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Jury duty ethical dilemma question
April 21, 2014 6:57 PM   Subscribe

I've got jury duty coming up very soon. I suspect it might be for a murder trial for reasons I won't go into. We've had a lot of murders lately in the smallish city where I live. I don't know any of the people involved in any of them and believe I can be a fair juror. However, I live in a US state that has and often uses the death penalty and I am opposed to it. I am not opposed to lengthy prison terms for people who have committed serious crimes. If they ask me if I believe in the death penalty I will be tempted to lie so that they do not disqualify me. Please help me figure out if this would be wrong.
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (57 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
It would be wrong to lie during jury duty selection. Everyone deserves a fair trial held in front of people who can be trusted, and if you begin with a lie, how can you be trusted?
posted by xingcat at 7:01 PM on April 21 [25 favorites]


You have to decide whether it's wrong for yourself; do you think that telling a lie when you have sworn to tell the truth is a bigger moral deal than professing to be neutral on the death penalty to fight its use?

I would not lie because I take honesty very seriously, especially in court and legal contexts, and I don't think the legal system works if people aren't straightforward, so that would be the bigger moral issue for me. I would also feel compelled to voice my opposition to the death penalty aloud because that's a belief I hold very strongly and I would feel uncomfortable lying about it, but this is your choice to make.

Very best wishes whatever you decide and thank you for taking this seriously, even if ultimately we end up disagreeing about whether this is an acceptable course of action.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 7:01 PM on April 21 [2 favorites]


The broader problem is that the US criminal justice system is warped by a jury selection process that creates absurdly unrepresentative juries. However, finessing your way onto a jury is not the way to address that problem.

If you can say "I recognise that the death penalty is lawful in [state]" then you're not doing yourself a disservice.
posted by holgate at 7:16 PM on April 21 [12 favorites]


I can see where the other two commenters are coming from, but I feel strongly enough against the death penalty that, were I in your shoes, I would lie and feel that I'd made the right choice in doing so. In my mind, the injustice of the way the death penalty is applied in this country is of equal weight to many other historical injustices, cases where we would all absolutely agree, in hindsight, that deceiving the authorities was ethically justifiable.

Imagine being called for this jury, telling the truth and being disqualified, and then discovering later on that the defendant had been executed. Imagine discovering even later on that he'd been innocent of that crime. How much comfort would the decision to have told the truth bring you then? There isn't necessarily a right answer - for some people, honesty really is the highest value - but I know where I would fall.

All that said, I wonder if there's a way you could reconcile the letter of the law with your conscience by some careful truth-telling. I'm not sure exactly how they phrase these questions, but if someone asked me if I could ever agree to sentence a defendant to death, my answer would be "Yes, but it would have to be a particularly heinous crime, and I would require a very high standard of evidence before I could do so in good conscience." I don't know what kinds of follow-up questions would be asked, but knowing the kinds of institutionalized racism and other societal ills that come into play in most death penalty cases, I find it highly unlikely that any case that would come before me would satisfy my standard...but I'd be telling the truth, as far as that went.

It's not an easy choice you have ahead of you - good luck.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 7:17 PM on April 21 [15 favorites]


Don't lie.

If you're picked for a jury, one of the first things the judge will tell you is to forget about the penalty and sentencing phase. The jury stops after a verdict and has nothing to do with the imposition of a sentence.

If you think your opposition to the death penalty may prevent you from rendering a true and honest verdict, please say so. The judge may excuse you. It's awesome that you want to do jury duty (I've always wanted to), but this public debt is better paid on a case where you can truly set all other considerations aside.
posted by mibo at 7:17 PM on April 21 [13 favorites]


To be quite frank, the way I feel about it is this: If it is seriously enough of a moral imperative for you to pursue extra-legal ways of helping people to escape from what you feel to be an unjust law... then is it also enough of a moral imperative for that to be a major part of your life from day to day? If you're involved in ongoing activism against the death penalty, then you're unlikely to be able to conceal it. If it's not important enough for you to actually get involved in a real, substantial way on an ongoing basis, then I'd say that no, you don't believe in it strongly enough for you to be able to justify ethically subverting the judicial process to make a statement--or strongly enough to justify putting yourself at risk for being prosecuted for perjury, which is a thing.

If this is something you really care about that strongly, don't wait to get maybe possibly called for jury duty in something that might turn out to be a murder case, do something about it now.
posted by Sequence at 7:19 PM on April 21 [35 favorites]


On preview, I must disagree with pretentious illiterate's advice. You really should not be on a jury to influence policy in the sentencing phase. Imagine hanging the jury and putting witnesses through the toll of a retrial -- or worse, imagine seven people making policy because they don't like the death penalty and a murderer walks free to kill again. I don't support the death penalty either, but the jury box is not the place to challenge it.
posted by mibo at 7:20 PM on April 21 [10 favorites]


The problem with lying is most people aren't very good at it. If you get caught and they have to declare a mistrial, that's a waste of everyone's time and a delay of justice for the defendant and victim's family. It would be easiest to tell the truth.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:21 PM on April 21 [3 favorites]


Don't lie: it would be morally and ethically wrong, especially right after you've sworn to tell the truth.

Also, no matter HOW many murders have occurred in your city lately, you have no way of knowing now what kind of trial you'll be called for: it might be a murder trial, but it also might be for burglary or something else. Do you know what •kind• of court you've been called for? Local would probably be a much lesser charge than, say, state or a grand jury.
posted by easily confused at 7:24 PM on April 21 [1 favorite]


I'm about as anti-death-penalty as it is possible to be. I still say you shouldn't lie.

mibo and Sequence have covered my arguments, so: what they said.

There are effective and ethical ways of challenging the justice system, and lying during jury selection/duty is not one of them.
posted by Salamander at 7:27 PM on April 21 [5 favorites]


If they ask me if I believe in the death penalty I will be tempted to lie so that they do not disqualify me. Please help me figure out if this would be wrong.

If you lie and are seated on that jury are you also willing to declare someone not guilty just to avoid a death sentence? Because I believe that's called Jury Nullification.

FWIW, I am staunchly anti-death penalty and would make that clear if asked during jury selection.
posted by Room 641-A at 7:31 PM on April 21 [5 favorites]


My experience at jury duty has been that the questions end with something like, "and will that affect your ability to render an unbiased decision?"

If anyone who thought the law should be changed wasn't allowed to serve on a jury, then democracy wouldn't work too well. All our most thoughtful citizens would be barred from jury service due to their strong political opinions that motivate them to participate in civic life, which they are then barred from an important part of? It wouldn't make sense.

You can have your opinion about what the law should be, and still make a decision based on what the law is, right? Because if you can do that and are willing to do that, then you can be just as much an unbiased juror as the next person.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 7:41 PM on April 21 [3 favorites]


I am very, very anti-death penalty and I still feel like you shouldn't do this. Of all the ways you could possibly help this cause, your proposed idea is the worst, shadiest, most ethically-questionable ones. Tell the truth and make a donation to The InnocenceProject instead.
posted by julthumbscrew at 7:41 PM on April 21 [2 favorites]


If you absolutely want to be on the jury, and think it's ethical, you could consider what your opposition to the death penalty is. For instance, I don't have theoretical objections to it -- I'm not particularly for it or against it in a perfect world with a perfect justice system (this perfect world having death-penalty-appropriate crimes, somehow). I AM very much against it in the real world, with the real justice systems in place everywhere.

I live somewhere without the death penalty, but I think I would feel okay saying that I'm not against the death penalty in that situation (generally I just say I am against it, because I don't really care about a theoretical world's possible penalties and I am actually against it in practice). I'm not sure I could honestly say that I would be able to choose it as a penalty, though, because that's more real world and not in an ideal justice system.
posted by jeather at 7:42 PM on April 21


My source for information about the legal system is my retired police officer husband. I'm not saying my comment is the end all be all, just giving context for my comment - it's from the law enforcement end of the business.

First, he says you'll be asked many questions not just "do you support the death penalty?". The attorneys may be able to suss out your opinion in a variety of ways. (Or disqualify you for some other reason entirely.)

He also says there is a possibility of you getting into trouble if you lie and say you are neutral and then it comes out that you are adamantly opposed to the death penalty. If the jury ends up in a stalemate because you are not neutral as you stated under oath, you could conceivably be charged with perjury.

If you really are going to depend upon the answers here to decide whether or not to lie under oath, then it will probably be pretty easy. So far, it looks like people are mostly coming down on the side of "don't lie". That's certainly where my vote is. Otherwise, as Mrs. Pterodactyl says, you are going to decide which route is the one more in line with your values and morals.

Maybe think about how effective your actions will really be. Are you sure that in your state, you need consensus to decide on the death penalty? Or is it majority rules? That would be good to know. You could go through all of this and be the only dissenting voice and the person could still get the death penalty. Is trying to attack the issue this way really going to help repeal the death penalty in your state? Or is there some other way you could have more of an impact?
posted by Beti at 7:46 PM on April 21


Sit through the empaneling anyway (I went to one last year and it was fascinating, and nice to feel I was doing my civic duty) but when they ask if there is anything that might stand in the way of your impartiality, please speak up. I fully agree with you about the death penalty. Still that is a big systemic issue and one that needs to be fought out in the open. An individual murder trial is a small (though only relatively), complex organism. What if, through testimony and evidence etcetera, you are convinced beyond doubt of the defendant's guilt? Are you really willing to push for a hung jury (delaying, but ending nothing) or an acquittal (denying the victim's family the relative closure of a conviction, or possibly even releasing a dangerous person into the population) on the strength of your beliefs? Speak up, and then donate the money you would have lost from skipping that amount of work to your local death penalty abolition group. It takes more than symbolic action to end something this ingrained.
posted by theweasel at 7:50 PM on April 21 [1 favorite]


It's only an ethical dilemma if you don't know what to do. You DO know what to do. We know it's oh so superior to be anti-execution (for the record I am too). Feel better? Now go report for duty and tell the truth.
posted by brownrd at 8:08 PM on April 21


"The jury stops after a verdict and has nothing to do with the imposition of a sentence."

This is not true in every state. For example, Texas requires the jury to decide whether the death penalty should apply to the defendant.

As to the original question, I'm not a fan of lying in a court of law, regardless of your beliefs.
posted by cecic at 8:08 PM on April 21 [5 favorites]


He also says there is a possibility of you getting into trouble if you lie and say you are neutral and then it comes out that you are adamantly opposed to the death penalty. If the jury ends up in a stalemate because you are not neutral as you stated under oath, you could conceivably be charged with perjury.

This. Do not lie. If you lie during voir dire to trick the lawyers and court into keeping you on the jury, you will not come off as principled, but as a rogue loon who perjured themself for their own personal amusement/reasons/whatever. Judges are not sympathetic to people who do this type of thing.
posted by gatorae at 8:16 PM on April 21 [3 favorites]


States that death-qualify their juries do so because they have jury sentencing, or because they require juries to consider the mitigating and aggravating factors that will determine the judge-imposed sentence. All of you who are talking about whether he'd be willing to acquit someone in order to avoid killing them have a fundamental misunderstanding of the role of the jury in a death penalty case. It would, in every jurisdiction I'm aware of, be completely possible for a single juror to vote to convict a defendant, but then vote in such a way that makes it less likely that the defendant will be killed as a punishment. IAACriminalL
posted by decathecting at 8:21 PM on April 21 [7 favorites]


"I. . . believe I can be a fair juror."

A fair juror is one who is both impartial and willing to consider all possible sentences, including life imprisonment and the death penalty. In the eyes of the law, by not willing to consider all options, you are already not being a fair juror. I suggest you read up on the phrase "death qualified jury" which is what a jury in the United States is required to be in order to serve on a possible death penalty case.

Ask yourself, if you did lie and got on the jury, what will you do then? You may or may not, as a juror, have influence on the death penalty sentence. Regardless, what actual ends are you trying to accomplish if you did lie? Will you try to swing the jury in a certain direction, despite evidence? What if it came out in the jury discussion that you lied? Will you be a fair juror if you are burdened with your lie? Are you willing to be charged for your lie? These are questions only you can answer.

Also want to point out, you are making a number of assumptions here: 1) that it is a murder trial; 2) the murder charge will be a charge where the death penalty may be a sentencing option; 3) you will be disqualified according to your beliefs; 4) you will not be disqualified for other reasons; and 5) you will even get through the jury process to an actual voir dire where this question will be asked of you. You may not even know what kind of case it is until far along in the jury process. It is quite possible you will be called but dismissed quite early. You may even have a paper questionnaire that disqualifies you before you've set foot in a courtroom; you may have to go through a number of Q&A sessions with the questions gradually becoming more specific, and you could get dismissed at any point along the way.* You are also making an assumption that the defendant may be guilty. That's a natural thing to do while pondering your position, but consider that may be a pre-bias before you've even sat in the jury box.

*From my experience in states where the death penalty is used quite often, a college education often gets you the boot.
posted by barchan at 8:22 PM on April 21 [2 favorites]


Please help me figure out if this would be wrong.

You're considering telling a pure falsehood immediately after swearing to tell the truth without any mitigating duress. If you need us to tell you if that would be wrong or not I'm not sure we're going to be able to convince you.

SPOILER: it's wrong.
posted by Justinian at 8:25 PM on April 21 [3 favorites]


If you're involved with something like this, then whatever the outcome, it will haunt you for the rest of your life.

Then too, there's a chance you wouldn't be on a death-penalty case.
posted by amtho at 8:45 PM on April 21


I too would advocate that you be honest and whatever happens, happens. I am against the death penalty but I don't believe the system can be changed by jurors lying under oath or failing to do their duty. At the risk of nerding out a bit, a jury of our peers that is dedicated to doing their duty honestly and without prejudice is all that stands between any of us and a totalitarian nightmare. It's a sacred duty.

Also, you might want to fact-check the idea that jurors are not involved in the penalty phase. At least in some states, jurors are asked for a recommendation in capital cases.
posted by drjimmy11 at 8:53 PM on April 21 [1 favorite]


All of you who are talking about whether he'd be willing to acquit someone in order to avoid killing them have a fundamental misunderstanding of the role of the jury in a death penalty case. It would, in every jurisdiction I'm aware of, be completely possible for a single juror to vote to convict a defendant, but then vote in such a way that makes it less likely that the defendant will be killed as a punishment.

Thanks for clarifying that legal point, decathecting.

OP, do you want anyone with views that oppose yours to ever lie to get on a jury so they can do what you're thinking of doing in support of a cause they believe in?
posted by Room 641-A at 8:55 PM on April 21 [3 favorites]


Please don't lie. It's wrong and it poisons everything around you, even if you think it's harmless this time.
posted by michaelh at 9:01 PM on April 21 [1 favorite]


Room641, the problem is that the only people who are allowed on death penalty juries is jurors who say they will consider imposing the death penalty. This categorically removes jurors from the venire who are opposed to the death penalty while allowing jurors in favor of the death penalty.

One way around this would be to determine if there was a way in which you could imagine imposing the death penalty, if the crime was particularly heinous. Presto! You're death penalty qualified! *

*The state will still probably find a way to kick you off, but they'd have to use one of their preemptories. Also, I'm not advocating lying. If there isn't ANY way you can imagine imposing the death penalty, you cannot and should not say otherwise.
posted by Happydaz at 9:02 PM on April 21 [1 favorite]


It would be wrong. To avoid a duty of citizenship is wrong, even if it asks us to do things we do not like. It is very important that criminal defendants get juries to decide their cases. Second, if the death penalty is on the table, telling the truth will get you off the jury pool.

Its also contempt of court.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:05 PM on April 21 [3 favorites]


Lie. I did, and I'm glad I did. The question I lied about wasn't nearly as monumental. The question was whether or not I have family in law enforcement. My dad was an attorney with the district attorney's office in my county for several decades. Technically, the prosecutor's office is law enforcement, but I said no, I don't have any family who've ever worked in law enforcement.

Why did I lie? Because the notion that I'd be prejudiced simply because my dad was a DA when I was a baby is fucking stupid. I'm really glad I sat on that jury, not because I influenced the outcome (I didn't), but because if I'd told the truth I'd never get a chance to serve on a jury, and seeing how those things work from the inside is hugely valuable to understanding how this weird country works.

So yes, I say lie, and you'll probably be glad you did.
posted by colin_l at 9:06 PM on April 21 [2 favorites]


To follow up on barchan's comment, the odds that you'd end up having to actually vote for the death penalty are pretty small. I've been called for jury duty a large amount of times compared to my peers (I think 7 times in the 20 years I've been eligible), and I'm the only person I know who's ever been in a panel for a death penalty trial. I've only seen the inside of a courtroom in two of those jury pools, and I've only actually been in a jury once. The rest of the time, including the death penalty case, I went home by lunch on the first day.

This is how the death penalty case I was empaneled for ended up. My call date was January of last year. That trial was a bit of an odd duck, even for a death penalty case - they said the trail alone would last around 9 months, and then there would be the penalty phase after that, which would push it out to a year or more. For that trial, the court essentially turned the entire jury lounge into a courtroom and empaneled all 500 or so people that were called for jury duty that day. At least half of the pool immediately disqualified themselves, as I did, for any of the perfectly reasonable reasons for doing so with such a long trial - work, travel plans, economic hardship, etc. The rest had to fill out a 60+ page detailed questionnaire and report back a month or two later for the actual jury selection and voir dire.

The point is, it's very unlikely you'll even get a murder case, much less a death penalty one. If you do get a death penalty trial, it will be likely be really fucking complicated and long, the jury pool will be so huge that you'll likely never even get in the box, and you'll have a whole host of reasons to not be on the trial regardless of your views on the death penalty - most people won't get selected for such a trial just because they have jobs or someone they need to care for. Ethically, by sandbagging your position on the death penalty, beyond the whole issue of lying under oath, you're tying up the courts and preventing other less onerous trials from moving through, thus slowing down the already ponderous gears of justice. You prevent the victim's and the perpetrator's families from having any sort of closure, possibly forcing them to go through the whole ordeal of a trial again (although I can understand where you'd still find that preferable to killing someone). I suspect that if you're empaneled for a death penalty trial, once you start hearing the details of it before they start jury selection, you won't want anything to do with it. I knew I didn't when they started describing the crimes in the linked case, and I was glad that I had my opposition to the death penalty as my ace in the hole if they didn't grant me leave for any other reason.
posted by LionIndex at 9:12 PM on April 21 [1 favorite]


If you lie and there's ever an investigation, you could cause a mistrial. You could potentially be prosecuted for lying. However, the death penalty is really, really wrong, and implemented in a racist way, and discriminatory against people with disabilities. But I think you can have some impact by being honest about why you hold your beliefs.
posted by theora55 at 9:13 PM on April 21


This thread is bothering me.

As a practical matter, it may not make sense to lie in order to get yourself on this jury. I think there are very persuasive comments above explaining why this may be so. But as an ethical matter, the smug superiority of some of these comments is horrifying.

If you knew that you could, with a single small lie, help determine whether someone would face the death penalty or spend life in prison, that would absolutely be a pressing ethical dilemma. The "mitigating duress" is that the life of another human being hangs in the balance. There are many, many examples when lying to the authorities in the service of saving a life is unquestionably the right thing to do.

In my opinion - and I understand that others disagree -the death penalty, as implemented in this country, is evil. The way young men of color are shoveled through the justice system is the kind of ethical emergency that absolutely, without question, would excuse a lie of the kind you describe. It would not "poison everything around you" if you lied to save a life, any more than it poisoned everything around the abolitionists when they lied to police officers who came sniffing around, searching for stops on the Underground Railroad. I'm sorry to get hyperbolic, but there's a lot of misplaced moral righteousness in this thread, and it's a subject I feel fairly strongly about.

Again, for practical reasons, this may not be the best choice of action. But the fact that there are people coming in here and trying to shame you for considering the possibility of telling that lie makes me feel almost physically ill.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 9:17 PM on April 21 [30 favorites]


Also: the very first question they ask the jury pool in my jurisdiction is whether anyone is available for a long trial. Most trials take 3-5 days. Occasionally, they'll have trials that they think will go longer, and they ask you to check a box on your summons before turning it in to the folks that start churning out jury panels. No death penalty trial is going to go 3-5 days, so you'll be answering that question (assuming there's a similar one) without any idea of what trials are on the docket, and you'll have to commit to being able to serve on a very long trial before they even start sniffing you for a possible death penalty case.
posted by LionIndex at 9:21 PM on April 21 [1 favorite]


If you've got a throw-away email address (or just mefi me), I'd be happy to share the notes I made immediately after the trial I lied my way onto (wow, it was almost 5 years ago now).

It was a tremendously eye opening experience, and having someone's first person accounts of jury experience might be something you find helpful in making this decision.
posted by colin_l at 9:25 PM on April 21 [2 favorites]


I'm in the don't lie camp.

Colin_l, the last time I went through jury questioning (I wasn't picked) there was a man who had been a judge who was selected.
posted by brujita at 9:28 PM on April 21


I don't mean to start a debate about other comments but I don't think colin_I's comparison is accurate. He (sort of) lied because he believed he was able to be unbiased and wanted to be on a jury. The OP is considering lying because s/he knows s/he biased and hopes to influence the outcome, i.e., dissuade the rest of the jury from imposing a death sentence.
posted by Beti at 9:32 PM on April 21 [7 favorites]


One of the things I weigh when considering lying - even for the best of reasons - is whether I am willing to live with the consequences. I imagine that 'not being found out', which I, and I imagine all of us, secretly hope will be the case, is off of the table. I've found this useful, because it burns away a lot of the confusion and noise and distills what is important enough for me to do. Perhaps this will be useful for you as well - as there seem to be some very real consequences with being caught in that lie, for you and for others.

If the answer is no, I am not willing to live with the consequences, there is no shame in that. Just awareness, and a reminder that there are many ways to achieve my goals, but this particular path I am considering is not right for me - it's not mine. Someone else can move forward on it. And instead I go find my path, both those things I can be truthful about, and those things worth lying about.
posted by anitanita at 9:42 PM on April 21 [4 favorites]


I also think that if it came down to answering direct questioning on the matter from the judge (as opposed to filling out a questionnaire), I'd be doing more for the cause by stating in front of the whole courtroom that I could not apply the death penalty. In my experience with less weighty matters, the judge will question further to make sure a juror isn't just trying to get out of jury duty, so if it's the same in this case, you'd also have a chance to explain the reasons behind your views. At least you'd have the chance to change some minds and show that plenty of regular people are against the death penalty.
posted by LionIndex at 9:50 PM on April 21 [2 favorites]


[Answer deleted. This needs not to become a debate, thanks.]
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 11:53 PM on April 21


It sounds like you're a consequentialist when it comes to ethics, while you're getting a fair number of answers from deontologists who believe that it is always wrong to lie. (Of course there could be excellent consequentialist arguments against lying too, and some are made in this thread.) Apologies if this is a patronisingly basic point, but it's a useful distinction when sifting through people's arguments.
posted by oliverburkeman at 5:39 AM on April 22 [5 favorites]


Are you a liar?

That's the only question that matters here. I'm not a liar, so I don't lie. It's really very simple.

Our legal system depends on everyone being honest. Are they? No, but I'm not going to add to the problem.

So if you are asked, "do you approve of the death penalty" just answer truthfully, "no".

Look at it conversely. What if one of the other jurors lies about knowing the defendant, and that person has an agenda for a not-guilty plea? It's just as dishonest, even if that person is as convicted as you are about your position. You KNOW that it's wrong to lie in that way.

Not all murderers are automatcially up for the death penalty, BTW. Here's a snippet of the article from Wikipedia.

Degrees of murder in the United States

States have adopted several different schemes for classifying murders by degree. The most common separates murder into two degrees, and treats voluntary and involuntary manslaughter as separate crimes that do not constitute murder.

First-degree murder is any murder that is willful and premeditated. Felony murder is typically first-degree. The definition of 1st-degree murder is similar under Canadian law.

Second-degree murder is a murder that is not premeditated or planned in advance.

Voluntary manslaughter (often incorrectly referred to as third-degree murder), sometimes called a "Heat of Passion" murder, is any intentional killing that involved no prior intent to kill, and which was committed under such circumstances that would "cause a reasonable person to become emotionally or mentally disturbed." Both this and second-degree murder are committed on the spot, but the two differ in the magnitude of the circumstances surrounding the crime. For example, a bar fight that results in death would ordinarily constitute second-degree murder. If that same bar fight stemmed from a discovery of infidelity, however, it may be mitigated to voluntary manslaughter.

Involuntary manslaughter stems from a lack of intention to cause death but involving an intentional, or negligent, act leading to death. A drunk driving-related death is typically involuntary manslaughter (see also vehicular homicide and causing death by dangerous driving for international equivalents). Note that the "unintentional" element here refers to the lack of intent to bring about the death. All three crimes above feature an intent to kill, whereas involuntary manslaughter is "unintentional," because the killer did not intend for a death to result from their intentional actions. If there is a presence of intention it relates only to the intent to cause a violent act which brings about the death, but not an intention to bring about the death itself.


Some states classify their murders differently. In Pennsylvania, California, and Massachusetts, first-degree murder encompasses premeditated murders, second-degree murder encompasses accomplice liability, and third-degree serves as a catch-all for other murders. In New York, first-degree murder involves "special circumstances," such as the murder of a police officer or witness to a crime, multiple murders, or murders involving torture. Under this system, second-degree murder is any other premeditated murder.

The New York statutes also recognize "murder for hire" as first degree murder. Texas uses a similar scheme to New York, but refers to first-degree murder as "capital murder," a term which typically applies only to those crimes that merit the death penalty. Some states, such as Florida, do not separate the two kinds of manslaughter.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:48 AM on April 22 [1 favorite]


[Seriously guys, please address anon's question, not other MeFites. I appreciate if folks have strong feelings here but this really needs to be about answers as opposed to discussion. Sorry to be the stickler for protocol here.]
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 6:01 AM on April 22 [2 favorites]


You should watch this video by CGP Grey on jury nullification.
posted by Swiss Meringue Buttercream at 6:03 AM on April 22


I vote against lying.

But for a completely different reason.

Stating publically that you don't believe in the death penalty is an anti-death penalty activist act.

Stand up and be counted as someone who is against the death penalty.

The time it takes to empanel a jury for a potential death penalty case is it's own punishment and argument against the death penalty.

By stating your stance, you're making an impression on others, and creating a record of resistance.

I'm not saying your one act of honesty will overturn the death penalty. But it contributes to the public's perceptions of the issue.

Stand up and be counted!
posted by vitabellosi at 6:04 AM on April 22 [8 favorites]


There are all sorts of reasons you may be disqualified as a juror. You may not even make it into voir dire to talk to the judge if they fill the juror slots before your number. You may find you know a potential witness or something else affects your impartiality.

I've gone through voir dire twice. One was for a first degree murder trial in Boston. I couldn't tell you why I was disqualified. I answered questions honestly, but simply. Possibly I was too nervous or looked too inexperienced or appeared too young or who knows why. I couldn't tell you if I was challenged by the defendant's lawyer or the prosecutor or if it was judicial discretion.

The second time I went through voir dire was for a civil trial that had been five years in the making. It was a medical malpractice suit and given the profession of the defendants and a significant trauma history of my own with members of that particular professon, I could not remain impartial. I told the judge as much and he dismissed me within seconds without the lawyers saying a word.

You may find as you go into the jury pool that there are numerous other pieces to your own history and the impending trial that will disqualify you long before you would even have the chance to make your decision about lying. I don't know how many jurors are in a jury pool in your area, but there were over 200 jurors each time I went in --- over 200 people to fill 12 slots and 2 alternate juror slots. The odds of getting selected are so low to begin with.

All this said, I wouldn't lie. And I'm betting you'll find you won't have to, even if you do reach that point in the selection process.
posted by zizzle at 6:48 AM on April 22


there is a friend of the famliy who was exonnerated from death row with DNA evidence.

i asked him and his wife what they would want to do here, i sent them the link to this question last night and they thought about it and just got back to me. they said it is a very tough question and certainly understand why you would want to do it.

"We are in agreement...You should not lie about your stance on the death penalty. It could jeopardize the verdict and potentially subject the victim's family to the ordeal of another trial."

I realize others have said this upthread, but i figured coming from someone who has been on the other side of the jury box, it was worth sharing.
posted by McSockerson The Great at 7:33 AM on April 22 [11 favorites]


There is no person immune to bias. (It can be minimized by certain kinds of training - an argument for professional juries - but isn't, and instructions do not approach the kinds of training shown to be effective.) Lawyers know this and pay consultants whackloads of money to exploit that fact when selecting their juries. People who can claim without flinching that they're not biased are most prone to it.

If anyone who thought the law should be changed wasn't allowed to serve on a jury, then democracy wouldn't work too well. All our most thoughtful citizens would be barred from jury service due to their strong political opinions that motivate them to participate in civic life, which they are then barred from an important part of? It wouldn't make sense.

It doesn't seem to make sense. Do read on death-qualified juries; here's the APA's position, for a start.

The legal system is based on selective truth. Sometimes the truth can't be known. Procedures and conventions constrain the kinds of truth permitted, and it is negotiated by particular individuals with their own vulnerabilities to bias. Lawyers specialize in shaping the truths they know in favour of their argument. If you were to be selective about revealing your views, you would be no better or worse than the system and its representatives, and you'd be at least the same as most other jurors.

As suggested above: can you investigate your convictions and arrive at a truth you can live with while serving? Can you imagine an instance in which you'd approve the death penalty? (I'll try: you yourself witnessed the brutal and perverse murder of your child, over a series of days, by a now-remorseless person who's not mentally ill, and who confessed to it and many other such murders for which there was robust physical and other evidence; the person had been previously acquitted of those other murders on a series of technicalities; they say they will kill again and have specific targets in mind. You believe other witnesses are honest and correct in their testimony, and the lawyers and judge and laws to be fair; the jury shows itself to be educated and thoughtful; the methods establishing other physical evidence have been validated multiple times by a number of scientists renowned for their diligence, who processed it in this instance.)

(If you've already been public in any way about your views as you've articulated them above, though, that could be picked up and used later, so go ahead and assert them, loudly.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 9:02 AM on April 22 [2 favorites]


Let's be clear here. There's no evidence that lying to get off the jury will do anything to help a hypothetical criminal defendant avoid the the death penalty. In fact, there is zero evidence you live in a state where the jury decides the death penalty or not. Given the situation that the judge could decide the penalty, that puts you in a real dilemma. You may be in a situation where you believe the defendant guilty, but a judge may decide the final sentence (even if you decide the aggravating factors which could lead to a death sentence). This would leave you with a situation where you would have to acquit a guilty person to avoid the death penalty. That person could go on to commit more murders.

Second, any defendant you may sit in judgment of is entitled to have someone of your concerns and caliber looking at his case in a way that a pro-death penalty person might not.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:28 AM on April 22


There was an episode of Boston Legal that had a plotline on this exact question.

Jerry Espenson: It’s not just the death penalty. It’s the issue that only pro-death people should get to sit on death cases! It’s stacking the deck, Alan! It’s wrong! That’s why I lied! To unstack a stacked deck!
posted by vegartanipla at 9:59 AM on April 22 [1 favorite]


If you lie and are seated on that jury are you also willing to declare someone not guilty just to avoid a death sentence? Because I believe that's called Jury Nullification.

It is Jury Nullification. Many people believe in it. I think it's completely moral to do so, should you choose to do so, but you should be aware that judges look very negatively on it.
posted by corb at 11:35 AM on April 22


Interesting responses.
I'm anti-DP, and I've helped organize many protests, marches, vigils, teach-ins, debates, etc. from Rubin Carter to Troy Davis.
I don't begrudge anyone the choice to lie to a 'justice' system riddled with lying cops, prosecutors, and judges. If that's how you think you can change society, be guided by your own lights.
But I don't. I wouldn't lie, or advise others to, because I think truth is more effective than deceit. I'm with vitabellosi: Stand and be counted.
posted by LonnieK at 11:38 AM on April 22


I was struck from serving on a Death Penalty jury because I had once attended a Quaker school. I'm not a Quaker. They didn't care. It's that capricious - they can strike potential jurors "for cause" or for no reason they even have to disclose.

You can expect intensive questioning if you are considered for a Death Penalty jury, and your feelings will undoubtedly come out, at least enough to spook the defense attorneys. If the attorney is at all skilled, you will not be able to selectively answer questions in a way you could possibly construe as "not lying". They are looking hard specifically for people who are in any way conflicted about the death penalty.
posted by citygirl at 12:19 PM on April 22


Trials are where laws meet the mores that inspire them. I am anti-DP, in part because laws are sometimes badly written, and sometimes innocent people get executed for crimes they didn't commit. I have similar concerns about the prison system in general, not just the death penalty.

It seems to me that lying under oath contributes to the rot in the system, not to it's improvement. The situation (you describe) doesn't rise to the level of, say, lying to save an innocent person's life, stealing bread to feed your kids, or killing an assailant to save someone's life.

Tell the truth. Prison reform is a whole other thing, which you can affect by doing grass roots work or maybe some form of activism. Lying under oath is not legal. If you are going to knowingly break a law (in order to uphold a principle), then the corollary is that your fans send care packages to your cell--this is the "sunlight kills germs" theory.

Integrity is sometimes expensive.
posted by mule98J at 1:39 PM on April 22


If they ask me if I believe in the death penalty I will be tempted to lie so that they do not disqualify me.

The easiest way to get around this is to not make it a lie at all. Change your beliefs shortly before the trial, so that you are in favor of the death penalty. Once the jury is selected (whether or not you're on it), you can change them back. "I had a change of heart," you can say. It's all in your head, and not very difficult. In this way, you can sneak into lots of places that would otherwise be closed to you.
posted by Greg Nog at 3:22 PM on April 22 [1 favorite]


ARG I cannot believe this thread is this long without someone mentioning the fact that juries in death penalty cases HAVE to be death eligible.

That means, practically speaking, that you cannot be on a jury in a death penalty case (EVEN IN THE GUILT PHASE, regardless of whether you are involved in sentencing) unless you believe that the death penalty is just in at least some cases. So, the choice not to lie is effectively a choice not to be part of the jury-of-your-peers in a murder trial in a death penalty state. I would urge you to consider that just as the urge to lie has potential consequences (mistrial, maybe perjury, ethics), the urge to not lie has potential consequences (man has trial to decide whether he lives before jury that is drawn only from a pool of the 63% of americans who support the death penalty).

If you believe (as I do) that the fact the juries must be death-eligible is more of an ethical evil than a lie made in order to exercise your constitutional rights* to sit on a jury in judgment of your peers, then I say go for it.

*or at least would be constitutional rights if the lefties on the SC had prevailed over the conservative right
posted by likeatoaster at 3:38 PM on April 22 [2 favorites]


Once the jury is selected (whether or not you're on it), you can change them back. "I had a change of heart," you can say

I would not advise this actually, because if you let on that you are against the death penalty to any jury members (or counsel or the court or talk about it in a restroom or other public place) before the trial is over (and maybe even afterwards), that would be grounds for a mistrial.

If you do lie, you have to keep the lie until the trial is over. And that means that assuming you did get selected, you would have to find other reasons besides your opposition to the death penalty -- reasons specifically based in the defendant's guilt -- for voting not-guilty. You definitely should not go into this situation without being fully informed that a lie is going to take a certain amount of commitment. That is, enough commitment to being anti-death penalty to vote not-guilty on a jury -- and defend it, when asked -- regardless of your actual opinions on the defendant's guilt. I would urge you strongly to consider whether you are committed enough to do what lying out entail.

(And I do see that cotton dress sock has mentioned death-eligibility already. Mea culpa.)
posted by likeatoaster at 4:13 PM on April 22 [2 favorites]


Followup from the anonymous OP:
Thank you all for your thoughtful comments. I got lucky, was put in a pool for a misdemeanor trial jury and the person decided at the very last minute to plead guilty. Others in the same jury call-up ended up on a murder jury and voted to convict but voted also for life in prison rather than the death penalty.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:47 AM on May 1 [2 favorites]


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