As I've followed the case of Terry Childs, the "rogue" network administrator who was jailed 18 months ago on $5 million bail, I've often wondered about the reality of a non-technical jury trying a highly technical case. As far as I can determine, the jury in the Childs case is already overwhelmed with technical information -- and the trial is only one week old.
Is it unreasonable to think that high-tech cases should have juries of high-tech people? After all, the accused is supposed to be entitled to a jury of peers. I realize it sounds elitist (like the old saw about juries containing twelve people who weren't smart enough to get out of jury duty), but I can't get past the notion that it's simply impossible for laypeople to absorb enough technical knowledge in a few weeks to enable them to make sound decisions about a case like this one. That even applies to technical people who have a deep understanding of other aspects of technology: If they don't have a background in networking, they would be challenged in a case like this.
[ InfoWorld Contributing Editor Paul Venezia has led the way in reporting the bizarre case of Terry Childs. Consult our InfoWorld special report for a complete index of that coverage. ]
This case isn't about an alleged crime that anyone can relate to, such as burglary or assault. It's about high-level network construction, maintenance, security, and IT policies. That last is the easiest bridge to cross, but the others are almost insurmountable. There just aren't enough car analogies in the world to impart the necessary understanding; it takes years of training and experience to develop the knowledge required to sit in judgement.
I realize that juries rule on technical matters all the time. Malpractice cases, for example -- but even then, everyone on the jury has been to a doctor, visited a hospital, or watched ER -- that're far closer to home than CCIE-level network design. To really get into the technical details of this case with a non-technical jury is like expecting them to understand a foreign language. Imagine a trial where the lawyers on each side regularly intersperse their arguments with long digressions in Aramaic. If you were in the jury box, how on earth would you decide the case?