My Daughter the Juror
By David Henderson
My daughter, Karen Henderson, a resident of San Francisco, recently served on a California jury for almost two weeks for $15 a day. She is self-employed and her opportunity cost, therefore, was quite high.
But as she said in a text to my wife and me, when the jury pool was being narrowed down, “Part of me wanted to lie to get out of it but I’m just such an honest person I can’t lie.” Sure enough, the pool fell from about 100 to 24, and then down to 12, and she was juror #6.
I’m not going to write about the economics of involuntary servitude and the associated huge waste of people’s time compared to paying closer to market wages and getting people to volunteer. That’s an interesting topic, but I’ll leave that for another day.
Instead, this is proud papa complimenting my daughter’s insights about the housing market in San Francisco and about revealed preference.
First, the housing market in San Fran. Karen pointed out that in the pool of 24 people, 23 had a Bachelor’s degree, and the 24th had an Associate’s degree. One third of the people had at least a Master’s degree or a professional degree (doctor or lawyer.) What does this tell you about incomes in San Francisco, she asked me, and then answered: there are few low-income people in San Francisco because they are priced out by the high rents and high housing prices.
Second, revealed preference. The case was about a young man who was clocked speeding at 77 mph in a 35 mph zone. The SFPD chased him and he led them on a wild chase indeed. The serious charge against him was evading the police officer in his vehicle.
Most of the case involved the prosecutor trying to prove that he was willfully evading and the defending lawyer arguing that the driver’s car went out of control. Given the way the chase occurred, e.g., the car suddenly turning from the furthest left lane of three to make a right turn, the defendant had a tough road ahead (pun intended.) Also, it came out that the defendant was a race car driver, making his argument that the car got out of control suspect.
As the evidence mounted, my daughter found the defendant’s case less and less credible. Jurors were allowed to write out questions. The bailiff would then come and pick up the question and take it to the judge. The judge, consulting with the attorneys on both sides, would then decide whether the question was legitimate. All of Karen’s questions, she said proudly, passed muster.
And here’s the question that pushed her beyond reasonable doubt. It had come out in the testimony that the defendant’s friend had picked up his car for him the next day after it had been impounded. Karen’s question: “If the car had gone out of control, weren’t you worried that your friend would be at risk if he drove it?” The defendant answered that he wasn’t.
The initial vote among the jurors was 12-0 in favor of Guilty. And here’s where the stereotype I held about jurors, based on stories I’ve heard from others who have served, broke down in a positive way. Even though that was their initial vote, they knew that the charge was serious but, of course, they weren’t allowed to know or research the range of penalties. They knew that he was a race car driver, which means that maybe at 3 a.m. he wasn’t putting people at much risk with his evasive maneuvers. So they spent a whole extra day sifting the evidence. They asked to see the transcripts or view videos of the trial (I wasn’t clear which) before voting 12-0 in favor of Guilty.