thought he was guilty but not everyone was prepared to convict. You could see some people are easily swayed, some are not; some are logical, some are emotional. In the end we reached a unanimous decision.

The whole thing is risky, because it depends so much on who those 12 people are. I was reading about a panel of judges and I thought 'Gosh, that's a better system'. If I was a defendant I would rather be tried by a jury, because I think you're more likely to get off.

FEMALE JUROR, MURDER TRIAL

We ended up with seven women and five men - a lady from the Cook Islands, a Maori gentleman, a Maori lady, a student. They drew out 50 names for the ballot but so many people during the empanelment process went to talk to the judge. He first started excusing them but then stopped because so many people were saying they couldn't sit on the jury. Out of the 50 people we were down to the last handful.

We came to a guilty verdict. Everybody had their say. When a topic came up, someone who had an opinion on it would be given the opportunity to say something. It was still difficult to come to a consensus, because we didn't understand the finer points of the degree of harm, so we had to go back to the judge to give us some definitions. Once he did that it was fairly black and white.

The whole thing was tragic - he [the defendant] was very young. The experience did have a lasting impact. Convicting someone of murder is not a light thing - at some level, it does change you.

I have faith in the jury system, but I thought the defence counsel was crap. It was definitely useful having a mix of ethnicities, people who had knowledge of the same situations.

- The Dominion Post
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