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inner workings, part 1

it's been a long time since my bls 342 course, and you can only rely on the various incarnations of law & order and csi for a limited amount of helpfulness in the real world. your best bet at being unwillingly educated on the simple complexity of our nation's legal system is, of course, being called for jury duty. your second best bet is to read this post. this is more a chronicle for myself than it is entertainment for you, so i apologize in advance.
i'd never received a summons before, much less been called in for duty. i received notice in april from my county's court of common pleas that i was basically "on call" for the following month. i remember having to fill out a tedious, several page long form. i mailed in the questionnaire and promptly forgot all about my on call status, until i came home last wednesday to a voicemail requiring my presence on the third floor of the courthouse at 8:30 the next morning. did i mention that wednesday was the day the only other co-worker in my department announced she would be out for six weeks [doctor's orders]? and then there were two. awesome timing.
came in early the next morning of my own accord. 7:30. for those of you who know how much i adore sleep, you know this was hard. left at quarter after eight, used my bright yellow juror parking pass for the uptown parking garage, passed through security, waited awkwardly in the third floor rotunda with twenty other people wishing that they weren't there, either. sometime before 9:00 the bailiff [who is SO NOT an officer in uniform like they show in tv and movies] began reading names and we entered the courtroom one by one, in a predetermined order [unbeknownst to us]. i didn't really know what was going on, but there were only a handful of us left out in the rotunda, so i figured this had to be good for me. and then. "oops -- we missed someone." they call my name. damn. i'm a little confused and wondering why there's a bunch of shuffling going on in the jury box. as it happens, the judge and counsel apparently make a little seating chart with everyone's name on it, so they all know who is where and why and at what time. i slide myself into the front row, third from the right. finally everyone is situated, with thirteen in the jury box and the rest scattered perfectly throughout the courtroom. now it's jury selection time.
the prosecuting attorney speaks to us first. he talks for around half an hour, giving examples and asking opinions on circumstantial evidence, feelings about police officers, "victimless crime," and the like. kinda boring, but okay, he's trying to figure us out -- he's going to want people who believe and trust law enforcement officials. the defense attorney is next and oh. my. lord. he's as boring as all get out, and he proceeds to ask ALL TWENTY OF US a laundry list of questions, most of which i vaguely remember already answering on the original juror questionnaire, and most of which i distinctly remember thinking as completely irrelevant. and he asked every. single. one of us. he did this for an hour and a half. he was standing directly in front of me. i wanted to strangle him. is that considered being in contempt of court?
so the worst part wasn't even hearing about every one of my possible co-jurors jobs, families and hobbies [or not -- you wouldn't believe how many people apparently do absolutely NOTHING in their spare time]. the worst part, by far, was listening to every damn person try to get out of jury duty using the lamest methods i have ever heard. all these people i was sitting with? not stupid. except... actually, yes. stupid. any sliver of possibility that they might not be a fair and impartial juror was grasped onto and blown completely out of proportion. it was really quite theatrical. so, i implore you, my dear readers: if ever you are called in for jury duty, if you have a valid reason for possibly not being a fair and impartial juror, by all means let that be known. if, however, it seems a stretch and you are trying too hard, just STOP. STOP because people like me will want to string you up by your toenails and pelt you with small, hard, sharp objects. you're lame and we all know what you're trying to do and you're WASTING EVERYONE'S TIME. needless to say, jury selection was not finished until 12:45pm. good lord.
after lunch was the "normal courtroom stuff" you are picturing -- opening statements, evidence, testimonies, lots of objection and your honor and counsel approach the bench type of stuff -- except you're probably not picturing the terrible powerpoint slides [mostly 'floor plans' of the police department. why was the slide background BRIGHT YELLOW? why all the misspellings? why is the guy in charge of the laptop completely inept?]. and really, if you're going to take photos for court evidence, could you at least make sure they're in focus? the gist of the case: police officer, man in custody, "casual friend" of man in custody are in police department. while officer finds arrest warrant paperwork, casual friend leaves and man in custody escapes as she opens door. the "casual friend" is the current defendant, and has been charged with complicity to escape. the question for us: did she know he was planning to escape behind her, or not? predictably, witness testimony was essentially he said she said. every aspect of their stories conflicted. there were other testimonies and nuances to the case but i will be here all night if i start writing about them. court recessed around 5:45pm and we were instructed to return at 9am friday morning for closing arguments.
Posted on Tuesday, May 29, 2007 at 09:44PM by Registered Commentermdog | Comments6 Comments

Reader Comments (6)

That sucks. I'm going to stick to my "never do jury duty" thing.

But what kind of things were the people doing to try & get out of it? We need to know what to avoid!

May 29, 2007 at 11:41PM | Unregistered Commentersuper des

I would think that strangling the defense attorney might fall into either contempt of court, or it sounds like, something deserving an accommodation.

My pre-trail experiences were similar, but I never started in the box.

I have often wondered if the questions by the defense weren't more for "manipulation" than actual information. For example, I was asked, "Do you automatically think that if someone has a prior DWI they are guilty of this charge?" Well, my answer is "no" -- I mean, I believe in innocent until proven guilty. But that speaks to character... so it is "evidence" in a legal sense and can be considered. But you better believe the DA reminded us we said that in her closing arguments! (As she should!)

"if you have a valid reason for possibly not being a fair and impartial juror, by all means let that be known. if, however, it seems a stretch and you are trying too hard, just STOP. STOP because people like me will want to string you up by your toenails and pelt you with small, hard, sharp objects. you're lame and we all know what you're trying to do and you're WASTING EVERYONE'S TIME."

Oh... that was funny!

Wow, lame powerpoint. Misspellings? I don't know what this stuff happens. I have to say that I felt both of the attorneys I experienced were good...I think everything was spelled correctly! Why can't they run speall check?

That sounds like an interesting case in some ways... can't wait to find out if you gave then the death sentence or got all soft on 'em.

May 30, 2007 at 07:02AM | Unregistered Commenterpaul

Oh my word. I would have definitely strangled someone over the typo-ridden powerpoint, contempt of court or not.

I eagerly anticipate the conclusion of this saga.

May 30, 2007 at 03:50PM | Unregistered Commentermeegs

Even though I would do it if I had to, I hate the thought of jury duty and thus far I've never had to do it. Your post has cemented my opinion. If I ever get as far as jury selection I'm going to tell the judge and the attorneys when asked that I wouldn't be a good juror because I don't believe in the American justice system. And when I say I don't "believe" in it, I mean I don't think it's real and it only exists in another dimension.
That should be enough to get me disqualified, no?

May 31, 2007 at 09:45AM | Unregistered CommenterTB

I abhor the idea of actually sitting on a jury, but really it's fundamental to our entire system of law and justice. It moves the power from those in power to everyday people, and prevents abuses of power like Guantanamo Bay from happening to U.S. citizens. Sure, it's got flaws and is terribly inconvenient, but I would be honored to serve even if I hated every minute of it.

May 31, 2007 at 01:26PM | Unregistered Commenterjared

des - people were just hyper-elaborating about things. "my family member was a police officer" turns into "i could never disbelieve any law enforcement official", and "they were rude when they pulled me over" becomes "i think all cops are crooked"... things like that. anything to let the lawyers know they might possibly have some sort of bias and therefore not want them on the jury. trust me, you'll recognize when you, or others, are doing it.

tb - not chosen by reason of insanity, perhaps? if you ever do that, please make sure you record the audio somehow.

May 31, 2007 at 09:36PM | Registered Commentermdog

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