Monday, April 21, 2008

Four deer? No, voir dire

Blogger had jury duty today. Blogger is very tired from the experience, which involved sitting through HOURS of voir dire. The judge used this phrase herself once, addressing the attorneys; she pronounced it "vwor DAR" but my law dictionary insists it's "vwor DEER." Well, that's Latin for you. The correct pronunciation of the "i" in that old language is like our long "e", but as the Latin word for pine is "Pinus" I've heard horticulturists and botanists say it with the "i" pronounced like the English long "i", for reasons that will become apparent to you if you say it in the accurate manner.

Anyway, "voir dire" is the questioning of potential jurors. As I said, I'm rather fatigued at the moment, but I thought I'd post a quick note about a couple of short but enlightening things you might wish to read about the origins of trial by jury next time you get a summons in the mail.

One is Leonard W. Levy's The Palladium of Justice: Origins of Trial by Jury (1999). Levy can write long and deep about things; his volume on the origins of the right against self-incrimination (declared in our Fifth Amendment) is 561 pages long. Fortunately, The Palladium of Justice is a much quicker read, only 105 pages not counting the index and notes. It's got a lot of fun information like this:

"The Normans brought to England... trial by battle, paradigm of the adversary system, which gave to the legal concept of 'defense' or 'defendant' a physical meaning. Trial by battle was a savage yet sacred method of proof which was also thought to involve divine intercession on behalf of the righteous. Rather than let a wrongdoer triumph, God would presumably strengthen the arms of the party who had sworn truly to the justice of his cause. Right, not might, would therefore conquer" (pp. 5-6).

Well that's one way they could have settled Bush v. Gore...

My second recommendation on trial by jury is "The English Common Law," a chapter by Winston Churchill in Volume 1 of A History of the English Speaking Peoples. Unfortunately, this chapter is not in the abridged version of Churchill's masterpiece edited by Henry Steele Commager, but it is reprinted in The Great Republic: A History of America (1999) a wonderful collection of Churchill['s writings edited by his grandson Winston S. Churchill.

Happy jury service folks. Remember to impress your friends by telling them you performed magnificently at the voir dire.

CORRECTION: A family member gently pointed out that "voir dire" is NOT Latin, it's French. Well, that's what happens when you assume any legal term that isn't English must be Latin, since most of them are. At least I was correct about the pronounciation:

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