I had the, um, pleasure of being called for potential jury duty today. I was not placed on a jury (although likely would have been had I been closer to the front of the line) but had some thoughts about it and the US criminal justice system generally.
First, I'm not sure I'd want a jury of my "peers" determining my guilt. People can't seem to follow simple directions. People can't seem to pay attention. People don't seem to realize that, yes, the judge is serious about you showing back up to the courtroom when she says. Or that, sitting down in the jury box and typing away on your phone so intently that you don't hear the judge when she addresses you might be a bit inconsiderate, especially after being told more than once to turn your phone completely off (and this particular person somehow showing back up in the court room after being dismissed from potential service in that trial, oblivious to all). And god help those trying civil cases that involve things more complicated than a traffic accident.
Second, the underfunding of public defenders' offices is a national scandal. Overhearing just one conversation with such an attorney and the family of her client made me better understand just how hard a job this is. Not only do you have to deal with all the legal issues, but also be the defendant's and defendent's family's emotional counselor, often for defendants and families that are not familiar with even basic legal concepts.
Third, that what might seem fantastical to the "average" person may in fact be true. "If you weren't guilty why did you run out the back door when the police arrived?" "Because I thought they were going to plant evidence to frame me." Seems a little far fetched and "convenient", but not in the context that I heard it.
Fourth, this all seems rather obscenely expensive, inefficient, and of dubious utility. Repeated warnings from the judge that testimony from police officers is to be given no greater or lesser weight than testimony from others do not bring confidence. Nor does the fact that 60+ people were called to fill 14 juror/alternate slots for a trial over an assault that happened more than a year ago and in which the defense apparently planned to call no witnesses vs. the prosecution's 6-8, all but one of which would be police officers, seem a good use of time. That every one of those 60+ people would rather be doing something else does not seem likely to lead to accurate outcomes.
Not that I have any great ideas to make things better, other than perhaps a lot more funding for public defenders and ways to make jury service more palatable (such as paying people more than the $4 I received). And perhaps despite all this juries generally do a "good" job, although I would like to see some pretty concrete evidence of that.