Tuesday, June 24, 2008

We Have Been Banned...and other observations from Jury Duty

Yep, I had jury duty today (and I am at liberty to talk about it). The jury holding room had nine computers in it for people to use. In spite of about 150 jurors in the room, not all the computers were in use which surprised me as I thought there would be fights over them (if you had 10 of my coworkers in a room with 9 computers, there would be fights over them). I tried to access JT Irregulars and we were filtered! Yep, wouldn't let me check it but it WOULD let me check the JT blogs!

My only other time I made it to the courthouse after being called for jury duty was in Florida. It was a slip and fall case against Wal-Mart. During questioning, they asked if anyone liked or didn't like Wal-Mart. So I told them my opinion (I REALLY don't like Wal-Mart) and railed on their labor practices, union busting, outsourcing, and the Cheryl Crow-Wal-Mart censorship case. After my little rant, the defense attorney moved that the entire jury pool be dismissed as I had biased the pool against his client! The judge didn't do it, but I was not on that jury to say the least!

Now I need to back up for a minute to my arrival. They make you pass through security of course. They do let you bring in bottles of water and soda which got me thinking...if you can't bring liquids aboard a plane since you might make a "bomb" why can you bring so much into a courthouse? I am just saying.

Okay, so I surfed the web through the video introduction to jury service but still saw enough of the video to know that it is all about the patriotic duty we have to be part of the process. I get called and am in City Court which is a three block walk from where we reported...walk over there (not too hot at that time of day).

After passing through security (again all liquids allowed) and a short wait, we were in the courtroom. I noticed the jury swearing in said "Do you swear to God or affirm..." Guess they put that part in for us non-believers. I also noticed the prospective jurors responded to the oath with a mix of "I do" and "So help me God." The court officers seemed cool with both.

I was one of the initial 11 selected to be screened. It was a DUI case. The first thing everyone did was stand and state their name, marital status, number of children under 21, car driven, bumper stickers on the car, favorite television programs, magazines and radio shows. I was probably the most overtly political (but honest of course) in my answers about the Darwin fish and bumper stickers (Hate is Not a Family Value, Don't Assume I Share Your Prejudices, a Pride Flag), television shows (Daily Show and Colbert) and that I listen to NPR all the time.

They asked if anyone had any legal training and I volunteered that I listen to the NPR show Justice Talking which might not be formal training, but I knew that lawyers could get MCLE continuing ed credit through Wested for listening to the show. The judge, prosecuting attorney and defense attorney all laughed in a rare moment of levity.

More questioning...I had to tell them that my brother was arrested for DUI but found not guilty and that I had a student of mine die about 10 years ago while under the influence while she was driving home after a high school party.

Surprisingly, I was still put on the panel. I wasn't trying to get out of jury duty, but thought they might knock me out due to the DUI connections (I said I believed I could still be impartial...I am not close to my brother and the student was the one doing the drinking and driving so I couldn't hold a grudge against someone else).

One thing I liked is that the jurors are now allowed to ask questions! I heard about some courts allowing this on NPR. Given that this case would involve some science (breathalyzer results, Field Sobriety tests), I was looking forward to the opportunity. Questions had to be written down and given to the judge who would decide if they could be asked. Jury questions are subject to the same rules as the questions from the attorneys (no leading the witness and such) so the judge may or may not allow them to be asked...but hey, I am smart...I already figured out I could rephrase the question and try again just like the attorneys :)

The opening arguments started late in the morning. The prosecuting attorney gave a play by play of what we would hear in testimony. The judge asked if the defense attorney would like to make an opening statement and he said, "No,but I will" and then said he likes to joke around. It really was an odd, awkward moment when he tried to make a joke, people weren't sure if they should laugh, but it really wasn't that funny anyway. He then gave an opening statement that was very vague, talking little about the case and more about keeping an open mind, seeing justice done, etc.

We broke for lunch before the presentation of evidence...lunch started at about 11:45 and we reconvened at 1:30...lawyers like long lunches I guess.

The prosecution called their first witness, the arresting officer. Fairly standard questioning, what is his training in DUI screening, how many DUI investigations had he been involved in, and then getting to the specifics of the stop. After about 45 minutes, they ask they jury to leave the room and have a conference. After about half an hour, we are callled back in and thanked for our service. I asked if it was a plea bargain or a mistrial and they wouldn't say. We were done and went home early, sort of anti-climactic for sitting on my first jury.

I compared this to my experience teaching. The school I was teaching at in the 90's in Florida has a mock trial team. They were perennial state contenders and the state meet was over spring break. None of the bus drivers wanted to take the kids to state (they wanted their spring break) but I had a CDL and they paid my expenses, so sure, I will drive and get a free trip to Tallahassee (and still have six days vacation afterwards). I also went to the competition (which the students liked since they typically had NO fans make the trip).

You know what? They were good...very good. I couldn't help but comparing their techniques to the lawyers I saw today and there was no contest...the high school students were better prepared and smoother in their presentation. Two particularly memorable performances was a student from Germany who had the accent,beard and mustache and was playing a psychiatrist as a witness and had me rolling on the floor and another student who played a student who hosted a party where a classmate got alcohol posining...and it was a student you could see hosting that party in real life and he played the roll WAY too well!

I realize I have to take that with a grain of salt...the high school students only have one case to prepare (although they have to prepare both prosecution and defense) over several months and these lower level prosecuters and defenders are handling several cases at a time.

So there are my observations today. It was interesting overall and I hope someday to be on a jury that gets to deliberate. I also encourage all of you to not dread jury duty. Waiting can be a little boring, but both times I have been called, everyone has been very professional and they have taken good care of the jurors. Go in there and help see justice served. The people on this blog care about their communities and their country (yeah, even the ones I disagree with.) I would rather have people of above average intelligence who care about our communities in there making the decisions.

Thanks for those that succeeded in wading through the whole thing!


kkdither said...

I sat on a jury once. It was a pretty open and shut case. It lasted a couple of days. To begin with I took notes. I was very conscientious. Then it became obviously clear that the guy was guilty as hell. I couldn't believe it even went to a jury trial.

When we could finally deliberate and discuss the case with one another, it basically came down to the question... "who thinks this idiot is guilty?" Everyone raised their hand.

The whole process was interesting, right down to having them confiscate my best nail file--I was part of the jury, not one of the witnesses that were in shackles....for goodness sake!

The intimate and seedy details that were poured out in court were amazing. I was really glad that it wasn't a case where I had second thoughts. It would be tough to know you were the cause of someone losing their freedom if you were any bit unsure.

Huck Finn said...

I've gotten the notice twice. When I've called and said I needed an interporetor or at lkeast able to see what the stenographer was recording (called CART interopreting) I was told that I was no longer needed for jury duty. I felt singled out as I really would like to do it once, but being deaf made them say so sorry.

If anyone wants out of jury duty, just call the place through a deaf relay using a TTY, and they won't even question if you are really deaf. Kind of sucks. Next time I get a notice, I'm going to demand they let me be in the pool and that tthey provide an interpreter.

AvengingAngel said...

For all it's faults, it really is the best system on the planet.

drewzepmeister said...

I got summoned for jury duty once. I sat in that courthouse room for four hours waiting with a bunch of people.Our numbers were never called. The second case was cancelled and we were sent home. That was it.

OrbsCorbs said...

Got the notice twice in Racine. The first time they let me reschedule the week I had to be available because of job concerns. I then tried to extend that, but they said no. Both times I had to show up, neither time was I called to serve.

True story: in Chicago, when I received a notice, I wrote "Deceased" across my name and address and threw it back in the mail. I never heard another thing.

AvengingAngel said...


In Chicago, that means you can't serve on a jury, but you can still vote.

OrbsCorbs said...

Not surprisingly, I had no difficulty voting after that, either.

I do somewhat admire the simplicity and "honesty" of their system: vote for the machine and the machine takes care of you. If you had a concern or problem in your neighborhood, you called your precinct captain and it was taken care of. Candidates elsewhere "buy" your vote, too, but they do it with campaigns, commercials, and promises. And then, when elected, they do whatever they want to, regardless of what their constituents believe. It was much more straightforward in Chi-town. Those "crooked" politicians actually worked for and represented the people who put them in office.