Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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August 21, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

A WEE FABLE....Several years ago I was called for jury duty and ended up sitting on a drunk driving case. It was pretty open and shut: the guy admitted on cross examination that he had had five or six drinks before driving home; a patrol car had pulled him over for erratic driving; and he failed a breath test.

The defense mostly consisted of a professional expert witness who claimed, with a lot of pseudoscientific handwaving, that breath tests weren't reliable. In addition, the defendent took the stand on his own behalf and argued that all his drinks had been early in the evening and he was perfectly sober by the time he drove home.

Off to the jury room we went, where, to my surprise, my fellow jurors were far from convinced that the defendent was guilty. We talked for several hours until I finally figured out what was going on: several of the jurors simply accepted all of the testimony as equally credible. They knew the expert witness made his living solely by testifying for the defense in cases like this, and they also knew that the defendent had every incentive to make himself look as guiltless as possible. But despite that, they basically took their testimony at face value.

We eventually convicted the guy, once the lightbulbs went off and everyone conceded that some testimony is relatively disinterested and some isn't. In fact, with the right motivation, some people are even willing to lie on the stand, and the jury's job isn't just to compare what each witness says, it's also to figure out who's lying and who's not.

The moral of this story is left as an exercise for the media reader.

Kevin Drum 6:51 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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