On Watch

Making The Right Choices

Posted: Oct 5, 2012 11:48 AM ET Last Updated: Oct 5, 2012 11:48 AM ET
It's nice to see when things go right.  I'm talking about jury selection.

I've had a chance to witness it again in the case of Chaze Lamar Thompson.  He's the 22-year-old Dartmouth man accused of first degree murder in the death of cab driver Sergei Kostin.

The unique circumstances of this case prompted Nova Scotia Supreme Court Justice Glen McDougall to implement something called challenge for cause.  Each prospective juror was questioned about their views on this case before they were considered for jury duty.

It worked like this: two of the nearly 300 people who showed up for jury duty were chosen at random.  Those two citizens listened as prospective jurors were asked their views on two points.

The first was racism.  

Chaze Thompson is African Nova Scotian.  Sergei Kostin was white.  Each person was asked whether this might influence them.  Sadly, a handful said yes.  I guess I shouldn't be surprised in a province with a recent cross burning and frequent cases of racist grafitti.  But it's still depressing to hear.

What is reassuring, however, is that each and every person who said that they were bothered by the racial elements in this case were immediately rejected for jury duty.  The judge didn't do it.  The lawyers didn't have to get involved.  The ordinary citizens took care of it.

The other issue people were tested on was publicity.  

This case made headlines, from the time Sergei was first reported missing in January of 2009, right through to when Chaze Thompson was charged.

Justice McDougall asked people whether they'd heard the news.  If they said yes, they were then asked if they could put that out of their minds, and just concentrate on the evidence they would hear in the trial.  The seven men and seven women who are now on that jury panel all said yes to both questions.

But there were actually some people who claimed to have heard absolutely nothing about this case.  

The idea of a jury is to be judged by your peers; people who are engaged in their community and aware of the world around them and can make intelligent, informed decisions.

Again, the system worked.  Everyone who said they knew nothing about the case was quickly rejected.  The citizen panelists did their job.  It made me think the old saying is wrong: ignorance is only blissful to the ignorant.  It scares the rest of us.

The 14 people who survived this whole process have heard some horrific testimony.  Their most important task is about to begin; deciding Chaze Thompson's fate.  Just before that happens, however, two names will be chosen at random, and those two jurors will be sent home.  

Juries can have no more than 12 members: 14 were chosen in this case to ensure that illnesses or other problems could not derail this trial.

Previous Post
Next Post

About the Author

Blair Rhodes has been a journalist for more than 30 years in Atlantic Canada, covering everything from princes to politicians to prostitutes, and a whole lot of stuff in between. These days, he focusses on stories involving crime and public safety.

Recent Entries

Doggone Stupid
Doggone Stupid
Jun 6, 5:44 PM

Whenever he gets in the car, my dog Jake starts drooling and panting. He can't help himself; he's excited because car rides for him are special. He pants, even... more »

Justice for All
Justice for All
May 28, 11:58 AM

If you had to draw up a list of people you don't want to cross, chances are, your mother would be right at the top.  After all, if she can't... more »

Reality Check
Reality Check
May 7, 1:40 PM

There is a clever ad on TV right now that exploits our seeming preoccupation with crime as a source of entertainment. The ad begins with a high speed chase,... more »

View the On Watch Archives »