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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Jury Duty Report: So Close...

NOTE: I took notes while on jury duty and as my wife complains, I often get long winded. I won't be offended if you give up half way through it...

It isn't as if I have never been called for jury duty. I'm pretty sure that the last time, probably three years ago, I had made a list of do's and don'ts. The problem is, that was three years ago and I have no idea what I did with the list. So as a service to you and as something I can look back on three years from now when I get called again, I offer my jury duty report.

Everybody will tell you to bring a book to read. I talked to my mom on Sunday and she told me to to take a book. Five minutes before leaving the house, my wife told me I should take a book with me. As you might expect, I forgot the book.

This is really not a problem though because the Cadena-Reeves Justice Center in downtown San Antonio has free Wi-Fi access. I of course, also did not bring my laptop with me.

I was not cut off from the world completely because I can access my e-mail through my cell phone. Unfortunately, the central jury room is located in the basement, and for some reason my Verizon phone can only obtain spotty service unless you stand next to one of the outer doors where I guess some signal reaches down.

So, the important thing to take from this is, bring a laptop and if not, bring a book.

I know many people hate the idea of jury duty and come up with all sorts of excuses. I for one look forward to the opportunity to give someone the needle. Preferably someone who deserves it. Likewise, in the spirit of 12 Angry Men, I like to imagine myself being the guy who asks other jurors to really put aside their prejudices and make the right decision based upon the facts of the case. Then we give them the needle.

My one chance several years ago, to be the voice of reason, I spoke up and I think I did a good job. I was selected as a member of a jury, seated to determine if a murderer was mentally fit to stand trial.

Both the murderer's defense attorney and the prosecutor were in lock-step: Dude was nuts. They both explained that if the we found that the murderer was incompetent to stand trial, he would not simply walk. Instead, he would spend as much time as necessary in the state padded facility until such a time that he could stand trial. The minute this guy could color within the lines, he was going to be tried.

I took the information into consideration. When we left the court room and the bailiff escorted us to the jury room for deliberation, the 12 of us looked at one another and mostly shrugged shoulders. The first guy to briefly say anything was immediately and unanimously appointed as jury foreman.

The foreman suggested that we discuss the case then, hold a secret ballot to see just where we as a group stood on the case. A few people nodded heads in agreement, but nobody really offered up any topics of discussion.

Finally, after about 15 seconds of people looking around at each other, I cleared my throat and said, "I have a better idea. Is there anybody in this room who did not see how clearly out of this world insane that crazy murderer was? My God. Did you see his eyes? That guy is nuts." So at least they knew where I stood.

And that was it. The foreman said, "Anyone here think the crazy murderer is sane?" We notified the bailiff that we had made our decision and the rest is history. I can only assume that guy is painting little flowers with dripping droplets of blood from its petals in the safety of some state run home for the not-so-right.

Or they have sent him home to New Orleans.

When you first arrive for jury duty, you are guided like cattle into seats, row by row. The place was packed - 470 San Antonio-sized people in one room. After a brief uninspiring speech and swearing in by a judge, a lady who has worked in the jury room for 26 years came out and gave the group our instructions. Can you just imagine giving the same speech to a crowd of mostly disinterested people, 5 days a week for 26 years?

She had the entire routine down in the same way that an experienced flight attendant would, complete with double-armed hand gesticulations to show where the restrooms and emergency exits are located.

This is interesting. One guy seated a few rows in front of me apparently turned in his little registration sheet, waited until we were sworn in, and left. At first I thought maybe he just slipped off to the Men's room, but no, he just left. They'll find him. Find him in contempt. Dumbass.

I have written before that I am extremely shy when I am outside the comfort zone of family and friends. Whereas my wife can (and does) strike up conversations with complete strangers, I find it difficult to be in a room full of people I don't know (unless I have my camera and can take pictures of the goofy ones).

This is made worse when I am seated next to a person who wants to force their friendly and cheerful personality on me. Can we not agree that that there is an unwritten social rule, known to citizens everywhere, that reading a book or magazine is a signal that you do not wish to engage in polite conversation with the person seated next to you in any form of public transportation or a jury holding room? Further, I'd like to extend this rule of etiquette to somebody writing in a note book in a jury room.

But of course, the smokey smelling lady with the obligatory hoarse throat insisted on commenting on just how small my handwriting was.

Now, it seems like if I am willing to write these things and post them on the Internet, that I wouldn't mind someone reading over my shoulder. But really, it does bother me.

And as a side note, writing that last sentence was enough to get the smokey lady to grab her cigarettes and take a break in the big glass smoke area.

Which is another thing. I can't believe so many people still smoke. The courthouse is supposed to be a smoke free environment but they have this huge glass enclosure for the smokers. I walked by and it looked like a foggy morning in San Francisco, or wherever else it gets foggy. My God. At least we know there will be plenty of unbiased jurors for another fifty years worth of lawsuits against big tobacco.

During the morning, I would move multiple times out of boredom. On two occasions, I found myself seated near people who seemed to know one another. Not in the way my wife seems to know everybody at HEB, but I mean know one another as in discussing finances, holding hands and picking hairs from ones ears. I came to the conclusion that some people go to jury duty with their spouse. WTF? Is your life so boring that you voluntarily go and sit for hours on end in a public place when you don't have to? What happens if your spouse gets picked to sit on a jury? Do you ask for a special seat in the jury booth so your wife won't be lonely? That's love.

Throughout the entire morning, numerous panels of prospective jurors were called, but my name never made it. So it was off to lunch, and in spite of the the heat (I think we hit 100 today) and the fact that I was in slacks, long sleeve shirt and tie as if I was going to work, I took a stroll from the courthouse to Schilo's to grab one of their famous Reuben's. Scrumptious and worth the walk in spite of the heat. I'm sure my fellow jurors were pleased with me.

My hope was that after lunch I would be called for duty and either get to find someone guilty or simply be released right away. As enthusiastic as I am about serving my civic duty, I try to avoid being trapped in public places (READ: Away from my home rest room) as much as possible.

Like clockwork, I was the third name called following lunch and our group of 18 was led to a second floor jury room. For some reason, as we sat there, it was dead silence until some man started whispering to a lady next to him. Other than that brief outburst, people just stared at one another.

I looked around the room and began to quietly evaluate each of the people, based solely on looks, and attempted to determine who I might have to convince one way or another to see my way. After a short while, we were led down to the court room of Judge Tim Johnson and then the fun would begin.

Voir Dire is the process where the prosecutor and the defense ask a bunch of questions to the jury pool to eliminate people who would most likely be harmful to a case. In the case of say, a drunk driver, there is a good chance that the prosecutor would want a person wearing a MADD t-shirt on the jury, but you can pretty much be assured that the defense would prefer them to be excused.

When we marched into the court room and were seated according to number, the judge introduced himself, gave a really good background of himself, how things work and then introduced the opposing lawyers, the defendant and his staff. If you have never been in a court room, the process is very interesting.

The prosecution began with asking questions about people’s attitudes toward prosecuting a particular type of misdemeanor case. In other words, he asked the panel if any of us thought it was a waste of time prosecuting a particular offense considering nobody was harmed or killed etc.

When it was his turn, the defense attorney asked potential jurors if, given the type of crime, could they listen to the evidence and give the defendant a fair hearing. You’d be shocked at how many people flat out admit that, without even knowing the full charges or circumstances, they could not give a person who had been arrested for a crime a fair shake - simply because of the alleged crime.

I think it is fair to say that none of us are for murder, right? And it would be reasonable to assume that none of us support child molesters, burglars, drunk drivers, arsonists or wife beaters. But could you not take any of those acts that a person was accused of and simply look at the facts to determine if the person is guilty as charged or perhaps innocent? I believe I could. Right off the bat, close to half the people in the jury pool I was with could not.

Suddenly, as I sat through voir dire, I found myself making facial expressions of disgust upon hearing some of the ridiculous statements made by people. As much as I knew it would not help me get on the jury, I could not stop myself from asking the prosecutor pointed questions about his statements as if I was already fighting the case without even knowing it. This is not a good way to get selected to a jury, by the way, and the judge even said as much as when he thanked those of us not selected and dismissed us.

Two of the six selected to serve were woman I had chatted with during our final break, and I was confident that both were open to giving the defendant a fair shake. I also think they would give the prosecutor a fair hearing as well. In the end, I think that is all we can hope for.

When we were dismissed, the judge told us we were welcome to stay and hear the opening remarks. It was fast approaching 5PM and to be honest, I had had enough of jury duty for one day. I obviously have no idea how the trial would end and in fact, the judge had told us that it was a routine and daily thing that would never pique the interest of the media, so the chances of reading about it later were pretty limited.

In the end, I can only hope that I never see the jury box from the other side of it. In spite of the fantastic system we have in this country and the idea that each person accused is considered innocent until proven guilty, I’m not so sure I want to take a chance on the majority of people I met to have to make that decision.

And of course, if you are a guilty, you don't want to take a chance on me. Get the needle!


Anon E. Mouse said...

the best assignment for Jury duty is at the JP Precinct #2. My experience, and that of my wife, was they only call for juries on Fridays (this was under Judge Weiner, who knows what Judge Walker is doing now?) and generally those would be over and done with in 30-90 minutes, and you were often dismissed for the day before noon. Once you serve a JP jury call, you are exempt for a county court jury summons for the same length of time.

Our son had received a summons for county jury duty a couple of months ago, but it was during a week where he was working 10p-7a almost every night, and would not have been able to stay awake during service. They kindly rescheduled him for June 29th and his boss promised not to schedule him to work the night before or after his jury duty day.

Anon E. Mouse said...

Taking your laptop is a good idea, but also take 2 other items. A surge strip with a long (6') cable, and/or a short extension cable, cause you'll be fighting over available outlets. Also bring a cable lock to secure your laptop and its case in the event you aren't allowed to take it with you into the jury room. (In that event, ask the bailiff to help you secure it in their office.)

If you pre-load some movies on your laptop to watch, use headsets to listen to them, or you will annoy your neighbors and likely be told by the bailiff to turn it off / down. I'd suggest not loading any X-rated porno or even a strong "R" rated movie either.

Taking a library book (or one from another source) is less tiresome from security standpoint, but when you reach the end of the book, you can't pull up another story like you could with your laptop.

Were you aware that the Bailiff's routinely run criminal background chceks on all folks who show up for jury duty? It's amazing how many folks with outstanding warrants get picked up each day when they show up for jury duty. Some are simply over due parking tickets, speeding tickets, failure to appear in court, etc. So clean up your act, pay off any past due tickets or child support before reporting for jury duty next time. :)

Dave said...

I'd suggest not loading any X-rated porno or even a strong "R" rated movie either.

Really? No porn in a room of 470 others? Someone should have told that to the guy next to me with one of those iPhones who kept playing post-game interviews with Kobe Bryant without the benefit of headphones to protect the rest of our sensitive ears. That guy should have been arrested.

Stacy said...

My husband went for jury duty but was not selected for a murder case. The interesting thing was the letter we received 2 weeks later telling the outcome of the case and thanking him for his time.
They found him guilty.

KeithAlanK said...

My jury duty story:


Dave said...

That is quite an innovative way to deal with a shitty situation.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the tips. I received a summons in the mail yesterday, so now I'll be better prepared.

Q said...

I was there 2 weeks ago for a robbery case that was expected to last 5 days...

I didn't get selected either because I agreed that a defendant that doesn't testify on his/her behalf looks guilty...the defense attorney said it is their right and I agreed, then I said if I was guilty I would exercise that right also...

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San Antonio, TX, United States
I love to observe the odd things happening around me as I go about my day. I especially like it when I can get a picture of people being themselves. Here, I attempt to report the various people and events I have encountered in my neighborhood, and my city. I'd also love to hear from you. Feel free to e-mail your experiences and photos of life in San Antonio.

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