Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Jury Duty: Your Second Amendment Views on Trial

Submitted by one of our readers from California. 

In January 2016, I spent seven days as a prospective juror in a criminal trial held in Ventura County, California for the murder of Dave Laut, a former Olympian and high school athletic director, who died in 2009 after his wife shot him multiple times with a single action revolver (the wife is alleging it was done in self defense with one of the firearms the family owned).

While we could debate several factors of gun ownership, gun storage, use of a gun against a family member, and domestic violence in this case...that is not what I am discussing here.

What I do want to discuss is my observations of prospective jurors who were questioned by a judge, a defense attorney, and lastly a prosecutor during voir dire which in layman's terms is the process by which jurors are selected for and removed from the final jury selection.  Full disclosure: I possess little knowledge of courtroom procedures and the law in general.

Somehow I wound up on the bottom of a list of almost 100 prospective jurors called up on Day One. I was appalled to see the intrusive questioning of average good citizens before me who happened to be gun owners and who happened to be fulfilling their civic obligation of reporting for jury duty.

To paraphrase, these are the questions they were asked that I found most troubling: 
  • What are your thoughts about firearms/the Second Amendment?
  • Have you ever shot a firearm?
  • What type of firearm? Include make and model.
  • Have you had formal firearm training and if so, who/what entity trained you?
  • Do you own firearms and if so how many, what type, what is the make and model of those firearms?
  • Do you have a concealed carry permit?
  • What do you use your firearms for?
  • How often do you go target shooting and when was the last time you visited the range?
  • And specifically, they wanted to assess the personal knowledge of single action revolvers such as...Have you fired one, do you own one, and can you describe how it functions mechanically? 

Think about answering those questions in front of a judge, a district attorney representative (and in my case, also a DA investigator which most likely means he is a law enforcement officer), two bailiffs (county deputies), a room full of almost 100 strangers, a court reporter diligently recording every word you utter for court transcripts, and members of the press (print, radio, and TV).

Now imagine if one of those strangers (which in some cases includes a defendant who is later found to be guilty of the criminal charge) was not such a good person. I don't know about you but I don't advertise how many firearms I own (especially the make & model of each) and whether I have a CCW or not (unless I need to in self-defense).  Why not? Because I don't want someone breaking into my home to steal them!!!  If I was a collector of rare gems, would I tell strangers the clarity and carat size of all the diamonds I stored at my home right after I said my name, where I worked, and what city I lived in? And as for the CCW part, what's the point of carrying concealed (which by the way I couldn't inside the courthouse) if you tell everyone?

So how did I prepare to deal with the privacy invasion staring at me? Well, my game plan was to refuse to answer the questions in public and to ask to go behind closed doors as many other prospective jurors asked on other private matters. However I knew that I still would have the judge, the attorneys from both sides, the DA  investigator, the court reporter, and a bailiff present. I would then kindly state my opposition to answering the most intrusive ones. Why? Because the court reporter would still be typing away and I knew there would be an inevitable paper trail.  But push come to shove, if ordered by a judge to answer I would answer truthfully. Mainly because my wife, daughter, and employer would not appreciate me spending a night in jail for my principles (that is what I imagine my punishment would be if the movies I have seen are accurate). Fortunately for me the judge kindly dismissed me on a few other factors before we got into the firearm questions.

In conclusion, I would like to remind those in the courtroom engaged in conducting the voir dire process that the jurors are the good folks, they shouldn't be treated as though they are on trial. And for my fellow Second Amendment lovers, be mentally prepared to face this dilemma each time you report for jury duty.

P.S. If anyone has a legal background and a suggestion of how a prospective juror advocates for his/her preference to refuse answering a voir dire question...please let me know!

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