A Bad Taint

Pierce county jury

How to taint a jury

The Pierce County legal community just found out that part of the initial jury orientation involved a discussion about safety and what to watch out for while at the courthouse…by two cops. The faces of justice, and concern, and niceness, and taint. As in a tainted jury pool.

Pierce County uses one or two uniformed Sheriff’s Deputies to deliver the safety message to the jury pool. Apparently, the deputy or deputies inform the jury pool what to keep a look out for and potential safety concerns. In Pierce County, you need someone in uniform to tell people not to leave valuable unattended. The potential problem here is not the message, or the content, but the mouthpiece. In this case, Deputy Helpful-Friendly delivers a useful, aw shucks we’re just looking out for your best interest public service speech. Good feelings and warm sentiments abound as the deputy shows that the police care and are looking out for everyone’s best interest.

The message seems entirely innocuous and this author’s tone unreasonable, but wait, there’s more! Who is the first witness that the now empaneled jury hears from? That’s right, it’s Deputy Helpful-Friendly’s brother/sister in blue, Deputy Probable-Cause. How quickly could the juror’s mind return to that helpful safety orientation he/she received from that nice, trustworthy-looking deputy earlier this morning? Such a nice man, so helpful and caring; wasn’t he nice. Oh, and now here is his/her partner, on the stand, testifying for the prosecution. Certainly this deputy is as nice, caring, and helpful as the deputy who was concerned with our safety this morning.

Again, the message is not objectionable; safety is and what to watch for concerning staying safe is important. However, why does this message need to be delivered by law enforcement? Is not there the possibility that by having this information delivered by an officer that the jury pool will view the officer who will testify for the state in few hours as equally helpful and kind? Could we not avoid this potential bias or tainting by simply having jury administration or anyone other than an officer deliver this message? Better yet, why not have an incarcerated individual, in an orange jumpsuit, complete with leg irons and handcuffs, deliver this message to the jury.

~ Ross Brittain, Associate Attorney