My jury story

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Posted by w0ep on May 18, 2018 at 7:29 pm

[no run today]

My summons said to show up on Tuesday morning so I shaved and put on better-than-average clothes and went down to the courthouse.

There we were seated in pews in a large courtroom and given a sheet to fill out stating name, address, age, occupation, etc.  We also got a small slip of paper with a note on it directing us to call a phone number after 5 pm every day this week for notification about whether we would need to come in on the next day.  That was my first intimation that the service was for multiple days.

Eventually a judge came in and he talked about the process they would follow.  He explained the ways you could be excused from jury duty.  Then he asked for people with excuses to come up to the front where they were sworn in and he heard their excuses.  Most people stated what their issue was at the podium but some wanted to speak more privately to the judge.  I remember some child-care issues, some financial hardship cases and some doctor/specialist appointments.  I think he let most of the people go but he refused a few and he gave a one-day excuse to a few.  Then he went through some more potential excuse issues: illiterate, known gambler/drunk, some others. And there were a few people that were excused on those grounds.

I think we may have had a break or two during this activity.  They picked 20 people to go off and be the Grand Jury.  They gave the rest of us numbered paddles and from then on we sat in numerical order when in the big pool.

After lunch they started the selection for the first trial.  They gave some general information about the case, who the attorneys were, who the victim and defendant were, that kind of thing.  And then asked a lot of general “raise  your hand if you know Mr. Smith the shopkeeper at ABC store, a potential witness in this case” kind of thing.  And people would say how they knew Mr Smith and whether that would keep them from being fair.  The prosecutor asked some questions about whether anyone objected to the police or had philosophical reasons they couldn’t be fair or didn’t want to participate.  (It turned out they gave a lot of opportunity to basically say “I don’t want to do this”).  The defense attorney also had a go at the questions.

Then they gave us another break while both sides worked up their acceptable jury list.  When we came back in there was more hushed meeting between the lawyers and the judge. Eventually they called off 13 names starting with the low numbered people.  I was number 30 and I was the 13th person selected. (so yes, they skipped a lot of people).  That made me the alternate.  Everyone else still in the big pool left.  And they swore us in as the jury and we heard short opening statements from both lawyers.  And then it was time to go home.

The next day we went to a smaller court room because they needed the big room to convene the remaining pool to select another jury.

We sat in the jury room.  They called one of the 12 in to the courtroom.  When he came back he said someone had noticed he greeted another person in the courthouse.  It turned out that person was a relative of the defendant.  So they called him back in to the courtroom again and we didn’t see him any longer on that case.  They promoted me from alternate to regular juror.

We spent the morning going between jury room and courtroom as they presented various witnesses about the event in question.  Most of it was completely agreed on between both sides.  But the defendant claimed self-defense.  Everyone else said the defendant was the instigator, but he said he acted because the other guy was sneaking up on him.  Yes, he testified.  He was interesting, but he didn’t really do his case any good. At the end he yelled he was being tortured in the county jail and wouldn’t calm back down until the judge had him marched out.

Another interesting thing was that the victim was not cooperative.  He didn’t want to be there and he made that plain.  But they eventually marched him through the statement he had given to police at the time and he didn’t contradict it on any points.  In the altercation the defendant had a knife and the victim was stabbed in a couple of places but he took the knife away and knocked out the defendant.  So I suspect the victim probably considered the issue moot.  And all of this had happened 6+ years ago, so there was an unexplained time gap which the lawyers and judge just ignored.

So we had the victim, the shopkeeper who had seen some of the event, and the defendant.  Then we had the doctor where both men were taken to the ER and the police who secured the evidence and took pictures.  The shopkeeper was very sure of his story.  The uncooperative victim gave a similar story and the defendant who actually also gave a mostly similar story with a few parts different or missing and an incomplete plea to self defense. (He never said he was scared of the victim, or afraid for his life or anything else that would seem to be most obvious clues to self defense.  And we of course had to rely on his lawyer to elicit that kind of information from him.  But it didn’t happen.)

At the end we had three empty witnesses called by the defence who basically said ‘I don’t know anything about this event’.

Then we had summary statements by the prosecution, the defence and again the prosecution.  After a break in the jury room, we listened to the judge read his jury instructions and the form of the verdict he wanted  (the wording of either the not guilty or the guilty, I guess so that we didn’t go off and write our own maybe-so/maybe-not response)  And we went back into the jury room.  We looked at the knife, which still had blood on it and we looked at the crime scene pictures and the wound pictures (nothing too gruesome).  And we had the written copy of the jury instructions.

We talked things over for ten or fifteen minutes I think.  Then I asked the guy next to me if he believed the self-defense argument.  And he said no.  I said I didn’t either.  We went around the table and everyone said they didn’t believe the self-defense argument.  So we talked some more, wanted to make sure everyone was in agreement.  And the person who had the pad of paper and the lady sitting next to her wrote down the ‘he’s guilty’ statement on the pad.  And we knocked on the door and said we were done.

We had grabbed up our stuff and were ready to roll out of there.  But they delayed us a bit (probably to get the lawyers back and get the defendant back in attendance).  Eventually we went back in and the lady handed the paper to the court official.  He read it out loud.  Then the judge asked each of us if we agreed with the verdict and we all said ‘yes’.

None of this was done light heartedly.  I wish the guy had a good excuse for his actions.  But he didn’t.  Or if he did, his lawyer never got him to say it or even get close to  it. Even so, I was saddened to have to publicly state the guy was guilty.  But it was the only conclusion.  And it is up to the judge to form the sentence and probation and any other potentially merciful aspects.  We weren’t around after we said our bit.

There was a lot of “theatre” feeling to the whole thing. I am 100% sure there were facts known to the judge/lawyers/defendant, even the few spectators, which were not given to us.  The three empty witnesses had me think that the defence lawyer was following the instructions of the defendant even to the point of being ridiculous.  So the guy got his day in court.  A bunch of people missed a day of work and the county and the lawyers did all their stuff for what was not really much of a case.  But that’s what the system is about.  If you demand to be heard then you are heard.

The guy had a bit of a paranoia feel to him.  He was pointing to documents and giving instructions to his lawyer and doing things in an unusual way.  But, again we didn’t get any evidence about him being a mental case or anything like that.  And maybe he was just a con-man in over his head.  (It’s kind of a catch-22:  if the guy is paranoid in a mental health sense, he probably wouldn’t trust his lawyer to get him the proper outcome, so he says he is not a psych case and it spirals down from there.)

After I had gotten home I googled up his case online.  There wasn’t much in the newspaper about it other than that he was arrested.  He had also been arrested a few other times in 2011 for various offences which we didn’t know about during the trial.  The next day there was a short article in the newspaper that he had been convicted.

That evening I called the phone number and they wanted everyone to report back in the morning.  They started a new trial and we went through the initial do-you-know-this/or/that-person  questions.  Eventually they picked a jury and I wasn’t on it and they sent me home.  Thursday night I called again and they said I didn’t have to go in today.  So I’m done.

One other thought.  A lot of what the judge said to us was very repetitive.  So being a judge turns out to be a lot of exercise in managing a crowd of people.  He had to teach us what we were doing as we did it.  That’s the part of it we saw anyway.

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3 Comments

  • On May 18, 2018 at 7:57 pm Sue said

    It’s interesting that you and I were both called for jury duty this year.
    I guess it’s up to Steve and Jon now to finish strong in 2018.

    Our case was interesting, but obvious, too. I was kind of amazed the defendant didn’t do a plea deal, but I guess he thought a jury of his peers might cut him some slack. We were certainly willing to, but he was not a convincing witness and our instructions per the law were quite clear. I think it took us 45 minutes to make a decision and that included lunch delivery from Panera during our deliberations.

    It was sad and hard to send the guy to prison (back to prison, perhaps) at age 35 going on 17.

  • On May 19, 2018 at 11:16 am Jonathan Howard said

    I’m off for rest of 2018 – didn’t have to go in when my name came up earlier this year. I live in a smaller county now but moved here from Alameda, which is a horizontal slice from bay to inland along a busy congested freeway. Courts are on the bay side and that’s where I lived, too. But I really felt bad for those who had to commute in that traffic from inland for jury duty. If I had to do that I’d convict just to get it over with.

  • On May 19, 2018 at 2:15 pm steve howard said

    I am probably about due to get called again. The last time I just missed getting selected for some case about a young guy with a bad history taking a shot at his baby momma. I looked him up later and he’s a chip off the block, his dad is a multiple time loser, too.

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