Showing that issues with the jury system are not limited to America, on June 10 a judge in Sydney declared a mistrial in a high-profile drug-conspiracy case after it was discovered that the jurors spent much of their time in court playing Sudoku.
Apparently, everyone assumed the jurors were diligently taking notes until someone noticed they were writing vertically as well as horizontally.
The two men on trial faced life in prison for drug trafficking, and at the time trial was suspended it had already lasted 66 days and cost an estimated $1 million (Australian). Though the stakes were high, the foreman told the judge, the case was awfully dull, and Sudoku, he said, actually helped him with his duties.
"Yes, it helps me keep my mind busy paying more attention," he claimed. "Some of the evidence is rather drawn out and I find it difficult to maintain my attention the whole time, and that [i.e., paying attention to something else] doesn’t distract me too much from proceedings." Hey, let’s make the jury box like Virgin Airlines — the Internet at every seat! Then you could really stay busy paying more attention.
I sympathize with the utterly bored, but the fact is that human beings have a finite amount of attention and focusing some of it on one thing reduces the amount available for other things. The claim that people can infinitely multi-task is the kind of thing you hear from people who insist on texting while driving, at least until they hit a tree.
A while back there was a story about a guy who was so focused on the GPS navigation system in his car that he didn’t see a train coming down the tracks he was parked on. Apparently, you see, these defective GPS devices do not show trains coming. Users of such devices while driving are urged to employ a backup system known as "paying attention" or, as those of you at Microsoft may prefer, "using the rich functionality of Window 1.0."
My point being, like these devices, Sudoku necessarily consumes attention that would otherwise be devoted to, let’s say, listening to the evidence in a case where people face life in prison. In fact, despite his claim that Sudoku didn’t "distract [him] too much from proceedings," he admitted to the judge that several of the jurors "were playing puzzle games for up to half the time the trial had been going." Result: mistrial.
"Jurors are sort of the judges of the facts [yes, sort of] and it’s very disappointing they weren’t giving our clients a fair trial," said a lawyer for one of the defendants, who probably wasn’t disappointed at all.