Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Voir Dire, Conspicuous Observation, and Me

not the computer program I was using

Court was a bit interesting today. Nothing that happened on the official record was all that out of the ordinary. We were just in  voir dire [the questioning of hurors in the jury selection process], though it is a somewhat higher-stakes trial than the others in which I've aided, so it's taking a bit longer. Moreover,  there are more peremptory challenges on each side (20), though we haven't yet reached peremptory challenges yet.

What was interesting today was that the actual district attorney, as in the lead prosecutor in the county -- the person who was voted in during a 2010 county-wide election -- came into the courtroom and was actively observing me. As it turned out, it was not actually I in whom or in which she was interested, but, rather, in the computer program I used to track jurors in the voir dire process. She sat in the row directly behind me and observed everything I did on the computer.

During lunch break,  the district attorney met with my pseudoaunt and wanted to know what program I was using. The program in use is one designed by pseudoaunt's brother. He was a computer engineering major in his undergraduate studies. He's now in his fourth and final year of medical school, but before that, he was, and continues to be, a computer whiz. He and my pseudouncle, relying on psuedoaunt's third-year law school knowledge of the voir dire process (fortunately she's a quick study and had a far greater than average mastery of the subject matter than did the typical third-year law student at the time) came up with the algorithms to develop what is apparently a notably sophisticated program to track jurors and cross-code them based on responses given in various points of the voir dire process. In the  case of this particular trial, much of the information came from questionnaires the jurors completed prior to  being called to the jury box, with additional information added as jurors' numbers were called and they took their seats. Jurors are flagged by their responses, which indicate to the assistant district attorneys as to what areas in which follow up questions need to be asked. The program flags with about 95 per cent accuracy the jurors whom the ADAs should request dismissal for cause. It errs on the side of over-identification, although one cannot safely assume it will catch every potential case of dismissal for cause. The program does, furthermore, flag those potentially unqualified jurors whose biases would sway them in favor of the prosecution; ADAs aren't ordinarily going to be the ones to call those to the attention to a judge unless not doing so (if the defense attorneys fail to do so) would cause them to appear unscrupulous before judge by failure to do so. (An ADA might also want to point out egregious cases of bias that a defense attorney fails to call to the attention of the judge because allowing the juror to remain might potentially give a defendant cause for successful appeal on the grounds of incompetent defense. No one really wants to go to all the trouble required to win a case only to have it overturned on a technicality.)

The DA met with my pseudoaunt to ask about the computer program. The DA wants the program to be available to all attorneys in the DA's office. Pseudoaunt said that she owns only a license to use the program and cannot share it. She literally cannot share it, as it will not download onto other computers from her computer, and she doesn't hold a downloadable a copy of it. It  can be hazardous to the performance of a computer to attempt to unlawfully download it from one computer to another. For that matter, a district attorney should not be a party to an unauthorized attempt to download any copyrighted software. The software is copyrighted but the patent is still pending. The program will not be sold in any form until the patent has been granted. A patent offers greater protection for computer software or hardware than does a copyright.

Pseudoaunt's younger brother says that he cannot market the program until next  summer at the very earliest, assuming the patent is granted by then, by which time he can assemble a staff [possibly a staff of one] to help customers troubleshoot installation and operation issues. (If it were a more concrete product for which he sought a patent, the pending status of the patent might be sufficient to protect his rights of ownership, but with computer software, a pending patent probably isn't sufficient protection even with the prior copyright.) He'll begin his medical residency in July of 2014, and can't exactly pause in the middle of grand rounds to take questions from ADAs anywhere in the nation who might be experiencing technical difficulties. He [pseudouncle's brother] is working quickly to have a system in place as soon as is feasible after the patent is granted, as it would be sad to be scooped by another developer of a similar program, but he says he would rather be scooped than sell a product without offering the necessary supports.

In any event, it was disconcerting to me to be singled out for scrutiny to the degree that I was today by the district attorney. I initially didn't know what was the reason for her attention, but the lead attorney on the case notice my discomfort and quickly clued me in. It still made me nervous, but I at least knew that I was not suspected of wrongdoing or incompetence.

The more complicated and involved voir dire situation in which I'm participating is giving me considerable insight into the jury selection process. I feel much more qualified to get out of being selected for a jury if that is my goal when I am eventually called to report for jury duty. For that matter, it also gives me greater know-how as to how to frame my [truthful] answers to questions in order to appear favorable to either side in jury selections, if being selected for a jury panel is my aim. I'm approximately as civic-minded as is the next person,  but my desire to serve has its limits. It would be moderately interesting to be on most juries, but there are types of trials for which I'd just as soon not serve on a jury. Because I was the victim of a sexual assault, I can quite legitimately  avoid ever serving on a jury for any case related to sexual assault.  A long and drawn-out civil suit has the potential of being mind-numbingly agonizing. I think I have a decent handle as to how to make myself unappealing to either side or both sides in such a case.

I'll most likely be back here  before Jesus' offical b'day, but in the event that I'm not, Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, or whatever greeting most suits you.

1 comment:

  1. Wow… interesting program your pseudo aunt's brother came up with! Sounds very exciting!

    I think it's great that there are so many accomplished people around you. You are obviously getting a lot of valuable experience.