Superheroes and Jury Duty

Today’s post was inspired by an email from Marcus, who asks “what would happen if a superhero was summoned for jury service in his/her secret identity, and the case turned out to be one where the character had been involved as a crimefighter and might even be expected to appear as a witness?”

As Marcus points out, this is more of a problem for some superheroes than others.  For example, Peter Parker often photographs Spider-Man in action, so he couldn’t serve as a juror in such a case, since he would be a potential witness.  But what about a case he didn’t cover as a photographer?  And what about other superheroes like Batman who generally maintain significant distance from their secret identities?  To set the scene here, let’s talk a little about jury trials and the jury selection process.

I. Jury Trials

Unlike most of the world, the United States is big on jury trials for both criminal and civil cases.  The Sixth Amendment gives criminal defendants the right to a trial by jury, though not all criminal charges qualify.  “Petty offenses” (i.e. misdemeanors with a maximum penalty of six months imprisonment) don’t qualify for a jury, at least under the federal Constitution.  Duncan v. Louisiana, 391 U.S. 145 (1968).  So superheroes who bust only very small time crooks wouldn’t have so much to worry about, but most superheroes go after serious criminals.

A defendant could also waive his or her right to a jury trial, but most criminal defendants don’t do that.  That is, they often waive their right to a trial entirely by a plea bargain, but if they do go to trial they usually go with a jury rather than a bench trial conducted by the judge alone.

The Seventh Amendment gives the right to a jury trial in civil cases, but that right is more limited than the Sixth Amendment right.

II. The Jury Selection Process

So, now that a jury has been called for, how do they get picked?  The answer is: it’s complicated and varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but most states are modeled after the federal system.  Under the Federal Jury Selection and Service Act of 1968, each district court must develop a jury selection plan, which must

(1) either establish a jury commission (consisting of one citizen and the clerk of the court) or authorize the clerk to manage the jury selection process;

(2) specify whether the names of prospective jurors are to be selected from voter registration lists or the lists of actual voters of the political subdivisions within the district or division, and prescribe other sources when necessary to achieve the objectives stated above; 

(3) specify procedures for selecting names from those sources designed to ensure that each political subdivision is substantially proportionally represented in the master jury wheel;

(4) provide for a master jury wheel into which the names of at least one-half of one per cent of the names on the source lists are placed;

(5) specify those groups of persons or occupational classes whose members shall on individual request be excused from jury service because such service would entail undue hardship or extreme inconvenience;

(6) specify that active members of the armed forces, members of fire or police departments, and members of the executive, legislative or judicial branches of government who are actively engaged in the performance of official duties are barred from jury service on the ground that they are exempt;

(7) fix the distance beyond which jurors shall on individual request be excused from jury service on the ground of undue hardship in traveling to where court is held;

(8) fix the time when the names drawn from the jury wheel shall be disclosed to the parties and to the public; and

(9) specify the procedure for assigning persons whose names have been drawn from the jury wheel to jury panels.

Wayne R. LaFave et al., 6 Crim. Proc. § 22.2(a) (3d ed.).

Already we can see a couple of potential ways out for our superheroes.  First, they can decide not to register to vote, although that’s not very heroic, and it may not help if the district supplements the jury rolls with driver’s license records, utility company lists, and other sources.

Alternatively, superheroes could live and register to vote in a different district than the one they fight crime in.  For example, supposing Gotham is actually New York City, then if Wayne Manor were located on eastern Long Island then it would be in the Eastern District of New York rather than the Southern District, which is where the city is (here’s a map).  Thus, Bruce Wayne wouldn’t get called for jury duty in the Southern District, and presumably there are a lot fewer supervillains on the eastern half of Long Island than in the city, so the odds of him getting called up for a supervillain case in the Eastern District are slim. Alternatively, if Gotham is in New Jersey, then Wayne Manor could be in New York, or vice versa.  A similar approach can work for state courts.

Of course, this depends on cooperative geography and having enough money and resources to “commute to work,” so to speak.  Another possibility is to have an exempt occupation.  The federal courts exempt active duty armed forces, professional fire and police departments, and full-time public officers of federal, state, and local governments.  State jury exemptions vary, but most are similar to the federal ones.  Historically there were exemptions for attorneys, doctors, and other occupations, but those have mostly been done away with, which eliminates most of the easy outs for superheroes.  Most superheroes can’t juggle being a superhero with being an active member of the armed forces, a full-time cop or firefighter, or a full-time public officer, so this route probably won’t work.

As a last resort, a superhero (or in this case more likely a super-antihero) could intentionally incur a felony conviction.  Most states and the federal government permanently exclude convicted felons from serving on juries.  Obviously this is a drastic step, and very few superheroes would do such a thing just to avoid the possibility of jury duty, but some superheroes may have secret identities that have run afoul of the law already for other reasons, and they may not have to worry about jury duty, depending on where they live.  For the record, we do not recommend this approach, even to fictional characters.

But assuming our superhero hasn’t avoided being selected in the first place, what do they do once they’re called up?

III. Summoned for Jury Duty.  Now What?

At this point, we’re afraid there isn’t much to be done.  The superhero could try to plead hardship or inconvenience (e.g. by claiming that they are needed at work or by feigning illness), but that often results in a delay rather than an exception.  They could refuse to show up, but that’s a good way to get fined or worse, which hardly seems very heroic.

They do have one last way out, and that’s the voir dire process.  Voir dire is the process by which the parties (e.g. the prosecution and the defense) ask prospective jurors questions and, optionally, eliminate them.  Each side gets a certain number of “peremptory” challenges, which are prospective jurors they can dismiss for whatever reason they like.  After that they can challenge an unlimited number of prospective jurors “for cause,” but each challenge for cause requires the assent of the judge.  Exactly what constitutes adequate grounds is beyond the scope of this post, but it’s usually cases of serious bias (e.g. a belief that the defendant is guilty until proven innocent) or a refusal to follow the law (e.g. would refuse to find the defendant guilty even if the case was proven beyond a reasonable doubt).

If our superhero has an honestly held belief that might get them tossed out, then that could work.  The problem is that most superheroes clearly believe in the justice system, at least in theory.  They could lie, but again that doesn’t seem very heroic, and it’s a crime anyway, since prospective jurors are put under oath.  One possibility is to raise the point that they don’t believe that the police are capable of handling crime effectively.  This is clearly true, or else why would they be a superhero?  And it may show sufficient bias against the police that the superhero would get tossed out of the jury pool.

IV. Conclusion

Avoiding jury duty is difficult, even for a superhero.  Some may be able to avoid it by separating where they live and where they “work,” but those who do get called up may find it very tricky to get out of it.  Faced with a situation in which their secret identity may be called as a witness in the same case, feigning illness might be the least bad option.  The result would probably be a delay rather than an exception, but hopefully lightning wouldn’t strike twice.

61 responses to “Superheroes and Jury Duty

  1. Lying may not be very heroic, but superheroes lie to protect their secret identities all the time. Though I believe I saw an example cited on TV Tropes where Bruce Wayne got called for jury duty and, rather than lie under oath, he said that he couldn’t serve on the jury because he was Batman (though he managed to pass it off as a joke).

    • Mentioned at “Jury Duty”, “Rogue Juror”, and “Sarcastic Confession”, but without providing Wikipedia-grade citation of the issue; Google seems to indicate it’s Gotham Adventures #35.

  2. Surely they could find a legitimate reason to be familiar enough with the case that they’d be dismissed? That seems like the easiest way to get dismissed. (Or they might endeavor to be personal friends with the prosecuting or defending attorney, or the judge.)

    • That’s a possibility. Someone like Bruce Wayne would probably be able to meet most of the prosecutors in Gotham. Other superheroes with fewer connections might find it difficult.

      Merely knowing some details about the case is not necessarily enough to get one tossed out, but demonstrating a deep knowledge of the facts might. That’s a bit of a gamble, however, because it depends on the prosecution or the defense deciding that exposure to the raw evidence (i.e. unfiltered by the rules of evidence, cross-examination, etc) would bias the superhero against them. In some cases the facts aren’t in dispute, and knowledge of the case might not worry either side enough to bother with a challenge.

  3. Many thanks for running this – I’ve been trying to think of a good answer for a while now, you came up with a couple I hadn’t thought of. The commuting thing is probably a good idea for heroes who can fly or have super-speed – live well away from your crime-fighting area, and hopefully have another non-local hero cover your home town.

    Re criminal records – it might be possible for someone with good computer skills to confuse a few records so that it looks like they have a criminal record at jury selection time, but not when the police are looking for suspects.

    Would someone in the Witness Protection Program be excused jury service, on the grounds that they might be recognized in court?

  4. As far as the voir dire, capital cases would give the classic superhero an easy out. Typically, a potential juror who cannot consider the death penalty under any circumstances (or says he can’t) is dismissed for cause, since he’s admitting he can’t follow the law.

    Granted, not every case a Secret ID would be called on will be life-or-death. But given the murderous tendencies of many a supervillain (and the ethics of many a superhero), the odds are good that this will be useful more than once.

  5. I wonder if some of the superheroes with psychic abilities, such as Professor X or the Martian Manhunter, could use voir dire as a way to sort of telepathically manipulate the attorneys into dismissing them? Granted, that would probably be terribly unethical and violate some sort of procedural rule, but it seems like a practical solution, at least.

  6. Easy way out – wear a shirt that reads: “I Know About Jury Nullification”

    No prosecutor will have you and will dismiss you “for cause” for “refusal to follow the law” – It’s not lying if you know about it, but wearing a shirt saying so shows enough intent to a prosecutor that he’ll ditch you quick, regardless of your actual stance.

    • That would probably be effective, though some superheroes might frown on that tactic. Not because merely stating one’s knowledge of nullification is problematic but because they might view the practice of nullification as a bad thing and wouldn’t want to advertise it (or advertise an easy way to get out jury duty for that matter). Plus, advocating jury nullification at a courthouse has recently resulted in at least one arrest, although the defendant in that case did a fair bit more than wear a shirt saying “I know about jury nullification.”

  7. Couldn’t the potential juror also just state during voir dire that they know the superhero who will presumably be called as a witness (eg Clark Kent says that he knows potential witness Superman)? It’s technically true, if a bit misleading, and knowing someone intimately involved in the case will get a juror dismissed almost automatically (there’s reason that tends to be the first question a lawyer asks during voir dire).

    • That could work in a lot of cases (similar to Peter Parker noting that he was a witness to the crime or at least its aftermath), but a superhero that wants to maintain distance between his or her secret identity and his or her superhero persona might not want to claim to even know the superhero. So, for example, some versions of Bruce Wayne publicly acknowledge that he knows Batman and others don’t. The Christopher Nolan movie version, for example, doesn’t know Batman (publicly) and even regards him as a bit of a nut (“a guy who dresses up like a bat clearly has issues”).

      • If the case has been covered in the press, wouldn’t it work frequently to just say that one has been following the case in the press and has preconceived ideas, one of which is an already formed an opinion that the accused is in fact guilty, and so cannot be an impartial juror? No need to get into knowing the superhero, or that the opinion is also based on having been the superhero who apprehended the villain.

  8. An extension of the jury duty idea is: presuming the hero is serving on a jury, and finds out about some crime they need to go solve, can they do so without issues? [Especially is sequestered.]

    [Which leads to a bigger question about duty to rescue of ‘what is hero is called out by a villain but cannot respond (either unable to get there or is away), are they sueable for anything?’ – probably not, but it’s a separate topic…]

  9. Since the superhero was involved in the case, he or she will probably have some firm idea about the defendent’s guilt or innocence, which in an alter ego will show as bias if not downright prejudice during voir dire. Just stating that they believe Catwoman did the dirty deed should be enough to get Bruce Wayne off that case, would it not?

    • That’s true, but the problem is that while Batman has reason to believe Catwoman is guilty, Bruce Wayne does not. So, in a sense, Wayne is lying, or at least not being true to the Wayne persona. Bruce Wayne often feigns ignorance or disinterest in Batman, supervillains, etc in order to keep up the act. It would be a bit weird for him to develop an opinion about a particular supervillain, and equally out of character for him to profess a belief that all defendants are likely guilty, since Wayne is ordinarily a big believer in the justice system.

      But that’s probably one of the “least bad” ways out of the situation.

      • James Pollock

        If Bruce Wayne is called to jury duty for the trial of Catwoman, he can stay in persona AND get ushered directly from the courtroom with the court’s “thanks”… all he has to do is hit on her. Granted, this isn’t going to be as effective if it’s the Joker… But then, I think Bruce has a more or less permanent “get out of jury duty” card in that he can claim, truthfully under oath, that because of what happened to his parents, he believes all criminals should be punished severely, and the affect that he put on while he discusses this opinion should get the defense to strike him for cause.

      • I’ve never read it, but reportedly there is a comic where Bruce Wayne states as a juror that he is Batman. Fortunately for him the entire court erupts in laughter and the judge tells him to stop wasting time with jokes.

      • “Granted, this isn’t going to be as effective if it’s the Joker”

        How about “The Joker is responsible for the death of my adopted son, Jason”?

      • James Pollock

        Well, sure, in the continuities where Bruce has an adopted son, Jason, who was killed by the Joker. (Besides, we all know who REALLY killed Jason Todd, don’t we?)

      • To my knowledge, there’s never been a time when it hasn’t been true (at least as far as the authorities know) in the comics since Death in the Family. Nolanverse Joker crashed Bruce’s house during the fundraiser as pretty much his first “public” crime then murdered his love interest, and Burtonverse Joker actually killed Bruce’s parents (plus is dead anyway). As for DCAU… Nothing comes to mind, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Joker’s cost Wayne Enterprises a fair amount of coin over the years. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Bruce keeps a running tally of the damages Wayne Enterprises has suffered from each of the supervillains and major criminal organizations and can just quote the appropriate number if he gets called in for such trials.

      • James Pollock

        There is a considerable portion of Batman the animated series where Batman doesn’t have an adopted son (then they added Dick, changed the name of the show to “The Adventures of Batman and Robon”. I don’t think Jason shows up until very late in the series, and I don’t think he ends up dead at all (I haven’t watched those later shows since they were on TV, so my memory might be hazy. (The animated series retained Joe Chill as the murderer of the Waynes, rejecting Burton’s retcon attempt.)
        The other animated series “The Batman”, which I saw very little of, I believe features a Batman who always works alone.
        Plus, of course, Jason Todd hadn’t been invented yet when Adam West was Batman.
        Jason Todd was the Batman mythology’s Wesley Crusher, or possibly, to stay in the comics world, the “Spider-clone saga” of Batman. I’m told the vote to kill him off was as much as 10:1.
        In the Nolan version, Bruce Wayne can’t be on the Joker’s hypothetical jury, because he’s a witness.

      • To clarify, everything after the first sentence in my previous response should be read as “I acknowledge that Jason Todd is not a factor in non-comics continuities, but here are some alternative ways Bruce could point out having a bias against the Joker in those assorted continuities:”

        Two fun facts about Batman: The Animated Series: “Christmas with the Joker” (which featured Dick as Robin) was actually the 2nd episode produced, so one could consider Robin there from the very beginning (even without that, it wasn’t -that- long. Airing-wise, he first showed up in episode 19, long, long before the rebranding. Second fun fact: Jason Todd wasn’t a Robin in that series or its successor. Tim Drake (albeit with a bastardized backstory) was the one who took up the Robin mantle when Dick moved on to Nightwing there.

        You have been told wrongly regarding the vote on Jason Todd. The official numbers on the vote tally were 5000-something to 5000-something, with killing him only 100 or so votes ahead (and much rumor of the deciding votes being cast by autodialer).

        I could never get into The Batman, as the only two episodes I’ve seen of it involved making Mr Freeze a common diamond thief (a travesty I consider worse than Schwarzenegger), and something about Dracula.

        With regard to Nolanverse, well, obviously for any trial about the events in the movie (hell, you’d almost certainly need a change of venue to have the slightest hope of an untainted jury pool there), but I was saying he’s pretty covered on any hypothetical future trials for future crimes too.

  10. John McSorley

    Well speaking as someone who has done jury duty you may not be able to avoid duty but you can avoid actually hearing anything.

    You might not want to because sitting in the jury room waiting to be selected gave me real empathy for those sent to jail but certainly in the UK any juror can inform a steward that they know ANYONE involved in the case and get taken out of the available pool.

    One guy who was a farmer and could not get a delay in his duty (think he had asked for one previously) just kept saying he knew people involved in cases until they sent him home. We had some discussion and the stewards hazarded a guess that the judge did not want to create a problem as he already had enough jurors.

    On a tangenital question on one case i sat through the juror to my right kept muttering about ‘f***ing nigerians, they’re all guilty’ all the way through a forgery case i was lucky enough to hear. ignoring prejudicial language if a juror had some kind of inside knowlege ie telepathy would that bar them from jury duty as the knowledge they had could not be properly challenged by a barrister?

    BTW jury duty was very intresting (except for sitting around wondering if we were going to be selected) and was waht got me intrested to be a little more informed about law and legal thinking (hence lurking on blogs) and if you are called up for it then look forward to it.

  11. “Historically there were exemptions for attorneys, doctors, and other occupations, but those have mostly been done away with…”

    So, attorneys can be called to serve upon a jury? I always thought that lawyers, etc. were automatically exempt from serving on a jury.

    This was used as a plot device on an old episode of Matlock, but that show is not exactly a model of accurate legal process.

    • James Pollock

      Lawyers are usually stricken from the jury, because of fear that either A) they’ll deduce the existence of suppressed evidence by the way the case is structured and presented, or B) they’ll spend too much time analyzying the style of the lawyers and not enough on the substance. Then there’s C) the very real possibility that, if the other jurors know that one of them is a lawyer, they’ll give too much weight to the lawyer juror’s opinion in deliberations. This is assuming that a lawyer actually wants to serve. A lawyer who doesn’t can try to be excused because of knowing one or the other lawyers involved, the judge, or the clerk, or, when appropriate, by noting that they are or may be scheduled to appear in a different court as counsel.

    • Oh, sure, I know people who’ve sat on jury panels with lawyers. As long as they’re not people who have a connection with the case, our city/county will take them. Although when you went to school with the DA’s assistant who is prosecuting, the defendant’s counsel will still happily dismiss you from consideration.

  12. Martin Phipps

    On the old Batman TV show, Alfred dressed up like Batman once so that people could see Bruce and Batman together. Obviously Alfred couldn’t claim under oath to be Batman. But that brings up a good point: if DC heroes can appear in court with their mask on, how does anybody know it is really them? Peter Parker once appeared in a courtroom and said he was Spiderman and the people presiding over the court refused to hear his testimony unless he removed his mask and stated his real name. He didn’t so he couldn’t testify. So in Marvel comics the heroes would have to take their masks off anyway if they wanted to testify.

    For that matter, it might be easier for Batman to simply refuse to testify. After all, why would Batman be called as a witness if there was no way to be sure who is behind the mask? Would a judge serve a subpoena for “Batman”? Basically, there are two problems 1) demonstrating that the Batman in the courtroom is the real Batman and 2) demonstrating that it was actually Batman and not somebody else wearing a Batman costume who was a witness. In real life this probably happens all the time: someone is called in for questioning as a witness but it is a case of mistaken identity: obviously they won’t be called to testify.

    • I believe that in the DCU, there’s some sort of law, a Constitutional amendment I think, which, if I’m not mistaken, allows superheroes licensed with “the Department of Extranormal Operations” to testify while in costume, including masks. This little detail hasn’t been given much attention, but I think that’s the way it work.

    • Melanie Koleini

      Since in some versions, the police don’t even admit Batman really exists, I don’t think he needs to worry about being called to testify. It would be more of an issue of Batman being the one to detain the suspect and therefore be biased against the defendant.

      On the other hand, Superman could be called as a witness. Since he doesn’t wear a mask, confirming his identity is not an issue. I think an earlier post discussed some of the problems of testifying under oath while maintaining a secret identity. But I suspect Clark Kent could get out of jury duty fairly easily since he covers the crime beat for a major newspaper.

      • James Pollock

        Not for a long time. Back in the 70’s, Clark became a news anchor on a television station. I’ve no idea what he’s been doing since… probably something Internet-ty, Like Roland Hedley, Jr.

        However, I think Clark can truthfully answer “no” when he’s asked if he thinks he can deliver an unbiased verdict based only what he learns in the courtroom. He means that with his X-ray vision and super-hearing he sees and hears things outside the courtroom; they assume he’s referring to some kind of knowledge he’s picked up from hanging around journalists all the time; either way, he’s off the jury.

        As for Superman, there’s no way to call him for jury duty. He’s not registered to vote, doesn’t have a driver’s license, and (presumably) doesn’t pay utilities (plus, if he does, it’s for the Fortress of Solitude, which is outside the jurisdiction of everything, except maybe the District of Alaska).

      • Martin Phipps

        Actually in current continuity Clark never was a news anchor, not since 1983 when they started over with Superman #1 following Crisis of Infinite Earths. Then came Zero Hour and Final Crisis and now the Superman back story is vaguely similar to what was shown on Smallville, with the exception that on that TV show it took way too long for him to assume the Superman identity. (In all traditional versions of the Superman, Clark becomes Superman before he meets other heroes and does not spend years fighting crime as a mysterious unseen “blur”.)

      • Ken Arromdee

        Martin: In fact, in the first years of the Superman radio show, Superman acted in secret. Clark Kent actually claimed not to believe in the existence of Superman.

        Okay, he didn’t call himself the Blur, but similar idea.

      • James Pollock

        What happened to the continuity where Clark travelled to the 30th century before becoming Superman?

      • Martin Phipps

        The old Superman radio show sounds cool. It makes sense that they wouldn’t bother to have him put on a costume.

        James, the Smallville series was different in the sense that Clark never called himself “Superboy” or “Superman” but he did meet the Legion a couple of times and they did give him a ring so he could travel into the future. We never see him traveling into the future on the show. Eventually, Supergirl used the ring to travel to the 31st Century.

        In the comics, Clark was already calling himself Superboy when he met the Legion. After Crisis on Infinite Earths (in 1985-1986) John Byrne decided that Superman had never been Superboy and that the Superboy who appeared in the Legion was from an alternative timeline. In the new post Infinite Crisis (2005-2006) continuity, Clark dons the Superman costume while he is still a teenager and travels to the 31st century to become Superboy but he doesn’t come out publicly as Superman until he is an adult.

      • Ken Arromdee

        He did put on a costume in the radio show, even for the first few years when he acted in secret. It wasn’t complete secrecy; the villains he caught did see him, after all.

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  14. Most superheros have fairly extreme views of the way to deal with criminals. (it sort of comes with being a vigilante) I don’t think it would be that hard to get the defense to kick them out.

    “(6) specify that active members of the armed forces, members of fire or police departments, and members of the executive, legislative or judicial branches of government who are actively engaged in the performance of official duties are barred from jury service on the ground that they are exempt;”

    I know Justice Kagan was recently called and I’m pretty sure Justice Scalia was called a few years back.

    • James Pollock

      The states don’t have to follow the federal rules, and can make up their own exemptions. The idea is to have as broad a jury pool as possible without pulling in people who really do have a good reason (measured as public good) to be somewhere else. Or, less idealistically, the exemptions are created to avoid the costs of dealing with calling in someone who’s going to be stricken or excused anyway.

  15. As a practical matter, are billionaires like Bruce Wayne called for jury duty? Or selected? I’ve never heard of Bill Gates or Warren Buffet serving on a jury. Or, for that matter, any celebrity. I’m sure they’re not deliberately excluded from the pool, but would there be any other reason for not calling them? Too much publicity, too much disruption to the legal process? It just seems like they (or their attorneys) would be able to contact the clerk of courts (or whomever) and say, “Look, do you REALLY want 200 paparazzi camped outside the courthouse all week while we deliberate this burglary?”

    • James Pollock

      The short answer is yes, billionaires can be called for jury duty just like everybody else. Keep in mind, though, that there are so few of them that the actual odds of a billionaire being called and seated are fairly low. If there were going to be a problem anywhere, I’d expect it not in the actual billionaire’s club, but amongst the scions of particularly wealthy families, where the kids have bodyguards to protect against kidnap threats.

      Also note: Bruce Wayne is not stalked by paparazzi, which is a good thing, because if he was, he’d have a hard time getting away with his hobby.

      • Do you know if they could bring up that issue prior to showing up to save time? I imagine the clerk would be smart enough to realize that there is no way Bill Gates or Warren Buffet would serve anyways and tell them to stay home if that was possible. I can see why the Justices would show up as they probably see it as an important duty and want to show a good example. (Though I would love to see an excuse along the lines of: “I’m busy deciding Bush v Gore.”) And the politicians would show up for the PR: “Look at me, I’m a regular citizen in that one particular and narrow way.” But Bill Gates and Warren Buffet probably have important things to do and most likely want to avoid the waste of time.

    • Giuliani served on a jury while Mayor. He was not in much of a position to try getting out of it, having recently made a point of eliminating most categorical exemptions. The mystery is that neither side challenged him.

      • I imagine both of them thought it might be a way to get a mistrial if they needed or wanted one.

  16. I ended up in the jury pool for a fairly notorious murder trial in my town several years ago. IIRC, it was the largest jury pool ever called there, just that part was in the paper. After waiting around all day as they called in groups of people, I went home, happened to mention something about it to my spouse, and found out that he’d known the victim. Yipes! (And boy did he have some opinions about the case.) I just went to talk to the baliff in the morning and was very quickly excused. I would think there’s some variant of that experience that could be used by a super to get out of jury duty.

  17. I still think a more interesting way to play with it in a plot would be to have a superhero’s secret identity called and unable to get out of it (at least, not ethically; perhaps he really CAN be unbiased in this particular case because he’s not deeply enmeshed in it), and to have a supervillain’s diabolical plot going on during the long, drawn-out trial proceeding. Obviously, for maximum drama, the jury in which his secret identity is serving is sequestered. How might a superhero – especially, say, in Vermont, where there’s a “duty to rescue” – handle or be legally required to handle this sort of situation?

    (Also, if you KNOW that the defendent is innocent, but cannot legally testify, what happens? I ask because in the above example I was about to suggest that perhaps he knows he can be fair because his superheroic identity was actually thwarting an unrelated crime that the villain was attempting to perpetrate at the time this other crime allegedly happened. He KNOWS, therefore, that the villain can’t have done THIS crime…but can’t testify because he can’t prove he was the superhero who witnessed the alibi even if he were willing to.)

    • Melanie Koleini

      If you are sure the defendant is innocent, then you are not unbiased. You are biased in favor of the defendant and do not belong on the jury. If you are on the jury (and care more about truth than the rule of law) then you do your best to convince the other members that the defendant is innocent and refuse to vote guilty no matter what.

      • That’s…an interesting point. If you KNOW – not think, believe, or want to believe to confirm your biases – the defendant’s state of innocence or guilt because you have facts that may or may not be presented in the trial, is that “bias” or is that simply being well-informed?

        e.g., again, you are somebody who could confirm an alibi that makes the defendant’s guilt impossible, but you would never be allowed to testify for various reasons (in the given example, because they don’t let people testify in costume and couldn’t prove you really WERE the costumed hero who supposedly was thwarting another crime at the time). Or perhaps you ARE Prof. X., known telepath, and you simply read the defendant’s mind. Nothing in the case suggests that he is being mentally manipulated, so your ability to simply KNOW that he’s (guilty/innocent) is unquestionable, but not, itself, admissible into a court of law because, well, you are effectively using hearsay.

    • Don’t forget the “without interference with important duties owed to others” clause of duty to rescue. Pretty sure jury duty qualifies as an important duty.

  18. I seem to remember an “80 Page Giant” from the ’60’s, reprinting a tale from the 40’s or 50’s, in which Bruce Wayne served on a jury. As I recall, he recognized a bit of evidence the police had overlooked (he IS the world’s greaetest detective, after all) but could not reveal his deduction without compromising his secret identify. So he stalled, being the holdout lone juror unwilling to convict, while blinking out a Morse code message to Dick Grayson in the gallery to follow up on the overlooked clue. Robin then has to take the clue, find the real criminal, and arrange a dramatic courtroom reveal, which of course vindicates Bruce but leaves him saying his jury opinion was based only on “a hunch”.

    I could be imagining the whole thing, of course.

    But assuming not — what’s supposed to happen when a juror brings professional interpretation to his decision? This, regarding a fact shared in evidence with other jurors but without other professionals and their opinions being qualified in and testifying to that interpretation? Isn’t such a contributioin to his deliberation rather improper? Or is that sort of range of expertise the core reason for juries — to get opinions on topics from experts OTHER than police and their selected pundits?

    • Melanie Koleini

      I have no clue what is suppose to happen but in practice, scientists would often run into this problem.

      Lawyers often do a poor job of challenging ‘expert’ testimony leading juries to give science too much weight. But if a chemist was on a jury, he may flat out say he doesn’t trust the lab results stating there were drug traces in the defendant’s car (for example). Since the chemist knows more than the other jurors, they would probably discount the lab finding too. Alternatively, the chemist might really trust the lab results leading to the other jurors giving the report even more importance.

      • Martin Phipps

        Melanie, you are forgetting that jurors have the right to examine evidence. A juror could put up his hand and ask for a better look at the evidence that is being presented. Presumably the juror knows what he is looking for and could see something nobody else noticed. Obviously this is going to be brought up by the juror in deliberations.

        Conversely, consider the case of the O J Simpson case. Lawyers for O J Simpson asked the DNA expert if he was sure if the DNA was O J Simpson’s and the scientist said he was 99.9% sure. To a scientist, this is the same as saying “As sure as I am of anything” but the jury took this to mean “No” and discounted the DNA evidence.

      • Melanie Koleini


        If there was a biology professor on the OJ jury, they would have (hopefully) explained “99.9% sure” is a lot more certain than someone “positively” identifying someone in a police lineup. From a forensic point of view, DNA evidence is very reliable (barring lab screw-ups or outright misconduct). But other than DNA, forensic science is a lot less certain than most people think.

        Which brings me to a sure-fire way to avoid being seated on a jury (at least most criminal cases): talk about how little you trust forensic evidence. Then follow it up by mentioning several cases (by name) of people being wrongly convicted due to eye-witness misidentification and end with at least one case where someone turned out to be completely innocent even though they confessed to the crime. The prosecutor would probably usurer you from the courtroom as quickly as possible.

        If the superhero does his research, he can keep his views of forensics scientifically accurate so he wouldn’t be lying. He could also write out his options on evidence on the jury questionnaire so he wouldn’t ‘poison’ the views of other potential jurors. Of course, this strategy might not work if the facts of the case weren’t in dispute. It also would be less effective for civil cases.

  19. A completely different line of thought.

    I’m almost surprised this sort of thing hasn’t been explored in the Marvel Universe among the heroes with “open” identifies, such as Ben Grimm or Janet VanDyne. Not on cases regarding super-villians but garden-variety spouse abusers, shoplifters, tort feasors …

    Especially for the Fantastic Four, Part of the joy of the “Fantastic” part was always the contrast with the ordinary other stuff. Taking the subway into battle after the Fantasti-car crashed, for instance. Grimm in the jury box … the Yancy Street gang in the gallery … the “4” flare shining in the sky through a courtroom window. SURELY somebody did this story and I just missed it.

    • In that situation, couldn’t Grimm just ask to be dismissed from the jury for a reason of something like urgent personal emergency? If it was an ordinary case, there shouldn’t be a problem replacing him with an alternate juror.

      • James Pollock

        I can’t state this with any authority, but I don’t think most cases have alternate jurors. You’d only bother with alternates if the the trial was expected to be long or the case is so notorious that you might lose a juror before it’s finished. Keep in mind, though, that the 12-person jury is not Constitutionally mandated, and an 11 person jury would be adequate for most trials (in fact, the only jury I was ever seated on had six members… I don’t know if it could have returned a valid verdict with only five, though.)

    • James Pollock

      I think it’s fairly simple… when Grimm sees the 4-flare, he’s out of court. Presumably, Reed would know Ben was on jury duty and wouldn’t fire off a 4-flare without a good enough reason to do so. (The Yancy Streeters can’t make a good-enough fake fo fool him, or they would have used it to draw him somewhere by now.) Even if it caused a mistrial, Grimm would have a necessity defense for abandoning the trial and the bailiffs aren’t going to stop him. Given Grimm’s history as a war hero and extensive record of defending the defenseless and service to NY, the U.S., and the world, I think that people would understand that he did what he had to do because he had to do it,

      To really get any dramatic tension, you’d have to use a hero who is not popular (Spidey, the x-men, anyone who’s openly a mutant, or possibly a temporarily discredited hero like a Batman who didn’t quite save everyone from the Joker in the last go-round), make the summoning event something that the general public didn’t see or know about, and then make it so there’s a reason why the hero can’t or won’t explain what they needed to do. Then, to REALLY add tension, you have the bad guy escape in the confusion caused by the hero’s leaving.

      Yeah. Instead of Ben Grimm on the trial called away by a 4-flare, you have Scott Summers called away by an urgent summons from Professor X. the defendant is a known mutant, but NOT one that the x-men usually fight, who gets away because an eye-blast Scott fires at the current bad guy is reflected back into the courthouse Scott just left… but in the confusion of the battle, none of the bystanders/spectators sees or remembers this. JJJ editorializes that the mutants are obviously in cahoots…

  20. As I understand it, a potential juror is expected to base his or her judgement purely on the evidence presented at trial. For someone involved (even under a secret identity), that would surely be nearly impossible, and so I think our hero would have a moral (and possibly legal) duty to inform the court during voir dire that they cannot be truly impartial in this case. The tricky bit, of course, is doing that without revealing your secret identity. But trying to maintain a secret identity is always something that has the potential to put you at conflict with the law.

    At the least, I think our pure, moral, upstanding superhero would at least have to say something like, “I have sworn not to reveal my sources, but I know more about this case than may be appropriate for a impartial juror.” Unless the jury pool is unusually small, that’s likely to earn a dismissal. (And if it doesn’t, well, at least you tried, and were honest.)

  21. Regarding the example of Bruce Wayne on a jury trying Catwoman – and also Poison Ivy and I’d imagine some other female criminals in Gotham city – there is a known and public history of Bruce dating Selina Kyle (Catwoman), Pamela Islay (Ivy), and numerous other women – Bruce is an obvious target for any crime involving seduction of a wealthy male victim. I’d imagine that this would be an automatic disqualification.

  22. We’ve talked about situations like Clark Kent claiming to know Superman. What about just having a strong opinion about the superhero in question, or superheroes in general? If Kent says “I believe Superman is always trustworthy” (or Bruce Wayne, to cover for his secret identity, says “I think Batman is a complete nut”), would this be enough to get them eliminated from the jury pool? It’s similar to the example given in the original post about getting out of jury duty by voicing a lack of confidence in the police.

  23. Someone above mentioned a DCU constitutional amendment allowing costumed heros to testify, which sort of answers for DC, but wouldn’t someone testifying under an obviously assumed name and behind a mask violate the Confrontation Clause?

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