Monday, July 26, 2010

tales from the jury box

so the bad news is:
i did NOT get selected for jury duty.

the good news is:
that means i now have permission to blab all about the case and my experience!

for those of you not following the jury saga, this was my SEVENTH summons. but it was the first time i ever actually got called out of the holding pen and into court. it almost didn't happen. out of about 160 people called for jury duty last Thursday, a whopping 150 got called into courtrooms. i was the next-to-last person in the last group!

first, let me say, my group got called up to the 13th floor. wtf? do buildings still have 13th floors?
there has to be a story in there somewhere... the last group of jurors called at the end of the day to the mysterious 13th floor where they judge something much more than your average criminals - they judge your souls.
i mean, i don't write that kind of stuff, but just sayin'. someone else write it. i would read it.

so jury selection is a little like how i imagine an AA meeting or some other type of group-sharing experience. i thought we would fill out questionnaires with perhaps some probing questions, then slip our papers up to the front of the court for privacy.

oh no. the judge asked such questions as:
have you ever been convicted of a crime?
have you ever been the victim of a violent crime?
have any of your family members or close friends spent time in prison?

in answer to these questions, in a big open courtroom, we held up 8x10 bright pink laminated signs to answer "yes."
THEN, on top of airing our answers to the court, each time we answered yes, we had to stand up one-by-one and EXPLAIN OURSELVES.

*this included a woman tearfully explaining that she distrusted lawyers and police, because her son is -she believes- wrongfully imprisoned.
*this included a man telling the story of his many drug-related crimes, then - probably feeling like he had to defend himself - also explaining how long he spent in rehab and how he has cleaned his life up since.
*this included a man asking the court for a private Q&A, because he didn't want to explain in public the exact nature of the violent crime his daughter was a victim of.
*and this included soooo many people having to stand up in front of a court full of people and explain just how little money they were making - if any at all - and why being in court would be a financial hardship. ...stories that, in this time of recession, were very personal and uncomfortable.

so as fascinating as all of this was to a voyeur like me, i actually think it is a flaw in the system. too many people are embarrassed to speak up and could taint a jury pool. sure, there is the option to ask to explain yourself in private, but let's face it - everyone had an idea of what happened to that guy's daughter.
i, myself, did not like standing up and telling the court of strangers that i was the victim of a major burglary and then having to answer on the spot with a definitive "yes, i can put that aside and judge this guy fairly."
(on day two of jury selection, during the defense attorney's turn to question us, he looked right at me when he said: "you may think you can put things aside and not realize until you get to the deliberation room that you really can't." hey! who's being judged here?! haha.)
anyway, i'm pretty sure that's why i didn't get picked.

now, you know how everyone's always talking about trying to get out of jury duty?
yeaaaahhh... i think that's only because 99% of the cases being tried are BO-RING.
not this one. it was a juicy case. and you better believe most of the people in my jury pool were working harder to convince the court they should serve than trying to get out of it.

the case involved a violent home invasion and burglary, in which the homeowners were tied up and threatened with guns. those are the basics anyway. i suspect there is more to it, since today, the prosecutor brought in the victims - an interracial couple - and started asking us questions about race.
further, the judge asked us questions about tattoos (the defendant had many), which i thought nothing of, until one older woman stood up to say - in a thick Polish accent - that she had a problem with just one tattoo... the one under the defendant's eye. (i could not see this small tattoo from a distance, but apparently it was an iron cross, a symbol of the German army during WWII often associated with neo-nazis today.) the defense attorney proceeded to question her extensively about her experience in WWII, which family members she had lost in the war, etc... until the judge called him up to the bench and basically told him to knock it off.

this woman was mercifully dismissed. i can't even imagine how she must have felt.
other immediate dismissals in my jury group:
*the guy who said he used to train lawyers for the county attorney's office. (dismissed after the prosecutor recognized him and said "oh yeah, he trained me!")
*the guy with a criminal past who suddenly stood up to tell the judge: "i didn't realize it until he turned around, but i recognize the defendant. actually, we used to hang out." (dismissed!)
*the retired school teacher who, it turns out, taught at the defendant's grade school and might-just-might have been his English teacher when he was little!

i don't know if all juries have such crazy coincidences, but it sure made my experience interesting!


Angie said...

Wow that sounds really interesting. It's a wonder that anyone ever gets to trial with the way the system works.

erinjade said...

my thoughts exactly! no wonder they take 50 to 60 people into court as the starter pool - so many of them get eliminated!