Monday, December 8, 2008

Jury Duty - Almost

Well, I pretty much just told you how this story ends, but the whole thing was fascinating so I am going to talk about it.

I report for jury duty at 7:45 AM. I sit around for a while. I get called into a courtroom with 59 other potential jurors. I am assigned the number 45. No names are used. I am now Juror #45. The Judge, prosecutor, defense attorney and defendant are all there.

The first process is called Voir Dire, which I think is French for "Weeding out the Crazies." This is when the Judge talks to us about how the law works and the prosecutor and defense attorney get to ask us questions to find out if we have any biases.

They tell us that the defendant is charged with Attempted Murder. They tell us handguns are involved. They tell us that maybe someone might happen to mention Gangs. They tell us that maybe someone who might have been convicted of a felony could possibly be testifying. They tell us that the defendant might or might not invoke his Fifth Amendment right not to testify.

Some people have immediate and strong reactions to the mention of guns and gangs. The Judge, in a very calm and respectful tone, asks them if they can put aside these biases. The Judge has to ask this over and over again as people talk about what they think about guns and gangs.

One older woman - let's call her Mrs. Crank - says that when she hears the words guns and gangs, she thinks of another G-word - Guilty. Guess who's probably not going to be asked to sit on this jury?

There were a number of people who said that they would not be able to put aside their biases. These people are either really deceitful or really honest. I can't decide how many of each there might have been.

The deceitful ones are just willing to say anything to get out of jury duty. The honest ones are perhaps more sincere than the rest of us. They are willing to acknowledge their limitations and risk looking like narrow-minded jackasses. It is more acceptable to tell ourselves that we are open-minded and that we don't judge people and situations according to our tiny little pinhole view of the world. But we all do.

I made judgements about every single person in that courtroom the minute I saw them. The defendant looked like the sweet 20-year-old kid who used to work for us before layoffs. So I immediately like him and feel bad that he is in this situation. (Yes, "this situation" is him being charged with attempted murder. But, come on! He looks like a nice kid!)

The defense attorney had too much over processed, blond hair on her head, so I thought she looked like a cheap floozy. (Is floozy really a word?) The prosecutor was a wiry, early thirties man with a shaved head. He reminded me of one of those guys in high school who hung out with the cool kids and pretended to be nice to everyone but was really the meanest SOB in the group.

The stenographer! Oh the stenographer! I'd swear she had been whisked straight from the set of the film Working Girl. Her hair wasn't as teased, but it was big and flowing with feathery waves. She also had this air of defeat and resignation about her. Like she has been pummelled into submission by the tedium of her job or her exposure to the worst elements of human nature, day in and day out in that courtroom.

If I had been more honest with myself, I would have raised my hand and said, "Your Honor, I think you should probably excuse me. The defendant is just so adorable, the stenographer makes me want to have a Long Island Iced Tea and I'm afraid the prosecutor is going to give me a wedgie any minute now. I should probably go."


After they have asked all of their questions, we leave the courtroom and wait outside in the hall. The clerk comes out and reads off about twelve juror numbers. These are the people who said they didn't think that they could be fair and impartial. They are excused. Mrs. Crank hurries down the hall with a smile on her face.

The rest of us go back into the courtroom and now it is mostly about the numbers. In this round, the defense or prosecution can dismiss you for any reason and they do not tell you why. Starting with Juror #1, they seat 12 people in the jury box. The prosecutor looks them over and then says, "Your Honor, please excuse Number 4." Number 4 leaves the courtroom and the next number in line takes her seat. The defense attorney looks them over and picks out one more to excuse. Next number in line fills the empty seat. This goes on and on.

This was the part that I found the most fascinating. I couldn't quite figure out what they were going for. It seemed to me that both the prosecutor and the defense attorney were getting rid of the same kinds of people. They both excused men over 40 and almost any woman. They weren't just looking us over; they were also referring to an elaborate set of post-it notes they each kept. The post-its were arranged like a seating chart and had their tiny scribbles with multiple colors of ink. I was dying to know what they had written on those notes.

I also wonder what they did before post-its. And why no one has invented a computer version of that yet. And if there is some kind of chart or computer program where they plug in the variables - one 20-something Latino defendant - one charge of attempted murder - one female victim = what kind of juror? As you can see, I spent a lot of time wondering.


My juror number is 45. Juror number 43 gets up to fill the next vacant seat in the jury box. I am thinking, "Wow. I can't believe they have gone up this high. I might actually end up on this jury." Feeling nervous and excited. What an experience it would be to sit on this jury.

Number 43 takes a seat in the jury box. Both the prosecutor and the defense attorney decide that they are satisfied with this jury. They make the twelve jurors stand, raise their right hands and swear to uphold the law, etc.

But it ain't over yet! They need two alternate jurors. That would be the worst, most thankless job to have. You have to sit, listen to everything, pay attention throughout the whole trial and then your opinion doesn't mean squat. I would hate to be in that position.

Number 44 and I get called to sit in the two empty seats in the jury box. Suddenly the prosecutor asks the Judge if he can have a word privately. The Judge, defense attorney and prosecutor go off into a back room. I am wondering if there is going to be some last minute plea deal or something like that. They'll come back out and tell us all to go home.

They come back into the courtroom. The Judge says to the juror sitting in seat number 11, "Miss, are you okay?" The woman is sitting in the jury box, quietly crying. She explains through tears that she is getting married in January and she had saved up her vacation days for that and she knows that this is her duty and she wants to serve but... The Judge very nicely asks her if she wants to be excused. She says yes. The prosecutor and defense attorney have no objections.

And so we continue with the musical chairs. Juror #44 has to go sit in the vacant seat #11 in the jury box. I have to take the seat that was vacated by Juror #44. And the next in line, juror #46, has to come sit in my empty seat. So now the prosecution and defense get to decide if they want to keep #44 on the regular jury. They both do. He stands up and gets sworn in.

So the final jury consists of 10 white men between the ages of 20 and 35, one white woman in her 50's and one Asian woman in her 30's. I am fascinated by this. Is this really the jury that both the prosecutor and defense think will be able to fairly weigh all the evidence and pass judgement on this 20-year-old Latino gang kid?

Of course, I can only look on the surface of things. Maybe race or age have nothing to do with it. Those are just the traits that I can easily identify. Maybe what matters is education level, type of job or if they are married or single. I didn't have that information, but the attorneys did. (When you do a search on Amazon for Jury Selection you get over 5,000 books. I am definitely going to do a little reading about this.)

Now the attorneys can turn their attention to the alternates and decide if they want to keep #46 and me. The prosecutor looks us up and down and then gives me the boot. Too many X chromosomes for him perhaps. I stand up and shout "I will not go! You can't handle the truth! This whole courtroom's out of order!" The court bailiff hits me with a taser and I black out.

Yea. Okay. It wasn't that dramatic. I just left the courtroom quietly, bought a sandwich and drove back to work. And that is the end of this story.

UPDATE on the trial here.


Bethany said...

Darn you tell a good yarn, my friend. I love this. Love the stenographer. Love your whole thought process. You're a genius and an excellent writer. I wish you'd been picked.
Thanks for the laugh.

Anne Leddy said...

I'm just catching up on your blog. This was enjoyable. Beth is right you have a great talent. Mom

Anonymous said...

Wow, and here I thought you were just my sister-in-law! Now you're my sister-in-law AND you're an amazing writer. I loved reading this "Jury Duty-Almost" posting. How long have you been doing this? A friend of mine does a blog and emails all of us when there is a new "posting." Do you do that? If yes, please put me on the new post list. And Gena just told me that we missed your birthday. Can we just set it up that every year we have a brunch for your Birthday? Like 2/22 is a day that we all know will be a party day. So for you it's 1/18? So I'm putting it into my calendar right now. Hey, I sent you a couple of emails regarding your boss's Mexican jewelry collection. Where is he with it? I would love to see it in person and brainstorm.

Let me know and I love the blog!!!


Anonymous said...

Kathy! I really enjoyed this piece - you're a terrific story teller... so funny and observant. Way to blog!