Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Jury duty: a new adventure!

When I was in my 20s, living in El Paso with my army officer husband, I got a jury summons from California, where we were registered to vote. I called and explained and got excused.

Fifteen years ago I was summoned. I drove to Everett, Washington and sat in a big room for two days and got sent home.

Last December I got summoned, told to report to Everett in February. I explained that I live in Tucson in the winter and wouldn't be home yet. I got another summons in February and told to report in April. I explained that I'd be in Greece at that time. They gave me one more chance, told me to report this week. So I did.

On Monday morning I followed instructions from the detailed phone recording. Found a parking place three levels down, rode the elevator to the surface, took the wide walkway to the criminal justice building, and checked into the jury room. There were 120 of us, sitting in rows in near silence. Waiting. Like at the departure gate at the airport, only without carryons.

Juries were to be selected for three trials. My name was called for the third group. I was given the number 17 of 35 jurors called for Judge A's courtroom. Numbers 1 to 13 were seated in the jury box and the rest of us, in numerical order, were seated in the first two rows of the regular courtroom.

The judge asked people to raise their hands if serving as a juror would be a hardship for a trial expected to last two to three days. When the first four dismissals for hardship had left the jury box, I was asked to take my place in the jury box.

The attorneys for the prosecution and the defense had half an hour each to ask questions of the jury pool: for example, "Do any of you have any problems with an interpreter being present for the defendant?" "Do any of you believe that the drug problem is caused mostly by people of color?" "Do any of you believe the drug laws are too strict or not strict enough?"

Then each attorney was given seven opportunities to dismiss members of the jury without having to give a reason. As a juror was dismissed, their spot was filled in by someone from the first two rows of the courtroom. I felt like I was on display. I was sure one of them would say, "The prosecution/defendant thanks and dismisses Juror Number 17." But they didn't.

When jury selection was complete, there was one person remaining out of the original 35. Twelve jurors were selected and 22 were dismissed. Our jury ended up with eight men and four women. Four of us - two men and two women - were retired, and the others were still working. We all received new numbers and I was now Juror Number 4.

I arrived at the courthouse on Monday at 8:20 a.m. and left at 4:30 p.m. At the end of the day the jury had been selected and one witness had been called. This was a slow, deliberate process.

Tuesday I arrived at the courthouse at 8:45. The jury probably spent half an hour listening to testimony and the rest of the time waiting in the jury room while the attorneys and the judge had conversations the jury was not supposed to hear. During one of our waits, one of the female jurors got sick. We were moved to another jury room while the one we'd been in was sanitized. Then we were released for lunch.

More of the same in the afternoon. Members of our jury were beginning to chat. Personalities were emerging. I was pretty quiet. We had been told we were not to communicate during the trial, so I blogged as we went but delay this post until the trial was over.

In the witness testimony, I heard a few discrepancies. I noticed some body language. We had been told that the defendant in a criminal matter is presumed innocent until proven guilty. I remembered that.

Wednesday we only heard from one witness. The judge read us our instructions and the two attorneys gave their closing arguments. The jury then left the courtroom to begin its deliberations. We ate lunch in the jury room, deliberated and reached a verdict in two hours.

The case: Back in March, police responded to a 9-1-1 call from a minimarket at about 1 a.m.. A man had been in the bathroom for 45 minutes, talking and yelling, and the clerk wanted him removed. The police removed the man, and while the clerk was filling out the report the man's possessions were picked up. As that happened, a metal spoon fell out of a jacket pocket. The police then searched him and his backpack and found a substance resembling heroin, syringes, plastic baggies and a scale. He was charged with possession of heroin with intent to deliver, with possession of heroin as a secondary crime.

In the jury room, the initial count was eight people for guilty, three for not guilty and one undecided. The second count was ten guilty and two not guilty. I was one of the not guilties. But I couldn't get past one of the pieces of evidence. The third count was a unanimous verdict:

Guilty of possession of heroin with intent to deliver.

We returned to the courtroom and delivered our verdict to the judge. Then we were dismissed.

Three days of jury duty and I'm done!

I'll talk more about my jury experience in my next blog post.


joeh said...

I have been on jury duty 4 times. Some good and some bad experiences, but I have always been disturbed by the number of people who will do anything to dodge this service, which makes our system stand out against and superior to many others.

Interested and waiting to hear more.

Dreamer said...

I have never been called for jury duty. I have probably just jinxed myself. It sounds like a lot of waiting around. Glad it is over for you.

Pudge450 said...

I served one time. We found for the defendant so quickly we were embarrassed to return to the courtroom so quickly. Felt like the court might not feel like we had considered it carefully. In truth, it was so obvious, we took an initial vote immediately and were all in agreement. So we sat around and got to know each other for a while before we returned to the courtroom.

A couple of years later I had occasion to retain that attorney for the defendant for a business matter. I told him about the jury's decision to remain out a while. He thought it was hilarious and said he is always interested in jury stories. I also told him about the distaste the jury had for the attorney for the plaintiff, as he had been very abusive and harassing to the little older lady defendant. If the evidence had not been so convincing, it would have been very hard to find in his client's favor just because he was so obnoxious. I hope he has developed a little courtroom decorum.

Linda Reeder said...

I have been called numerous times. For a few years a wile back, I was getting two a year! However I have only served once. The rest of the time I was dismissed or not needed.

DJan said...

I also have been called several times. I served once in Boulder, Colorado, and the trial lasted two full days. It was an interesting experience. Here in Washington state I've been called once, but I was dismissed. I look forward to hearing more about this trial.

Anonymous said...

Do you watch Bull? It's a tv show about a jury consultant who can read people very well, plus he has a war room of people and technology to keep track of the jurors. I'm sure his services would be very costly, but I'm also sure that these companies exist.

The last time I was on jury duty, I was asked questions by the defense attorney that could have only come from my blog. After two days, we were dismissed (I figured a plea bargain had been made), as I'm sure our faces told the story of the evidence. It was crummy and the police had done a very poor job. We were all aghast they even brought the case to trial.

Dee said...

Dear Linda, throughout my adult life, I've wondered when I'd be called for jury duty. It didn't happen until March of this year--I was nearly 81. I had to send in the card saying that I was having back surgery and would be in the hospital during the time I was supposed to report for jury duty. So I was dismissed. I'm wondering if I'll ever get called again.

I look forward to your posting about all that happened. I really don't watch shows that have juries, so I don't know all the ins and outs. Peace.

scott said...

I've been summoned for jury duty three times but never selected. Interesting how all of this works, especially in your case, the three times voting. You are right though, innocent until proven guilty.

I'm in the middle of writing a three post series about the time I witnessed a shooting and ended up being a witness for the state - a whole other perspective and I learned a lot! It was a 15 month process where so many things happened and an absolute crazy ending.

Hope I never have to go through that again.