Friday, August 1, 2008

Jury Duty, Part Three: Voir Dire

When we last left my wordy tale of jury duty, the prospective jurors were filing into the courtoom. In our assigned order.

The first two rows were reserved for us and we filled the entire first row and only a bit of the second. There were two tables set up - prosecution and defense if my years of watching Law & Order meant anything - and a woman sat alone at one and a man and woman sat together at the other. What surprised me was that those three were all turned so they faced us - my TV watching had me expecting them to be facing the judge. A women I assumed was the court reporter was stationed near the judge's bench and was shuffling papers. Once we were settled the bailiff slipped through a door near the bench. Eventually after much staring at the three people sitting at the tables, another door on the other side of the bench opened and the court reporter called for us to rise, because the judge was entering.

The judge was very nice, and introduced himself and the others in the room - as surmised, the paper shuffler was the court reporter, the woman sitting alone at the table to our right was the prosecutor, and the woman at the table on the left was the defense attorney. There was also a man sitting next to her who was not initially introduced. After the judge went through some other introductory-type stuff (speak up! the court reporter must hear you!) he asked the defense attorney if she wanted to introduce her client - so that was him sitting next to her!

The judge went over a lot of what we'd already learned from the video, and then started the questioning himself. First up, the obvious - did we know the defendant? No one did. Did we know the arresting officer? No one did. Did we know any of the prosecution witnesses? The prosecutor names the witnesses. No. Did the defense attorney wish to name her witnesses, since it is not required? She does, and she did, and no one knows the witnesses. Wait! One of the prospective jurors now thinks he went to high school with one of the witnesses. After many minutes of discussion over whether or not he really does know her, the nature of how he knew her, and whether or not it would impact his possible judgment of the case, we finally move on.

I can see how this takes so long. It is painfully slow, and it's barely begun.

Next question: Is anyone a police or law enforcement officer? Relatives of one? Close friends? Many hands raised, and lots of discussion again about the specifics.

Next question: Has anyone been personally involved, or had a relative or close friend involved in a drug case? (The judge does emphasize that no specifics on the individual involved are necessary, so if it's your own case you don't have to be embarrassed about mentioning it). A few hands go up.

Next question: Has anyone ever served on a jury before? When? Where? What type of case? What was the outcome - did they find the defendant guilty or not guilty? Once again, a couple of hands are raised and lots of specifics are discussed before the final question - would it impact your ability to fairly judge today's case?

Next question: Has anyone ever appeared in court before, either as a defendant or witness, etc. Only a couple of hands go up, but still, it takes forever.

Final judge's question: Do we all realize that the defendant is innocent until proven guilty? Do any of us believe that because he was arrested, he must be guilty? This was emphasize in the video as well.

Finally, the judge is done with his questions. But that just means that the prosecutor gets to ask questions, and if I thought the judge was bad, that's nothing compared to what's to come.

She begins with a rambling speech about ... something, but it was pretty obscure. We're all staring blankly, so she gets more specific. Juror #1, good morning, how are you this morning, we really appreciate you showing up to court so early. When you're deciding if someone is telling the truth or lying, how do you decide?

I am not joking.

After some stuttering answers, she moves on to juror #3, and again with the "good morning how are you, thanks for coming ..." How do YOU decide if someone is honest or not?

Basically the same answer as #1, rephrased.

And on and on down the line, skipping around somewhat, but mostly working down the row.. Everyone gets greeted. Everyone gives basically the same answers, changed slightly, as if we're a class trying desperately to give the answer the teacher is looking for so she'll move on to something else.

Finally, she gets to me and asked me if I think if someone has a motive to lie, does that mean they will?

Try answering that while being prompted to "speak up!" and being stared down by the defendant. It's kinda uncomfortable.

Once the prosecutor is done grilling us, the defense attorney gets her shot. She wanted to talk about what "possession" meant to us all - something tells me that might be a clue as to the charge in the case - and what's reasonable doubt. It's more odd questions with the prospective jurors all stumbling around trying to come up with an answer that will get the attorney to move on to someone else. Or at least that's what I was doing.

Hinting she was done, she then said again, do we realize that just because someone is arrested, it doesn't mean they're guilty? Would we be able to remember that?

After what seemed like forever, the attorneys are satisfied and meet with the judge for a bit. Then they sit at their tables, and the defendant and his attorney whisper, while the prosecutor whispers with the arresting officer. That's followed by more attorney conferences with the judge.

More discussions at the tables, and then the judge announces that they've picked the jury. Anyone not selected, thank you very much for your service and you won't be called again for at least two years.

Now the judge must explain how they're selecting the jury - each attorney has a number of preemptory challenges by which they can exclude someone without stating a reason. They also have an unlimited number of challenges if they're excluding someone because they have a connection to the case. We are not to be offended or upset if we're passed over. Like I would be upset over being passed over for it - I would be very happy.

Jurors selected are called by name, and I'm counting to see if they'll get to me - they need 6 (7 if they take an alternate), and I'm #12.

Once they get to #8 I realize that they have to take everyone left before me, or pass over me, or I'm on it.

Now it's up to #11 and only one spot to fill. Assuming they don't need an alternate.

#11 is picked. She gives a big sigh, picks up her purse, and makes her way to the jury box.

Only after she's settled does the judge announce that that's it - they're not taking an alternate today so the rest of us are dismissed. Thanks for your service. We're welcome to stay and observe the trial.

Everyone left immediately stands and funnels out of the courtroom. I guess I'll never know if the guy is convicted or not.

And at 10:30 I'm done. Woo-hoo, and yay for that. My civic duty fulfilled, I'm off to enjoy the rest of my day because I'm certainly not going to go into work after I'd told them I'd be gone all day.

It really wasn't a bad experience; the worst part was the painful questioning by the attorneys because most of the questions were so rambly and they added all the social chit-chat that just dragged everything out longer. And most of the prospective jurors (me definitely included) weren't always that good at giving short concise answers. Perhaps because if our answers were too concise the attorneys just asked us what we meant by that, and to please expand on it. It was like some of my high school classes (well, without any of the pressure of thinking I'd be graded on what was taking place).

In some ways I'm disappointed that they didn't get to me so I'd find out if I would have been passed over or not - I'm thinking definitely yes I would have been - I had to raise my hand to most of the judge's questions and some of my answers I thought would have the prosecution going "don't want her!" and other answers would have set the defense attorneys' radar off. But I guess that's something else that I'll never know - would they have wanted me on the jury?

I still think no.

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