Jurors Protest Against Judge by Refusing to Serve in His Courtroom

SantaClaraCourthouseIf one ever doubted that jurors speak with a voice that is not only legal but political, consider those jurors who refused to be seated in the courtroom of Judge Aaron Persky in Santa Clara County, California. Judge Pensky gave a six-month sentence to Stanford student Brock Turner in a rape trial.

The lenient judgment–and the compelling 12-page statement read in court by the victim–has sparked national outrage, including a recall campaign against him. (California’s laws permit the recall of a sitting judge if one can muster petition signatures equal to 20% of the votes cast for that judge in the office’s previous election.)

According to the San Jose Mercury News,  at least ten Santa Clara County residents reporting for jury duty have now  registered their protest, as well.

“I can’t be here, I’m so upset,” one juror told the judge while the lawyers were picking the jury in the misdemeanor receiving stolen property case, according to multiple sources. Another prospective juror stood up and said, “I can’t believe what you did.”

Avoiding a standoff, the judge excused each of the jurors from service. Unattributed sources said to be supporting Judge Persky suggested to the Mercury News reporter that some of the jurors “may have been prompted by a desire to get out of jury duty.” That seems unlikely, however, since the jury manager could simply return those persons to the jury pool and subsequently assign them to another courtroom. Such action would raise an interesting question, however, about non-equivalent jury pools across courtrooms.

An unintended consequence of such protests, regardless of reassignment protocols, is that the remaining jurors in Judge Pensky’s courtroom are now statistically likely to include fewer people who found fault with his sentencing. In other words, a protest against a lenient judge increases the likelihood that the remaining jurors are more lenient themselves.

The intent of the protest, however, was to add fuel to the protests against Judge Persky, and the jurors’ effective walkout appears to have done precisely that. (If anyone reading this can think of an earlier case of such protest walkouts by jurors, please post it in the comments.)

About John Gastil

John Gastil is a Distinguished Professor in the Department of Communication Arts and Sciences and Senior Scholar at the McCourtney Institute for Democracy at The Pennsylvania State University. He specializes in political deliberation and group decision making, and he has published both nonfiction and fiction.
This entry was posted in Public/media views of juries, Social/political impact of juries, Summoning juries, Voir dire and jury selection. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Jurors Protest Against Judge by Refusing to Serve in His Courtroom

  1. DTemin says:

    This is an intriguing and illuminating sidebar to a despicably sad and injust story. Only one suggestion–the headline actually is a bit misleading. I thought, upon reading it that the jurors refused to protest ( or sit in protest) as opposed to their refusing to be empaneled in Persky’s courtroom — two very different things…

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