Juror’s Eye View Part III

I got called for jury duty one bright Monday morning. After being herded into a giant jury meeting room on the first floor of the courthouse, we found random chairs and got through the first part of the process, where the few remaining excuses could be heard. Then they started seating people on jury panels for interview. I was called, by some kind of random sorting, for the second panel. The panels all trooped through the security screening that led to the floors with the courts on them and got handed a number and seated according to number into rows of ten people. I was in row two.

The judge, bailiff, court reporter, two district attorneys, two lawyers for the defense and the defendant were seated in the courtroom in their usual places, only with the lawyers and defendants backwards as we were sitting where the audience usually sits. The case at hand was explained to us by the judge. After taking an oath to be truthful, the district attorneys and defense attorneys started asking us questions. At this point we were not in the actual trial and the lawyers for either side can ask questions pretty much the way they want within some confines that aren't quite clear to me. Both sides were spinning many of the questions to plant ideas in our heads about this case. Later I would figure out that some of the things they alluded to in this stage were things that weren't admissible in court but were things that they wished to plant in the jury's collective head.

After a row got interviewed, they would dismiss that row and move on to the next row, dismissing the questioned row to the hall, where we milled about aimlessly and interfered with people getting to other offices on that floor. The questioning went pretty quickly and soon I learned, to my non-surprise, that I was selected for jury duty. I wasn't surprised because I was in the first 20 people, 4 of the people interviewed before me were certifiable wingnuts, and about 7 of the 20 had life experiences that were going to seriously prejudice them about the case in question. Unless one side or the other dismissed me based solely upon my hairdo or something, chances were in favor of me being selected.

It freaked me out to learn that so many people have been the victims, perpetrators or friends/relatives of victims or perpetrators of violent personal crime.

After the twelve of us were seated in the regular jury box chairs and sworn in, the judge explained the process in more detail and the trial began. The judge was pretty sure we would be finished with all phases of the trial by early Wednesday. Thursday evening we called a mistrial. It was a really painful four days.

the trial itself
I've already explained the alleged happenings that brought this man to trial in my previous entry, "Christy and her Two Boyfriends", so I won't belabor any of that here. The district attorney put on an abysmal case with terrible evidence and witnesses who contradicted themselves and each other. The jury was stuck with trying to decide whether the evidence available proved that the thing that happened really happened the way that the victim said it did.

We were all unanimous in agreeing that Bob beat up Carl, but we were hung up on the "with a bat" part. We were originally 11 to 1 for "not guilty", because of the bat in the charge. We heard a lot of snippets of testimony read back to us, a scary process that requires the entire court to be reconvened each and every time. After debating and soul searching, a few of us moved over, getting us our final 8 to 4 deadlock that we were never, ever going to get out of. We were already a day over, which means a day over budget and throwing off the judge's traveling schedule, and there were people who were never, ever going to budge no matter how long we argued. Though the judge admonished us to not feel badly over it all, I do feel that we failed in our charged duty. I wish we could have come out with a guilty/not guilty to save the taxpayers having to pay for another trial.

Maybe we were a badly selected jury, as our 1 hold out kept suggesting. Maybe the next jury will find it all very straightforward. Personally, I was outraged that the district attorneys would put us, the jury, through the horror of trying to decide to send someone to prison on a felony charge or convict someone of a misdemeanor assault offense with a weapon based on the evidence at hand. It was a really painful process even though 10 of the 11 other jurors were great, reasonable, polite people. I went home every night exhausted and stressed out even so. Also it's very hard to see pictures of a guy you just heard talking, pictures of his terrible scalp wound and related stuff. I have zero personal defenses against that horror. (In the actual trial, they put the pictures up on a projector. The district attorneys would leave them on long after the discussion had moved on, just to freak us out, I think.)

wrap up
I don't watch crime shows on tv, so I don't, as the lead district attorney suggested at one point in the trial when he was admitting that his case sucked, believe that I might have expectations of excellence in criminal investigation that exceed the abilities of a small city's personnel and budget. I did expect the police professionals involved to do their job with some basic level of competence, though, and every jury member (and the district attorneys and the defense attorneys) (except our holdout juror, who believed everyone who said something awful and thought all the evidence was really straightforward) thought that pretty much no one did. If you are the CSI investigator, investigating the whole scene would be nice. If you are the police officer who was in charge of the investigation, reviewing your report before you appear in court, instead of, say spindling it into a tube to play with the CSI investigator in the hall with it would be a better use of the paperwork and your time.

One of the interesting things about the trial process is that sometimes the district attorney accidentally helped the defense's case, and sometimes the defense attorney accidentally helped the state's case. I expected a much more clean debate. I didn't like any of the lawyers, witnesses, or people who testified by the time we were through. After a few days of downtime, I think that I like the defense lawyers after all. They did their job; they planted doubt about the evidence. This was not a hard job, but that's not the important part. I still don't like the district attorney. He could have easily got an assault charge through us, if he hadn't been obsessed with the weapon part. But he really wanted the weapon part because he really wanted the felony assault to help push this guy along his "three strikes and your stuck in prison forevers" path. Because we all know it's going to happen eventually, why not get it over with and get him off the street now? 0_o.

My final postscript: If you are a lawyer or thinking of becoming a lawyer, never ever use "it", even if it's in a follow up statement.

Example: "Did you have a baseball bat?" "Did you hit him with it?" <=== Very Wrong
Example: "Did you have a baseball bat?" "Did you hit him with a baseball bat?" <==== Better

Jurors can and will, it seems, debate verbage until someone cries.

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