A Father's Day Tribute
By David Henderson
This tribute is to one of the two people without whom I wouldn’t be a father: my daughter. (The other, of course, is my wife.)
A little over a year ago, on Mother’s Day, my wife and I drove to San Francisco to have lunch with my daughter. She had just finished being on a jury for a one or two-week-long (I’ve forgotten which) trial. That was her first time.
I was impressed about everything she told us: how she didn’t lie to get out of the jury, how she paid close attention to what was going on, and how, as instructed, she didn’t talk about the case to friends or us during the trial. But two other things most impress me.
One was her keen powers of observation about an economic issue. This is what made me think that she would have been a natural in economics. She pointed out that when the jury pool was reduced from over 100 to 24, the person with the least amount of formal education was someone with an associate’s degree. Everyone else had at least a bachelor’s degree and many had graduate degrees, either Masters’ or professional degrees. “What’s that telling you?” she asked me, grinning as we were debriefing her. “That they were highly formally educated,” I answered. “No,” she said, “that’s true, but it’s telling you how expensive housing is in San Francisco. The high price of housing is pricing out people who are less formally educated, and we are the ones left.” (Or words to that effect.)
The other thing that impressed me was the question she had the judge ask the defendant. He was a race-car driver clocked at 73 mph on a 35 mph road through Golden Gate Park. The police chased him and the big issue was whether, as they said, he tried to get away or, as he said, his car malfunctioned. There was pretty good evidence that it was the former, but Karen, my daughter, kept an open mind. The jury was allowed to write out questions and hold them up so the bailiff could pick them up and take them to the judge. The judge would then decide whether the questions were legitimate. All of Karen’s questions passed muster. Here was the killer question, which came after it was revealed that the driver’s friend had picked his car up the next day from the lot where it has been impounded:
Didn’t you fear that the car might still malfunction and that, therefore, your friend might be in danger?
The defendant’s answer: No.
That, plus the other evidence, cinched it for Karen to vote Guilty.
There’s one other thing that impressed me about Karen and the other 11 jurors. Their straw vote at the outset showed unanimity but they spent a whole day making sure. One of their biggest concerns was this: Given that the guy was a race-car driver and there were no drugs or alcohol involved, was he really that much of a danger? I asked her if it would have helped her and some of the other jurors if they had been able to know the penalty the judge was likely to give. She said yes. But she followed the rules and didn’t independently research the penalty.
By the way, the simple fact that she was on the jury is a great counterexample to a claim that co-blogger Bryan Caplan made in an otherwise excellent interview. At the 1:45 point of this interview, in making the case for private arbitration, a case that I entirely agree with, Bryan dumps on the jury system by saying that the 12 jurors are “too dumb to get out of jury duty.” As my daughter’s experience shows, there are some people who are probably smart enough to get out of jury duty but don’t.