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Freeeeedom! (from jury duty) - Scott Adams' Blog

Freeeeedom! (from jury duty)

After three days of punishment at the hands of my inefficient government, I am a free man.

It is a deeply unpleasant experience for a modern human to sit in a room for many hours without mental or physical stimulation. That is the method we use to punish children and criminals alike. No kidding, it felt like three days of serving detention for a crime I did not commit. 

On my third day, I got lucky. The jury filled up before I got into the final round, so I was released.

And that is probably a good thing for all concerned, since I had three days to do nothing but think up entertaining answers to the judge’s list of questions. It would have been a good show. I had not yet decided whether to go full-humor or pivot to an angry citizen tirade about my wasted time and taxes. Either would have been fun.

By the way, when the attorneys talk to potential jurors, that part is largely hypnosis. The attorney’s questions operate on two levels. The obvious level is that they are asking questions to uncover any bias in the potential jurors. Sometimes they are informing the jury about the standards of evidence. But the deeper level is pure persuasion, and well done I might add. It was fun to watch the pros work, although that part did not last long.

For example, the defense seemed to be babbling almost Trump-like about the concept of the presumption of innocence. On the surface, the attorney was explaining to the jury what that legal standard means and how to apply it. But on the persuasion level, the important part was pointing to the defendant repeatedly every time the word “innocent” was uttered. I think he did it fifteen times, minimum. Good technique.

I also liked the defense attorney making people think past the sale when he asked what was worse – a guilty person being freed or an innocent person being wrongly convicted. He made us all imagine, and feel, the sense of wrongly convicting his client. Good technique again. I assume that method is fairly standard practice.

Studies show that humans put a greater value on potential loss than potential gain, so making us think of how we could lose (by convicting an innocent man) is powerful persuasion.

My favorite part of the jury selection involved the prosecutor trying to make a Chinese-born engineer agree to the statement that he could make a decision with limited information taken out of context. The engineer wasn’t buying it. He just couldn’t say something stupid in public. The prosecutor took about ten runs at the engineer, but he would not retreat from common sense and logic. He was dismissed, along with the other engineers, for what I assume was their vexing sense of reason.

The appalling part was watching several non-engineers get intimidated by the prosecutor into publicly agreeing to convict the defendant based on incomplete information. The prosecutor’s wording was different, but all of the engineers in the room heard it the way I just described it. They all protested the notion of finding certainty with uncertain data, and all were released by the prosecutor. 

According to the book Influence, when you get someone to state an opinion in their own words, even if they do not hold that opinion, it influences the speaker to adopt the opinion over time. The prosecutor was literally rewiring these people in front of me like Obi-Wan Kenobi using The Force on a storm trooper. It was frightening and cool at the same time.

And that’s why I think we need to abandon mandatory jury duty and go to a volunteer system where potential jurors are pre-screened for multiple future trials. If we bumped juror pay to $100 per day, and provided good meals at the court, you would get faster trials with better results at lower costs.

I would limit each volunteer juror to a five year term, just so keep the pool refreshed with modern thinking over time.

Wouldn’t that be a better system?

Update: Or how about a law the says you can’t use excuse a juror for having too much objectivity. Engineers, scientists, lawyers, should all be exempt from any removal other than “cause” as legally defined.

It is disheartening to see your taxes fund a prosecutor who is removing the best critical thinkers from the process right in front of your eyes. And it is her job to do exactly that, depending on the type of case. She would be fired if she did otherwise.

Can we do no better? The bar seems so low.

Have I mentioned that I wrote a critically-acclaimed book about systems for finding success? Holidays are coming! It is the perfect gift.