Judge Punishing Juror for Making Racist Comments on Questionnaire?

[See UPDATE for later developments.]

The Daily News reports:

An incensed federal judge sentenced a racist Brooklyn woman to indefinite jury duty on Tuesday after she trashed the NYPD and minorities.

“This is an outrage, and so are you!” Federal Judge Nicholas Garaufis told the woman, holding up her bile-filled juror questionnaire….

Asked to name three people [the woman] least admired, she wrote on her questionnaire: “African-Americans, Hispanics and Haitians.”

When the judge asked why she answered the question that way, she replied, “You always hear about them in the news doing something.”

She also declared that cops are all lazy, claiming that they sound their sirens to bypass traffic jams….

She’s coming back [today], Thursday and Friday – and until the future, when I am ready to dismiss her,” Garaufis said….

Actually, if this story is accurate, what’s outrageous is the appalling abuse of power by the judge. The woman seems to have reprehensible moral beliefs. This is America, and she’s entitled to possess those beliefs. But government officials are not entitled to punish people for those beliefs, including by requiring them to serve more jury duty as a result of their beliefs.

There’s some suggestion from the story that perhaps the judge believed that the juror was just trying to get out of jury duty, and was insincerely claiming to be racist in order to do that — and that the judge would have reacted the same way had the juror written, say, “I think the justice system is irretrievably racist.” But I see nothing in the story about any finding by the judge that this was the woman’s motive, nor do I see any evidence in the story that would support such a conclusion.

Again, I stress that my criticism applies only if the story is accurate — I’d love to hear more information about whether that’s so. Thanks to Barrett Shipp for the pointer.

UPDATE: The judge has now released the woman from indefinite jury duty: “A Federal judge relented Wednesday and commuted the sentence of indefinite jury duty he had slapped on a Brooklyn woman who presented herself as wildly racist and anti-cop.” The story also reports that the judge “made it clear it wasn’t her views that angered him but what he said was her obvious attempt to weasel out of jury duty by lying. ‘My ruling was not based in any way upon whether or not you held any racist views. It was apparent you did not tell the truth,’ Garaufis told the woman. ‘You were the only juror who indicated that you had every form of bias imaginable. You were lying to the court in order to be excused.'”

I’m puzzled: There are people out there who dislike blacks and Hispanics. How is it that the judge read her mind and figured out that she was lying, and didn’t really hold such views? Again, what if the juror had written, “I think the justice system is irretrievably racist,” which would also make her highly likely to be excused; would the judge have somehow intuited that she was lying, too? What if the juror had written, “I believe in jury nullification,” which would likewise likely lead to the juror’s being excused; would the judge have likewise concluded the juror was lying?

One correspondent of mine defended the judge’s actions because of this item, reported in the original story: “[The judge] landed on the page [in the juror questionnaire] where she had said she had a relative who was a member of the Chinese Ghost Shadows gang in the 1980s, convicted of murder and still in prison. ‘Why didn’t you put ‘Asians’ down also?’ the judge asked sarcastically, referring to her list of least-liked people. ‘Maybe I should have,’ she said.” This, the correspondent said, showed that the juror was “defiant.” But even defiant responses of that sort don’t warrant punishment (this response, even if defiant, would fall far short of punishable contempt). Nor do they show that she was lying about her racism. Here a young woman is being grilled by a federal judge in open court, in front of other jurors, lawyers, and the media about her apparent racism; maybe she was responding with defiance, or maybe she was just agreeing with the judge, or maybe she just didn’t know what to say to that question. Again, this is hardly sufficient evidence that she must have been lying when she said she was racist.

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