Monday, June 19, 2017

What the Bag Lady learned during jury duty

I showed up for jury duty on Monday at 8:15 a.m.. I walked out of the courthouse on Wednesday at 2:10 p.m. I'm done with jury duty after three days. We found the defendant guilty of possession of heroin with intent to deliver.

Here's what I learned, about the jury experience and about myself:

1. Forty percent of people who receive a summons to jury duty don't respond. The law says they can get a bench warrant, but it's not cost effective. It wouldn't even occur to me to try to get out of jury duty. I'd heard people say it was a pain, but I was always curious about what the experience would be like.

2. The gathering and dispersing of juries in Snohomish County Superior Court is very well organized. The waiting is necessary - whether in the jury reporting room or as an individual jury - but we were informed that would be the case. I appreciate the thought and planning that went into the existing procedure.

3. As a juror, I felt valued. It was pretty cool, as the door to the courtroom opened to the jury room where we were waiting in line to enter, to hear, "All rise for the jury." It's respect being paid not to the actual people in the jury, but to the concept of a person's right to a jury of his peers, and the presence of those peers.

4. It was almost always quiet in the jury room. We had one chatty man who initiated conversations about woodcarving and world travel, but mostly we read or surfed with our phones or looked out the window. I took my laptop one day to do some work during our waiting times, but I was the only one who did.

5. During a break on the second day, one of the female jurors got sick. I saw her sitting on the floor in the bathroom just beside the open door. The bailiff went to call a marshal. I don't think a sick person in a strange place should be alone, so I went to her and knelt on the floor beside her. I put my right hand on her right hand. She was cool and clammy. She said, "I haven't been sick in decades. I think I caught the stomach flu from my daughter. I feel like I'm going to throw up." I said, "I have heard that is going around." I stayed with her, my hand on hers, until the marshal arrived. I said, "Stomach flu" and went into the other bathroom to wash my hands, then returned to my seat at the jury table. The other jurors looked at me. No one said anything. If I get sick, I get sick. (I didn't, but I worried a little, knowing if I did get sick, the judge would have to declare a mistrial.)

6. Our courtroom was on the second floor. I took the steps rather than the elevator, but I noticed that I had to focus on my breathing. I was diagnosed with asthma last winter, but I don't take the prescribed medications unless I have to. I am not at all happy with having to focus on my breathing when climbing stairs.

7. I'm 68, but I think of myself as about 42. I don't color my hair any more. I have about 60 extra pounds on my body. My mind is still sharp and I am much more open minded and calm than when I really was 42. But other people who look at me probably see an overweight retired person, and it's possible that any stereotypes they might have about older people could be applied: (grandchild obsessed, slightly dim in the brain, garden putterer, knitter) - none of which I happen to be. I'm thinking that during the jury selection process I might have been viewed with interest as a "retired white female" because that demographic is one needed on a jury. But by the time the jury selection was complete, I'm guessing they saw me as an articulate, pragmatic, intelligent person who happens to be retired. I'm hoping so, anyway.

8. Looking back at #6, there's a possibility that climbing stairs would be less of an effort if I didn't have 60 extra pounds on my body. I am working on that - in the middle of week 5 of Weight Watchers. It is my intention that my blood pressure reading, my sensitive feet, and my degree of stamina be only a function of my age, rather than being partially a function of my weight. If I am able to wear more of the clothes in my closet, that will be fine too. This, of course, has nothing to with jury duty, but those stairs are a reminder of the worthiness of my Weight Watchers project.

9. As part of the jury pool and as a juror, I confirmed that I have the following opinions:
  • People of color are not the cause of the current drug problem in our society.
  • Immigrants are not the cause of the current drug problem.
  • If a defendant needs a translator, it does not mean they are guilty. Along this same line, I am glad to see that translators are hired to assist in the justice process.
  • If a defendant does not testify in their own behalf, it does not mean they are guilty.
  • If a witness has lived in the US for four years and still needs a translator, it does not mean that he has an inaccurate memory. 
  • Just because I know people who have spent time in jail because of drugs does not mean that a defendant in jail for drugs is guilty.
  • Just because a defendant has a quantity of heroin in their backpack does not mean they have an "intent to deliver". However, I can't think of any reason why a defendant with a quantity of heroin in their backpack would also have a scale, unless there was some intention other than personal use of the heroin.
  • I am not afraid to be in the minority on an opinion, but I have learned there is a fine line between "beyond a reasonable doubt" and stubbornness.
  • The hardest part of jury deliberations for me was that I couldn't question why some evidence was NOT presented. I could only consider the evidence that was. I had to remind myself of that more than once.
  • It is not necessary to talk more in order to be heard. Sometimes, talking less is more useful.
10. I may be a "retired white female," but I was selected as master juror (foreperson). Someone said, "Who wants to be foreman?" I said, "Well, I am a mediator, and I will do it if no one else wants to." I was elected unanimously. The toughest part was signing my name to the verdict: guilty of possession of heroin with intent to deliver. The evidence was beyond a reasonable doubt, but not far beyond.


Olga said...

I have yet to be called for jury duty...although now that it's down in writing m I will likely get the letter sometime soon.

Unknown said...

Questioned once for jury duty on a stabbing case. Brought back a memory with my dad that I had repressed. Never called again but sent me to counseling to deal with stuff I definitely needed to deal with to be a better person.

joeh said...

It is terrible that some people find a way to dodge their duty, however, if I am accused, I don;t think I would want those kind of people on my

Linda Reeder said...

Another interesting list of lessons learned! I have served on several juries. On one case, we found the evidence not sufficient for conviction. The second was a mistrial because the judge got sick. I have been called many times, but at that point I had a son-in-law in law enforcement, and that got me rejected.
In my experience, I was impressed, and aggravated, by how controlled the evidence was. I wanted to know more.

DJan said...

I have been release from serving on a jury after having been questioned by the lawyers. Once I also said I couldn't give a fair verdict about a person who was driving drunk, to me she was already guilty. I was dismissed. The only time I did what you did, serve for several days, it was a disgruntled relative who tried to make it seem the defendant was guilty, when it was obvious to me she wasn't. Only one person disagreed when we were able to talk about it all! I learned a lot from the process, as it seems you did, too. :-)

Dee said...

Dear Linda, thank you for sharing this experience with us. As I said in the comment I left on your previous posting, I've never done jury duty so it is of great interest to me. As the foreperson, did you have to use your forte--mediation? I bet the others were glad you were with them in that deliberation room. Peace.

Arkansas Patti said...

You had to be the best qualified. Kudos. I only served on a jury once and found it interesting and I did my best to be fair. Our jury foreman was a pizza delivery guy in his mid twenties and he was brilliant. The verdict rested on the layout of the city and no one knew it better than he did. We almost had a hung jury though. The lone hold out was clinging to the idea our decision had racial bias. It wasn't even close to that and we finally convinced him that wasn't true so he joined us in our verdict. We found the defendant guilty on one of 3 charges. I am now considered too old to serve. Enjoy it while you can.

joared said...

I served on jury duty in a small town where I had had contact or knew of all the parties -- including both lawyers, the accused, most other jurors. I was only in my twenties. I think I would have preferred knowing none of them. Sounds like you were a good choice for foreperson.