Today began much like yesterday, with general instructions; numbered seating arrangements and the prosecution’s questions in voir dire. It turns out the case we were petit jurors for was not another criminal trial but a civil suit brought by Child Protective Services against the mother of one child. The burden of proof in these cases is lower than a criminal trial. Instead of beyond a reasonable doubt, the prosecution only needs to establish a preponderance of evidence (51% certainty or more) to terminate a parent’s right to custody.
After more than an hour of probing the jury panel on areas of possible bias, the Judge said it was time for a break and sent us all back out into the hall. About 20 minutes later, he brought us back into the courtroom and declared a mistrial because there were so many people declaring bias in a child custody case. Some were school teachers, school administrators, police and healthcare professionals who are mandated to report child abuse or endangerment to the state. But there were an equal number of potential jurors who were either personally, negatively affected by a custody termination or who believed the state should not have the right to intervene in the parenting of a child.
So the day ended early with my civic duty fulfilled for another two years. Once again, I left the courthouse feeling grateful that I was not one of those facing trial but also appreciating the role of conscience in our justice system. Nothing is ever perfect but today it was clear our particular panel could not provide an unbiased jury to try the case. I’m officially declaring today a holiday from any more work!
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