A Baker's Dozen Jury

As Roseanne Rosannadana used to say, "Well, it just goes to show you. It's always something."

I had always thought that murder cases in Connecticut were tried to a jury of twelve. Well, not according to a book I read recently. Apparently, if you are an intellectual, steeped in deep thought and traveling in refined company, when called to jury duty you are not bound by the rules applicable to mere mortals. That book, Unreasonable Doubt, sheds a completely new light on a process with which I had long thought I was quite familiar. It seems that murder juries are composed of the twelve people chosen by the lawyers and, in addition, the spouse of the jury foreman. At least that's what happened in the case of State v. Anthony Bazier, tried to a jury in Superior Court in New Haven in the fall of 2001.

Not until I read this book did I fully realize the breadth and depth of my ignorance of how criminal jury trials are conducted. You see, I always thought that when a juror takes an oath to follow the judge's instructions the juror understands that really means you should honor your oath and follow the judge's instructions. Oh, of course, I suspected there was always some fraying at the edges, some inappropriate comments made from time to time. Maybe jurors would talk to each other about the case before the close of evidence and not just chat about the lawyers' idiosyncrasies or whether the clerk was actually flirting with the marshal.

I also foolishly believed, even with that, that the more educated and erudite would better understand and appreciate the instructions and would be most likely to follow the instructions. Silly me. The author of this book has quickly puts a lie to that belief. Norma Thompson, you see, is one of the cognoscenti. A Senior Lecturer at a New Haven Ivy League institution, she was the foreman [her words] of the Bazier hung-jury. Apparently unimpressed with the import of the oath she had taken and disrespecting the late Judge Ronald Fracasse whom she professes to admire, Ms Professor Thompson observes,

. . .Judge Fracasse reiterated that everything he had said during the trial carried over into deliberations. For as long as the case lasted, there was to be no discussion of what went on in the deliberation room, not with each other and, certainly, not in public or with the media or with anyone else. . . . I had no interest in a public forum at that point, but my private life was quite another matter. In this regard I had not obeyed the judge's instructions during the trial, and I wasn't going to start now that I was foreman. Who was going to tell me that I could not talk to my husband? In fact the only reason I started taking exhaustive notes at the beginning of the trial was that I realized in my nightly reports to him the story was getting very complicated.

Well there you go. Launching forth from that foundation of honor and integrity, our erudite author proceeds to describe how she used everything but a taser and a bullwhip to attempt to corral her fellow jurors to bring in a conviction. Every evening she rushes home to Mr. Wonderful, also a faculty member at that same elite center of learning, to review the deliberations and to plot with him tomorrow's strategy for getting Bazier convicted. And so, unburdened by having attended the trial, seen and heard the witnesses, lawyers and the judge's instructions, and unfettered by the insight of eleven others who had, the baker's dozen juror weighs in to assure that his wife's version of justice is done.

Well, thankfully, tit doesn't work. Machiavelli to the side, it's a hung jury. Falling short by four, it appears Aspiring Professor Thompson's only recourse is to write a book demonstrating the ignorance of her fellow jurors, the fallibility of the jury system and, most of all, her own sophistication, scholarship and intellectual superiority. She muses. She ponders. She cerebrates. Tenting her intellectual fingers, she speculates how Socrates, Plato, Herodotus, Aeschylus and others-you can't tell your philosopher without a scorecard-- would have addressed the issues presented in Mr. Bazier's trial.

Odd though, Senior Lecturer Thomas never questions whether any one of her favorite philosophers, unlike her, would have been graced with sufficient integrity to honor the juror's oath. Maybe she just assumes that since she didn't the rest of the deep thinkers don't have to either. Or maybe, just maybe, she misses the point. Sometimes a little education in the wrong hands can be dangerous.

Well, it just goes to show you. It's always something. Next time I do a voir dire I guess I'll have to try to find out if the juror's spouse believes in reasonable doubt.