Friday, March 5, 2010

Like a Bad Accident, You Just Can't Look Away

This week I had an adventure that I truly didn't want to take.  But now that it is over it was worth the trip in that I got an education in our judicial system.

I got called for jury duty back a couple months.  Then, the weather (imagine that) made it impossible for the case to go forward.  So, this week was the date that I had been dreading---- dreading for quite a while now.

When I arrived at the courthouse I walked in and saw one of my actual neighbors there.  Wow.  Small world, I thought.  I signed in and they directed me to the gallery of the big courtroom where, when I opened the doors, I could not believe how many people were already in there.  I had to search for a seat.  When I saw a man from a nearby town that I recognized I saw that there was an empty seat next to him.  I took it.  Honestly, I was very nervous about this whole serving on a jury thing.  I've never done it before and it was rather daunting.

Eventually, the judge and the rest of the people needed for jury selection (including the defendant) came into the courtroom and we were about to begin.  The man next to me told me that he had done this before and that he was hoping that he would not be called for this jury and was planning to stop at a local farm sale on his way home.  I was hoping that I would be home for lunch.

When we FINALLY began they drew names out of a plastic container and read each name to come up and sit beginning in the jury box and then in the seats lining up in front of the box and then five more chairs sitting directly in front of the defendant.

It wasn't long before my "friend" sitting next to me was called.  This was phase one, though, and we could still have an out later even if we were called now.  Names continued to be called and several were people that I knew.  I kept thinking after each name that I could breathe a little easier.  Soon there were only those 5 chairs left to fill in front of the lawyers.  An older lady was called first to that section.  Then BINGO they called my name.  I was so nervous.  Thankfully I got to sit in the "back row" of the "5 chair section" and once we were all seated my view to the defendant's table was obstructed by the man in front of me.

The second selection process was also scary as the lawyers each had a chance to ask any of us questions.  They would speak to us by name and ask us a direct question.  SCARY.  Soon I was sorry that I had listened to my son and used his boss's reason for not wanting to serve.  It sounded really stupid when the defense attorney asked me about it directly.

As fate would have it,  I was NOT one of the 14 people who were dismissed as jurors.  After selection, they promptly sent us to the jury room and we got briefly "acquainted".  Actually, there were about 5 or 6 of the people I served with that I never did learn their names.  But there were also about 5 people who I knew.

Then before we knew it we were asked to line up as we wanted to sit and walk in EVERY SINGLE TIME and we were ushered back into the courtroom.  We got to hear both lawyers' opening statements before lunch.  Then we had to go order our lunch in the jury room.  Then we got to hear some more testimony.  Before long we went to lunch at a local restaurant.  We had to wear buttons on our shirts that said "JUROR" so that no one would approach us and talk to us.  We also had to sit together in a back room away from the other customers.  Lunch was good in that we got to ask the baliff some questions about how things work.

One tidbit was that those stenographers have a machine that they program for each case and they might have several words or phrases on one button to save them time.  I found that really interesting. I always wondered how they typed every single word that was spoken and made it look so easy.

After lunch we heard the the rest of the State's witnesses and went home that day around 5:00.

Now I have to stop and explain my blog title.  Every single witness except for the two police officers and one other woman who was kind of a witness were people who seemed like they lived a really sad life of drinking, parties, and causing trouble.  At one point it was so sad to me that I almost wanted to cry.  (And if you know me that takes a lot.)  It just didn't seem like their lives could be more base.

If I had voted at that point I would have voted GUILTY.  But then we went home.

Yesterday, we got to hear the defense witnesses and they were just as unsavory as the first bunch.  None of them seemed believable.  Finally, we heard the defendant testify then both sides rested.  After taking another break to the jury room, where we were NOT allowed to talk about anything to do with the case which made it really boring, we were called back in to hear the closing arguments.  I honestly thought again in my gut at that point that the state had met its burden to prove the case.  Then we were told which one of us was the "alternate juror" and that person was not allowed to deliberate with us.

The bottom line is that by following the law of what we were asked to do we did not feel that the evidence presented to us by the witnesses or by the photographs of the incident led us to believe without reasonable doubt that this person was guilty of their crime.  But I kind of felt that he was anyway.  The law is very specific and we had to only go with what we were given as actual evidence.  Therefore, we went with not guilty after about an hour of discussing it and going back and forth about it.

We filed back into the courtroom and gave the baliff our verdict. ( Right now I would like to make a comment about "creepy walmart checker guy" who was our foreperson and who thought he got to read the verdict but I won't.  I kind of wanted to giggle.)  The defendant was happy and we were told that the judge would come back to the jury room and answer any questions we had about the process and the case.  That was cool.  But it brought something to light.

He indicated to us that the defendant, though thrilled to be not guilty today, had several other appointments in his courtroom in the future.

Then we got to ask questions of the lawyers and they asked questions about how we reached our decision.  I felt really ripped off that we were unable to know that so many of the people involved in this case had been in prison before and would likely be going there again if they could convict them in their future cases.  But we were told that our decision was not wrong but was proof that the "system" works.  And that is true.

We did what we could with what evidence we were given but I think we all would have changed our vote if we had known that the defendant had done this before and will likely do it again.

I'm trying not to think about it and let it get me down.  It actually was a good experience especially since the judge and the lawyers made it a learning experience overall.

Thankfully, we can choose to not serve on a jury again for a year.  Truth is, if I got called again, I wouldn't be afraid to do it.


  1. So interesting, Linda. I'm glad you did your civic duty. :)

  2. I served on a jury about 16 years ago. It was actually a death penalty case for a guy who had killed a six year old girl. I still think about it a lot! We found him eligible for the death penalty and now that I'm older and wiser (supposedly!) I'm not sure I believe in that any more. Anyway, I know what you've been through and I know it can be tough. Personally, I hope I'm never on a jury again!

  3. Thanks for writing all about this. I've received the "you might get called during the next six months" letter several times, but I've never had to go in.

  4. Wow! This must have hit a nerve. I'll definitely be looking for certain people's names in the paper for a while. I hope justice wins out.

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