My sweet embraceable you.1
So The Legal Genealogist is off this morning — at the obscenely early hour of oh-dark-thirty — to perform her civic duty.
In my case, that’s going to consist of sitting around for hours in a cold, drafty room on hard, uncushioned chairs, for the privilege of being excused from every jury on which she might possibly be called to sit.
The chances that I’d actually be chosen as a juror in any case that might be tried in the county where I live — civil or criminal — are laughably remote. I have a law degree. I used to work first as a prosecutor and then as a defense attorney. I now work full time for the company that publishes the books relied on daily by lawyers and judges throughout New Jersey. I teach part-time at the state’s premier (and state-funded) law school.
And that doesn’t even consider the fact that I tend to be … um … a smart aleck.
Yeah, I’m just exactly the person that every lawyer wants on his or her jury. R-i-g-h-t… 2
But it did get me to thinking… what kinds of laws were there back in the old days about jurors and jury service? And that sent me to one of my favorite sources — Henings’ Virginia statutes — where I came across a gem from 1789.
Here’s the relevant text of the statute:
SECT. 1. BE it enacted by the General Assembly, That all and every person and persons who shall unlawfully and corruptly procure any witness or witnesses … to commit any wilful and corrupt perjury in any matter or cause whatsoever … in any of the courts of this Commonwealth… shall for his, her or their said offence, being thereof lawfully convicted, be adjudged to pay a fine not exceeding two hundred pounds, and to suffer imprisonment for the space of one year without bail or mainprize.
SECT. 2. And be it further enacted, That if any person or persons, either by the subornation, unlawful procurement, sinister persuasion, or means of any other, or by their own act, consent or agreement, wilfully and corruptly commit any manner of wilful perjury … shall for his or their said offence, be adjudged to pay a fine not exceeding one hundred pounds, and to suffer imprisonment by the space of six months without bail or mainprize, and the oath of such person or persons so offending … shall not be received in any court within this Commonwealth…
SECT. 3. If any juror upon any inquest whatsoever, shall take any thing by himself, or another to give his verdict, and shall be thereof convicted, such juror shall not thereafter be put on any jury, and shall pay ten times as much, as he shall have taken; whereof one half shall go to him, who will sue for the same, and the other half to the Commonwealth.
SECT. 4. Every embracer who shall procure any juror to take gain or profit, shall be punished by fine not exceeding two hundred pounds, and imprisonment not exceeding one year.3
So in section 1, you couldn’t get somebody to lie for you in a legal proceeding. In section 2, you couldn’t be the liar. In section 3, you couldn’t be a juror and take anything in return for your verdict. And in section 4, you couldn’t be an embracer.
Excuse me? A what? Somebody’s making it illegal to hug a juror?
You just have to love the language of the law.
First off, both Black and Bouvier spell the word “embraceor,” not “embracer.”4 Both of them spell the crime as “embracery” and they define it similarly.
Bouvier defines it as “(a)n attempt to corrupt or influence a jury, or any way incline them to be more favorable to the one side than to the other, by money, promises, threats, or persuasions; whether the juror on whom such attempt is made give any verdict or not, or whether the Verdict be true or false.”5 Black says: “This offense consists in the attempt to influence a jury corruptly to one side or the other, by promises, persuasions, entreaties, entertainments, douceurs, and the like.”6
Which, of course, then raises the question of what the heck “douceurs” is or are or were. Turns out neither of the law dictionaries has that term, but the plain ol’ ordinary dictionaries do. Merriam-Webster says a “douceur” is “a conciliatory gift.”7 The Free Dictionary puts it a little more bluntly: “Money given as a tip, gratuity, or bribe.”8
Sigh… no embraces, no entertainments, no bribes.
Probably no hugs, either.
Jury duty just isn’t going to be any fun at all.
Image: Wikimedia Commons, user Swampyank
- Embraceable You, lyrics by Ira Gershwin; music by George Gershwin. ↩
- The last time I was called for jury duty, I won a bet with another juror as to who would be excused first and by which side. I called three of the first four excuses correctly, and my own — by the prosecutor in the case — was number one. ↩
- “An act against such as shall procure or commit wilful Perjury, and against Embracery,” 1 Dec 1789, in William Waller Hening, The Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia, from the first session of the Legislature in the year 1619, vol. XIII (Philadelphia : 1823), 34-35. ↩
- Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 415, “embraceor.” Also, John Bouvier, A Law Dictionary Adapted to the Constitution and Laws of the United States of America and of the Several States of the American Union, rev. 6th ed. (1856); HTML reprint, The Constitution Society (http://www.constitution.org/bouv/bouvier.htm : accessed 6 Jan 2013), “embraceor.” ↩
- Bouvier, A Law Dictionary, “embracery.” ↩
- Black, A Dictionary of Law, 415, “embracery.” ↩
- Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary (http://www.m-w.com : accessed 6 Jan 2013), “douceur.” ↩
- The Free Dictionary (http://www.thefreedictionary.com/ : accessed 6 Jan 2013), “douceur.” ↩
Well, I can’t be there to give you a hug personally but I am sending one with this message! Not quite the same, huh? The last two times I’ve served on a jury, it has been, to coin a phrase, um…er…ah, a “trial” in more ways than one. In one I wondered how on this earth it ever got to trial stage; at one point the entire jury laughed out loud (talk about lack of decorum). At the other I wondered under which rocks they had found some of the jurors. There were about three people who were probably certifiable nut cases but it was enough to make the deliberations drag on WAY beyond what was necessary. Jury duty is absolutely not my favorite way to do my civic duty.
Sigh… I wish I could say it was higher on my list… but after today it surely isn’t. I’m still in the “pool” for a case I will never sit on (I’m clearly disqualified but haven’t had a chance to give my answers to the questions yet)… and the judge didn’t finish jury selection today so I have to go back tomorrow.
When I lived in Illinois, I figured I had about the same chance for actually being selected for jury duty (at least at the county level) since I was good friends with the States Attorney for my county, who later became the presiding judge. Unlike most, though, I actually look forward to eventually serving on a jury, although I expect the deliberation process will be extremely frustrating for reasons such as Mary Ann described.
I didn’t see many episodes of the old TV program “All in the Family,” as I was a little too young to be interested in it when it was on, but there was a book called “The Wit and Wisdom of Archie Bunker” that had a lot of quotations from the show. Apparently there was an episode where Edith was on jury duty. That must have been hilarious!
I could have used a little Edith Bunker wit today, for sure!
One translation of “douceur” which both preserves the original French meaning and conveys the figurative context would be “sweetener.”
Oooh… I like that, Dick! And it sure does handle both meanings! And I could have used some sweetener today, preferably in the form of chocolate.
I feel your pain, Judy. As a paralegal working for a Plaintiff’s attorney, I can rest assured that I will be politely excused from any jury. I have already set aside a well-read copy of “Runaway Jury” to take with me in case I am ever called.
When preparing for trial, our office performs “mock juries” using random individuals chosen by a local research company. Sometimes I think that I would be an asset during jury deliberations, if only to help people understand the way the judicial system works. For example, in a civil case around here you cannot take into consideration the fact that either party might have insurance. The topic can’t even be mentioned during trial. But they still discuss it. They always do. It’s frustrating because it’s not supposed to be a deciding factor, but it is. And it results in some lousy verdicts.
Perhaps they just need a hug? 🙂
We could all use a hug!!! And yes, juries often base verdicts on things they’re not supposed to even consider. It’s one of the incurable problems of the system: we tell them they’re supposed to sit in a darkened room with their eyes closed and NOT think of white elephants.
I have been called for jury duty twice but never served. The first case was settled with a plea deal before the proceedings even started and the second time I was one of only five people left when the jury was finally picked. It was interesting to watch the process and I guessed correctly a couple of times about which people would be excused but was surprised by others. I would not mind being called again.
I would have been excused from this case if I’d made it into the actual voir dire process (a term I may write about for tomorrow if I can get up enough energy to write anything for tomorrow…). But I have to go back tomorrow for the rest of the jury selection and hope at least to be out by noon or so. I wouldn’t mind being called if I had any chance of ever serving. But I don’t, realistically. My background is such that somebody on one side or the other of every case is not going to want me on the jury. So it’s a frustrating process in sitting around.
Well Judy, i was expecting the blog to have a jpg of the Gerswin song serenading my read of your feed today. Your blog is something i embrace everyday. And the jury out here in the real world has for the most part rendered that your part in this genealogical jungle of blogs (paid and unpaid) is a sweet deal. That is because there are no lies, just the facts ma’am and always a clear and concise work. Cheers.
Awww… that’s so nice of you to say!
I used to audit a non-profit organization that was a dispute resolution service. During the time they were a client, I was called in for jury duty on a landlord/tenant dispute. My name was called to sit on the jury and after all 12 of us were seated the judge and attorneys began to ask us questions to determine if we would be good jurors. One of them asked me what I thought of the case. Silly me…I told them that I didn’t see why we were there for a trial when it could be resolved with mediation. I was asked to leave the jury. I know the attorney sitting next to me was next on their list.
I’m sitting here laughing out loud, Ginger. I can just picture that! Here, the judge handed out a questionnaire with 30 questions. When folks are called into the box, they’re asked to explain any YES answers. Most people have two, maybe three, yes answers (do they know any police officers and have they or has anyone they know ever been the victim of any crime). My “yes” list is about half the questions… Do I know anybody involved in the judicial system? Um… you mean like the judge down the hall and…?
I’ve been on jury duty twice. The first time I was actually part of 2 (or was it 3?) juries. It was a long time ago. It was interesting, though. The judge had told us in his introduction to the process that everybody lies on the stand. Well, not everybody did but most and mostly about dumb stuff. The thing that interested me was the other jurors. They were ordinary middle and lower middle class folks, some not educated any more than one would expect of TN hillbillies. Still, everybody on the jury knew exactly which witnesses had lied and about what. In one case, receiving stolen property, we/they figured out the prosecution had not actually proved that particular transmission was stolen or that the guy who bought it had any idea it was stolen. We decided the accused was stupid but probably not guilty. His version was possible and the prosecution did absolutely nothing to punch holes in it, so we let him off. In another case, one solidly hillbilly juror suggested the whole joy riding and accident thing had happened very differently from what the prosecutors said and his explanation made a whole lot more sense than the prosecution. With this explanation, we figured the “passenger” in the car had actually been the driver and should have been the one charged. We also figured he was probably drunk and the two guys had switched positions since the other guy wasn’t drunk. We also figured the guys had probably had what they interpreted as permission to use the car. That part was complicated so I won’t go into it, but all of us felt the car had not actually been stolen. Anyway, this guy got off, too. What surprised me the most was how most of the lawyers on both sides seemed not to have bothered to prepare good cases. Anyway, it was interesting. (I guess I’ve rambled on quite enough!) Oh, one other point: all of the men in the jury pool who wore suits were dismissed! Women’s clothing didn’t seem to matter.
Juries are wonderful and amazing things, Jo. As a lawyer trying cases, I saw juries become so much more than just the sum of their parts. They were able to see things and make connections and assess blame (and give credit) better than anyone might expect. I’d love to see the process more closely… but it ain’t gonna happen. Nobody wants a smart-aleck with a law degree on their jury (and no defendant ever wants a former prosecutor on a criminal jury).
>And that doesn’t even consider the fact that I tend to be … um … a smart aleck.
Yeah, I mean, who’da thunk it about sweet lil ol’ me?
Hugs Judy. The jury selection process can be so … tedious.
I was on a jury for the first time just last year. It was a very interesting experience, and fortunately it only lasted 10 days. The voir dire process and jury deliberations were most interesting. Like others commenting here the jury members agreed who was lying, but we had a split jury on the verdict 8-4 for 2 or 3 days. In the end we all voted to acquit because the prosecution had not proven it’s case. After the jury was dismissed we were asked to meet with both councils to discuss why we voted they way we did.
Needless to say … the prosecutor was not happy, while the defense attorney was.
I would absolutely love to see a deliberative process from the inside, Keith, but it’s not going to happen.
First, I love the way you distilled each of the four Sections of the statue into crisp, plain English. Maybe you’d like to partner with Elizabeth Warren in the Senate! Second, it makes a kind of good, displaced associative sense that if you wanted to “embrace” or influence a juror, you would whisper sweet nothings (“douceurs) in her ear. So to speak. And finally, I wonder how long you had to sit there doing your civic duty before they excused you, counting all the built-in waiting times and speeches. I’m guessing an hour and a half. I’ve never been put on jury, either, and if I were, I’d probably turn out to be a Henry-Fonda-type contrarian, as in Twelve Angry Men.
Your post was a lot of fun to read!
Thanks, Mariann, and all I can say is… oh BOY do I wish it had only been an hour and a half. I arrived at the courthouse at 8 a.m. Monday and was excused for the day at 4:15. I arrived back today at 8:45 and wasn’t excused until much much later.