Friday, April 19, 2013

Jury Duty

A few weeks ago I received a jury summons in the mail.  This was probably the 4th or 5th I had ever received, in the 40 some years I have been eligible.  Only one of those previous summons had resulted in a call, and that one was for municipal court, and all of the days cases ended up being dismissed.  Would this be the one that actually landed me on a jury?

The Sunday night call-in was negative, but I had better luck on Monday night.  My group number was called.  Report into Superior Court in Port Orchard on Tuesday morning at 8:00 AM.

Day 1 - Jury Selection

Shortly before 7:20 (I don't want to be late) I pull into a parking spot in front of the court house and discover the place does not even open its doors until 8.  So I wandered around a bit and then fell in with the rest of the crowd waiting at the door at 7:45.  Stood out in the cold for 15 minutes until the doors opened and then another 5 until my turn came to go through security.  Then on to the jury waiting room where I am given a form to fill out and told to take a seat.

Over the next hour and a half I filled out the form, read a book, was given a briefing, watched a video and finally given a number; 13.  Then the Bailiff lined us all up in the order of our numbers and marched us up to the courtroom, all 60 of us.   The first 13 of us made it into the jury box while the rest took a seat in the audience.

The judge asked us a series of questions to evaluate our fitness to serve and then sent us back to the waiting room, and eventually off to lunch.  When we came back we discovered that we were down to about 50 prospective jurors; the other 10 or so eliminated because the judge or lawyers didn't like their answers.  Twice more during the afternoon we were lined up and marched to the courtroom.  The first 13 of the remaining jurors always got the jury box while the remainder filled up an ever shrinking section of the audience benches.  The lawyers now asked the questions and eliminated jurors they didn't want, although always for some cause.

At the end of the day the lawyers got to take turns eliminating jurors without any given reason.  They each could eliminate 7 jurors, and did take out 11 between them.  Each time someone from the jury box was eliminated, the next person in line would come up and take their place.  When they were done with this, the jurors not in the box were thanked by the judge and sent home.  The rest of us were sworn to secrecy, briefly exposed the the charges, and sent home until 9:00 AM the next morning.

Days 2 & 3 - The Trial

By 8:45 in the morning the 13 survivors of the previous day are gathered in the jury room.  12 are the jury and 1 is an alternate, although they don't tell us which is the alternate until the case is sent to the jury.  A bit after 9 we are marched across the hall and into the courtroom and sworn in by the judge.  Looking around the courtroom I was amazed by the crowd that had come to witness this trial; all four of them.

Opening arguments are given by both attorneys, and we finally get a good idea of what the trial is about.  A highly dysfunctional couple, with a young child, and no adult supervision, had finally imploded.  A month and a half after the events, the 33 year old girlfriend goes to the police and charges her 24 year old sailor boyfriend with assaulting her on three different occasions.  One of those was outside the county so we would not touch it, but we were left with two distinct events, and a second and third degree assault charge for each.

The girlfriend is brought to the stand first and occupies the bulk of the first day of the trial.  This girl needs some serious help, and hopefully someday she will get it.  Next up is one of her girl friends.  This gal is later disavowed by the prosecutor who put her on the stand.  She was obviously lying, and had a different story than her friend.  Finally we heard from 4 policemen, extending into the second day of the trial.

I found this whole process to be fascinating.  Such great care is taken to ensure that everything is done in a certain way to ensure that the trial is conducted properly and fairly.  Evidence is entered into the trial in a very precise way.

  • Attorney gives it to the clerk to get a sticker
  • Attorney shows it to the other attorney
  • Attorney shows it to the witness and discusses
  • Attorney requests of the judge that it be entered as evidence
  • Judge asks the other attorney if that is ok
  • Judge declares it as evidence (the other attorney always accepted it)
  • Attorney may or may not publish it to the jury
  • Judge allows the publishing to the jury
  • If published, the attorney shows it to the jury, even though many of us saw it at the same time the witness did
We got to hear several objections to questions, told to ignore one response (how do you do that?) and had to leave once while the lawyers fought over admission of some little bit of testimony, looked at many pictures of bruises and watched a video.  Finally the prosecution rested and the defense opted not to present a case.

After lunch on the second day the lawyers made their closing statements, the judge read us 29 instructions, the alternate juror was selected and sent home and we received final direction from the judge and were also sent home.


Day 4 - Deliberation

The final day started at 8:30 with the 12 of us locked up in the jury room.  We started by electing a presiding juror and reviewed the judges instructions in an attempt to understand the precise legal terminology that was being used: reasonable doubt, assault, acting with intent, reckless behavior, bodily injury, substantial bodily harm, criminal negligence, self defense.  I think we invested as much time with understanding and applying these terms as we did actually discussing what happened.

While we all believed that he had probably done something at least close to what he was accused of, there were no witnesses other than the two of them.  He did not testify, other than a video of a police interrogation  and she was not judged very credible.  After about 6 hours we finally had decided that his own words in the video hung him on one charge, but we all had some amount of doubt on the other three and thus had to find him not guilty.

The bailiff was notified that we had reached a verdict and then we sat tight for a hour while the judge, lawyers and defendant were located and make their way back to the courtroom.  The judge was given our paperwork, announced the verdict and then polled the jury to verify how each of us voted.  After she was satisfied, she thanked us and sent us on our way.  Free for a year.

We were also invited to hang out in the jury room for a while if we wanted to talk to the attorneys.  Four of us, plus the defense attorney, took her up on the offer and visited briefly before heading out.  Apparently sentencing took place as soon as we had left and he was given 3 months in prison, time already served, and sent home, along with a 5 year no contact order.

Thoughts

I came away from the experience with a much greater appreciation for the role of a judge in the whole process.  I found the process very interesting, although I am thankful we did not have to deal with child abuse or murder.  And I found that the real thing is not nearly as exciting as Perry Mason.

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