Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Juror #8

I had my first experience with jury duty last Thursday. I took the subway into town and arrived about 8:00am. I walked about 2 blocks to the court house. I entered and had my bag scanned and then took the elevator to the 3rd floor, where the jurists meet. There were about 100 of us waiting to be interviewed. The room was pretty nice, they had free coffee and tea, vending machines for other snacks and drinks , comfy chairs and restrooms . They gave us a free pen, discount info about restaurants and shops and a discount pass for those who parked at the chatham parking garage.

There was a woman in charge of us, who told us what to expect. There were 2 cases that required a jury that day. She then had us rise, said a speech that started with "hear ye, hear ye..." and then the judge in charge of the jurists came in. He was very entertaining telling us how the amount paid to potential jurors had not increased since the 1950's. The legislature keeps talking about an increase but the amount of money it would take is so large that they end up saying that it is our civic duty, so the amount stays the same. ($9.00 a day plus mileage)
The judge also told us to not be too disappointed if we were not chosen because it is hard to guess what the lawyers are looking for. He then relayed a story about how he once didn't choose a man because he looked like an uncle that he didn't like.

After the judge left we waited for the lawyers to be ready to pick us. We were given a questionnaire to fill out. I had a cup of coffee and chatted with some ladies while we waited. When the first case arrived the first several rows of chairs on my side of the room were vacated and we had to stand against the wall while they called our names in a seemingly random order. I was the 21st person called. When they said my name I said "yeah" quietly. They then read the charges against the accused, rape, incest, indecent assault of someone younger than 13 years, corruption of a minor... I was in shock!! The person that I took to be one of the lawyers was actually the accused.

When it came time for me to be interviewed I walked up handed the defense attorney my questionnaire and sat down. I was then introduced to the accused and the defense attorney and the prosecutor. The defense asked me about my degree (Industrial Engineering) , the sex of my three children and a lot of questions about my husbands job (geologist). I don't think that had anything to do with the case. Maybe he was just interested in what a geologist does. The prosecutor had no questions for me and I returned to my seat. I told the young woman sitting next to me that I would never be chosen because with three girls I doubted the defense would want me.

How wrong I was!! I was chosen. I was really surprised. They called about 6 of us out of the room and we were taken to a waiting room upstairs of the judges office for the case. We were told that the case would start Monday and most likely be over on Tuesday. We were then free to go. It was about noon, so I went to lunch and then went to Macy's. I bought 2 pairs of awesome shoes (they were buy 1 get 1 free, so I had to get 2 pairs, right?) and then I went home.

On Monday morning I again took the subway into town only later because we didn't need to be there until 9:15am. I met my fellow jurors. 7 men and 7 women made up the jury (12 plus 2 alternates). We had to wait a while before the trial started, but they brought us coffee or tea for which I was one of only three people who took any. There was a smattering of conversation but mostly we sat there bored. We were then lead down to the courtroom in order. I was #8. (did you figure that out!)

The trial started with the judge giving us (the jury) instructions. Then the prosecutor gave his opening statement and off we went. I think that this is a good time to mention that the prosecutor is a very attractive man. One of our jury members seemed quite taken with him. She commented on how the sun was shining on him through the window and he looked "holy, like an angel." That didn't bode well for the defense, who in all fairness wasn't bad looking himself although he didn't have the sun-thing going for him.

The young girl who was the alleged victim was the first witness called to the stand. She is now 14 and the crimes against her happened when she was 10 and 11. It was difficult for her to tell her story and when the defense attorney asked her questions she seemed to be confused about dates and what order things happened. I thought he was pretty hard on her and can you really expect a girl who was traumatized at 10,11 to remember all those details? After a break her mother took the stand and then the detective who interviewed her. They both were good witnesses. Because the alleged crimes took place a long time ago there was not any physical evidence. We then were recessed to go to lunch. We were to be back at 2:00pm.

After waiting for an extra half-hour the judge came upstairs and told us that the case had been settled. The defendant plead guilty to the 2 lesser charges and the other charges were dropped. They felt that the girl hadn't done that well on the stand and decided to offer the deal. I was disappointed that we didn't get to "decide the case" ourselves, but understood. We took our checks down to the treasurers' office to cash them and then I went home.

I thoroughly enjoyed my jury experience. I thought the process was interesting. I was soooo glad that I was chosen even though we didn't get to deliver a verdict. I cannot be chosen again for county court for three years, but I hope that I will be given another chance to serve someday.


Beverly Cwalina said...

I was wondering how your case went. Sort of anticlimatic, but good overall, I guess.

I could just hear the "Ahhhhhh" of the Angel chorus when you were describing that Prosecutor's aura.

Tim said...

Well, that was disappointing, I'm sure. But fun nonetheless! I'm glad you enjoyed "doing your civic duty," even it only did pay $9.

See you for lunch tomorrow!

gabrièlle said...

wow you are among the few people in this world that actually enjoy jury duty. it's too bad you have to wait so long until your next opportunity--you should be able to just randomly volunteer or something! (well hey, it would make people like me that hate the very thought of jury duty so happy!)