Wednesday, October 14, 2009

It is my duty.. be called for jury... duty.

Thank you, thank you. I'll be here all week. Don't forget to tip your waiters.

NOTE: This is a boring recap of my experiences as a juror. It's pretty much for my own records (as the squishy, gray-matter version in my head does a shit job of remembering the details of these things...), but you're welcome to read through. I'll try to make it as interesting as being a juror can be.

c. April, 2009
I received a summons to report for Jury Duty. "It's your duty!" It says. I sigh and punch my dog in the slats, as I am wont to do when frustrated.

I respectfully postponed my service on the date it provided not out of a sense of anarchic or hatred for the government, but because I was due to be in Texas, installing a full-dome theater system on the same day. I was also, kindly, asked by my employer to postpone it, for the same reason. They aquiesced, saying, "You can only postpone once. Please provide a date you absolutly cannot postpone. It must be within 6 months.

I put in the date furthest out as that was where my calendar showed the least amount of activity.

c. September, 2009

Another summons appears in my mailbox. I had hoped they had someone forgotten about me.

This summons helpfully informed me, "This is the date you will appear at the jury commissioner's office. Since you've postponed your service once, don't even fucking think about not showing up. We'll, like, totally put a bench warrent out for your arrest, you asshole." I decided not to call their bluff.

I inform my employer I will not be able to work on the day I appear. I also remind them that they have to pay me for the first 3 days. HA! It is likely, I tell them, I will be cut from the list as they call many more than actually serve and I know of no one who has actually sat on a trial.

They reply with much of the same as before, "Why don't you postpone? You're needed elsewhere in the world!" I refer them to the above blog post and they remember, yes, that had I already postponed and to not show would result in being tossed in the pokey. (I love "pokey" as a synonym for "jail")

October 13th, 2009

Mandy wakes my up by sicking the dogs on me in bed.

I wake, wondering why this is happening. Then it comes to me: Oh yes. Today I have to get up at 6:30, to drive her to class, return home, shower, and head off to the court house. I do this.

They jury commission does not provide parking for the would-be jurors. They do, helpfully, discount our parking if we park in a lot that is several block away. I park in this lot and walk to the court house.

I pass the security (coat through scanner, wanded, frisked, asked to lift pant-legs (I assume to determine if I wore tasteful socks this morning)).

I proceed to the fourth floor of the building where I join something like 300 other would-be jurors. We watch a horrible video explaining that the man in the video is proud of us and we should grin and bare this itrusion into our busy schedules. Something about patriotism.

A womans voice on the PA says, "I will begin calling names for the courtrooms. We move fast, so shut up and pay attention." She actually said, "Shut up and pay attention." I laughed out loud and slapped the guy next to me on the shoulder.

My name third called out of the room of 300. 1:100 odds against.


We are marched to a courtroom and told to sit in the jurors box. Sidelong glances are thrown at the dude in the cuffs seated at the defense table. There are many more people than would actually sit on a trial. This confuses me, so I eat a small handful of the peanuts I keep in my coat for just such an occasion. I wonder why the number is so large. Usually, the number of jurors ranges from 3 - 12 depending on the nature of the case (criminal, federal, civil, corporate, etc). Hey! I've seen a few minutes of Law & Order once!


A bald, young judge enters and tells us each to stand and give some information about ourselves. We do this. He dismissed a few of the would-be jurors on basic disqualifications (one, literally, could not speak English beyond saying, "No... no eng... no eng... no.") Another was a retired cop, etc, etc.

Each time a juror was dismissed, another person from the overflow group would take their seat. This continued, in kind, until everyone had said their lot.

We entered a phase called voir dire (French: to say the truth). This is where the prosocutor (representing the State) and the defense (representing the person being tried) ask the jurors questions. Anything and everything they want. People have to answer honestly, under threat of perjuring (another way to go to jail in this process as everything we say is said in Open Court, so a matter of the court record and is a form of testomony... or something).

As people said things like, "I hate cops." and "No, I can't look past any biases I have." They were dismissed with the thanks of the court.

The defense guy, a smarmy bloke with no neck asked me, "How would you rate the legal system."

"I would give it a D-minus."

"Oh? Why"

"Because of prisons overflowing with people, the overwhelming majority of which are minorities and are there because of small drug convictions. Mandatory drug sentencing. A horrible appeals process. Prisons-for-profit..." He cut me off here, thanking me.

I did (and do) believe what I said and assumed saying it would go in favor of getting me released.

As time went on, more and more people were released and I kept staying where I was: In the juror's box. I am continually surprised by how candid these people are. Public speaking is usually rated as the #1 fear most people have (death being 4th or 5th). I'm amazed at the eloquence and frankness of these random people. Feelings of pride rise. I eat more peanuts.

After the question-asking period, one-by-one, both sides dismiss people for no reason. These are called peremptory challenges. In this way, the prosecution and defense kept dismissing people until there were thirteen of us left. The thirteen that would site as jurors on the trail. (But only twelve sit on a grand jury, you think. Ah ha! It's a mystery to be solved at a later time).

We were given "Juror" badges to put on our shirts and told, in no uncertain terms, "You cannot speak about the details of the trial with anyone until it's over--not your fellow jurors, spouses, children, or friends. The people in this building will see your badges, which you are required to wear anytime you are in the courthouse, and will only speak to you as little as is necessary. The people related to this case will not make eye-contact with you, let alone speak to you. This to protect you from making decisions not based on the facts of the case and for them to avoid even the appearance of impropriety."

We jurors are told to convene in the juror's quarters (a small room at the back of the courthouse that (true) no one except the bailiff and us are allowed to enter at any time during the trial) and to push a button when we are all there.

11:45-12:30PM - Afternoon (lunch) Recess
The court goes on hold while everyone goes and gets lunch and tells their significant others that they, in fact, will not be getting out early as they have been selected. Much sighing.

We all gather in the juror's quarters. Someone pushes the button on the wall when we've all arrived. The balliff pops her head in and says, "Follow me and be sure to sit in the box, don't stand."

We walk into the room. Everyone is standing. We head to our box and sit. Then, and only then the bailiff says, "Please be seated." Everyone sits. We move into "Opening statements."

Immediately, the prosecutor (a lithe and intimidating woman from the district attorney's office) stands before us and launches into a dramatic description of the crime (a drug charge). She waves her arms around and speaks with inflection. She makes claims about evidence and burden of proof and blah blah blah.

The neckless defense guy does the same thing, except in reverse. This man has the unfortunate goal of defending a guy who doesn't really seem to want to be defended (more on this later).

Then the real trial opens. The prosecution has the burden of proof, so they go first.

She calls her first witness, an undercover cop...

More to follow.