The Scarlet Badge – Jury Selection, Part 2

The case of the New Haven Police Officer accused of Fourth Degree Sexual Abuse is scheduled to start on Monday. I had been selected as a potential juror and have previously written about the Anthony Maio case my experiences with the Jury Selection Process. That post talked more about the mechanics of being empanelled and the general questions.

However, I was then questioned on the stand about my ability to present a fair and unbiased opinion in the case. The questioning, I believe, presents an interesting insight into some of the complexities of the case, as well general issues of how jury trials work in our country.

Before I get into the specifics, I should pass on a joke that a friend told me when she heard I might be on the case.

Knock, Knock.
Who’s there?
O.J. who?
Okay, you can be on the jury

While the joke provides an amusing view on the O.J. Simpson trial, as you will see, it reflects a misunderstanding about the jury process.

It was noted that I work freelance and I was asked if this would present a hardship. Given that the trial is expected to be only a week and a half to two weeks long, I said that I did not believe it would present a hardship.

I was asked was if I believed I could present a fair and unbiased decision in the case. I said that I believed that I could. This was followed by questions about how much I knew about the case. I knew a little from the judges introduction which was backed up or supplemented by information that I knew from reading articles in the New Haven Independent. I talked about being a regular reader of the New Haven Independent and a friend of the editor. I said that I had commented on stories in the New Haven Independent but had not written any articles for it. A fair amount of time was spent exploring exactly how much I knew, how well I knew the editor and related topics. The judge noted that having foreknowledge of the case did not necessarily rule a person out and it was determined that the foreknowledge that I had, as well as my relationship to the press organization reporting about the case did not appear to affect my ability to render a fair and imbalanced decision.

The questions moved on towards my opinion about police officers. Some people, with a strong respect for authority may give excessive or unreasonable credence to the testimony of police officers. Others, who strongly question authority may show a strong disposition to reject the credibility of police officers. This case is likely to include testimony of police officers both in favor and against the defendant. It is important that the jury give a fair attention to the credibility of the police officers and neither over compensate nor under compensate for their testimony. I said I believed I could do that.

Since the alleged sexual assault took place at a bar, another line of questioning was whether or not I had objections to the use of alcohol or other concerns that would make it difficult for me to provide a fair and balanced analysis of the testimony of patrons of BAR, including, potentially, the women that were allegedly groped. There are several issues to be addressed in this. One is to determine the level of intoxication of the witnesses at the time of the event. Intoxication may make the recollections less reliable. In addition, I expressed concern about the credibility of people that are suffering from alcoholism. Yet I did not have any religious convictions about alcohol, or other topics that would prevent me from arriving at a fair and unbiased decision.

Another line of questioning involved my ability to arrive at a fair and unbiased decision about whether the law was broken, whether or not I agreed with the law. In this case, this is another complicated issue. Police Officer Maio allegedly groped two college girls at a bar. I imagine there may be question about whether or not it was ‘without consent’ as part of the defense. Reports claim that the girls had been flirting with him. There is another old joke about the difficulty that some people can have distinguishing between, “No! Don’t! Stop!” and “No, Don’t Stop!” This is a complicated issue about which many blog posts could and probably have been written and I’ll stay out of it for the time being.

If Officer Maio is found to have violated the law the way it is written, he will be found guilty of a misdemeanor. However, since it is a sexual assault, he will have been found guilty of a sexual offense and will be on the sexual offenders list. This illustrates issues with the sexual offenders list. It can run the gamut from a man who thought he was responding to sexual advances at a bar and groped a young woman, to a violent child rapist. Being listed as a sexual offender may end up being a disproportionate punishment for a man in a career that makes no room for sexual offenders.

Yet this is not a question of whether or not Officer Maio broke the law. It is a question about the nature of the law itself. I have mixed feelings on the law itself, and those with a literary bent may appreciate that I am calling my coverage of this case, The Scarlet Badge. I am no Hawthorne and twenty first century New Haven is a long way from seventeenth century Boston, but there are a lot of bigger issues that go beyond the application of the law.

I noted that my wife works for Common Cause and that I believe I could differentiate between application of the law and application of justice and that when it came to addressing ill-written laws, I understood the importance of the legislative process and how to try and get the State Legislature to change laws.

On a different track, I was asked how I would react during deliberation if I had a different opinion that that of the other jurors. I joked about bringing Twelve Angry Men with me as reading material as I waited to be called for jury duty. I explained that I would fight hard to get others to hear my opinion but that I would be able to listen to the opinions of other jurors and bend my opinion if they presented something I had overlooked.

The questioning moved on to my reaction to hearing about the case. I explained that I found the case interesting. When asked what I found interesting, I explained that it seemed that there was a lot of nuance in the case and it would be fascinating to hear the details as they get explored.

As we spoke more about the complexity and the nuance of the case, I mentioned the potential political ramifications of the case. I had noted that I had worked as Mayor DeStefano’s blogmaster when he ran for Governor in 2005. We discussed whether or not this could provide a conflict of interest or if my interest in the political ramifications might distract me from the facts of the case. Not knowing what evidence will be presented and what the political ramifications of such evidence might be, I said that I did not know if this might distract me from the facts of the case.

At this point, the Judge determined that I should be excused from the case. While I do believe that I could have arrived at a fair and unbiased decision in the case, it would be reasonable to doubt that I could do this and I think it is probably best for the case that I was excused. I have subsequently found that only three jurors were selected out of a group of three dozen, so my excusal is not a surprise.

Yet this has captured my interest. On Monday, I am scheduled to attend a conference at University of Connecticut and will miss the opening day of the trial. I will be taking care of my daughter Tuesday afternoon, so I’ll miss a little bit of the trial, but I am hoping to attend parts of the trial to write about it and some of the issues that it raises.

(Categories: )