Wednesday, April 29, 2015

My Jury Duty Experience

When I was initially thinking about writing this post a few weeks ago, I wanted to write about my experience in jury duty and just include the funny stories that happened. This past week, however, was really stressful. There was a conglomeration of emotions. Anger and frustration at a juror who was being completely irrational and unreasonable. Sadness when the verdict was delivered, knowing that the mother of the victim was there and we most likely were not able to provide closure for her. Sadness for the families of the defendants, who were there when two of them were sentenced to prison (there were three defendants charged with murder). Stress having the verdicts read in front of everyone, knowing we made the right decision according to the law but wishing it was different. When that verdict was read, my hands were shaking and I wanted to throw up, which seemed to be felt by all of us. Tears were shed by several. We followed the law but it didn't make anything easier. So, I am going to include funny anecdotes about the process of jury selection and interesting stories, but I have decided I'm not going to publicly post about the case or any of the names involved, out of sensitivity for the families. I wouldn't want anyone to find my blog and worry I hadn't taken this very serious situation seriously. Because I did, but funny things also happened and they made a very stressful situation easier. It was taxing and tear-inducing. A couple weeks into it, I would have told you I never wanted to serve jury duty again because of the boredom and waiting. Now, I would tell you I wouldn't want to do it because of the stress and emotions involved. It's a lot of responsibility. At the end of everything, they told us that counseling services are offered for jurors and I completely understood why some people would find those necessary. If you're wondering what case I was on, you can email me or Facebook message me privately and I'll talk to you about it.

So here it goes.

I'd like to start with the fact that I returned home from Korea on Christmas Eve after almost 4 years. While I was in Korea, I was called to jury duty but, being out of the country, I was obviously able to get out of it. Within 10 days of arriving back in the country, I received a jury summons. Needless to say, I was annoyed. It also felt a bit like Big Brother was watching, since they seemed to be immediately aware of my return to the country. 

So, on March 2nd, I reported unhappily to jury duty. Due to an extreme lack of parking, I got there very early in the morning, about an hour before I had to report. That was lucky, since there weren't a ton of spaces left when I got there.

I sat down among the several hundred people there and they played us a jury duty video, which was extremely cheesy. We then sat around for about 3 hours until they gave us our "engagement" number and sent us to lunch. I brought my lunch, so I sat around reading my book. At 1:30 they said, "Ok, you can go home and come back Wednesday morning."


Couldn't they have told us to do that before lunch?

We came back Wednesday morning. I read some more of my book, which was a Bill Bryson book. Side note: I have read a ridiculous number of books in the last 9 weeks. 

After an hour or so, they gave us a questionnaire to fill out. When we were finished, we went home for the day and came back again the next morning.

Thursday, I sat around for several hours until I was finally called for an individual meeting with all the lawyers. I was very nervous for some reason and I am quite positive that I sounded like an incoherent idiot. This manifested itself most clearly when one of the lawyers asked me, "Who in this room knows you the best?" and I had absolutely no idea what he meant. I was thinking quite literally and wondering who in the room did know me the best. My response was, "Uhhh the people who read my questionnaire." 

A long pause ensued. Then everyone laughed. 

I still didn't understand the question. Apparently the appropriate response was "myself." I had no idea that was even an option.

The interview was about 10 minutes, then I went back downstairs. We sat around for a few more hours and then we were finally called upstairs to the courtroom as a group.

We all lined up in the hallway. This was when we learned that all the potential jurors had to be in the room or no one could be in it. We learned this because the juror behind me completely disappeared. He was nowhere to be found. We sat in the hallway for about twenty minutes before we learned he was sent home by jury administration by accident. So we were told to go home until Monday.

We returned on Monday. We sat around for a couple hours in the morning, which I spent catching up on my lifetime quota of books to read. We were finally called up to the courtroom around 11 AM.

The lawyers began asking everyone questions. After approximately 2 minutes, the fire alarm went off. We went outside and were promptly sent to lunch. Absolutely ridiculous! Apparently, the fire alarm goes off fairly often for no reason. During my 9 weeks of jury duty, it went off 3 or 4 times.

Finally, we got down to the jury selection which took most of Monday, Tuesday and a good chunk of Wednesday. When the lawyers were finally picking the jurors, I counted how many had to be dismissed in front of me and realized I was doomed. There were only 5 that had to be dismissed for me to get on the jury. I knew at that moment I'd been picked. I just had this feeling. So when my number was called, I was not surprised at all. Annoyed, but not surprised.

The trial started the following day.

I can tell you this: A trial is nothing like it is on TV. There are no "AHA!" moments or moments where everything comes together and the decision is clear.

I ended up on a trial that lasted almost 9 weeks. One of the lawyers said in his 37 years as a lawyer, it was the longest trial he'd ever been on. Really? Just my luck! I still cannot believe that.

The process for the jury is extremely boring. We don't get to be in the courtroom for a lot of the arguments, which I believe included anything exciting that happened. This resulted in a lot of sitting in the jury room, sometimes for several hours. The worst day was probably the day we came in at 8:15 AM and didn't go into the courtroom until 1:45 PM, but there were a LOT of days that were almost as bad.

Those days were torture. I mean, if you are at your house doing nothing, at least you have a choice to be doing nothing. When you're trapped in a room, there's only so much you can read. There's only so much you can look at your phone. There's only so much Sudoku you can do before you begin to crack. One of my fellow jurors and I began breaking out the puzzles that were left in the room. We finished three, two of which were extremely difficult. One because all the pieces were the same shape and blended together in surprising ways. The other because it was a Batman puzzle and about 90% of it was black. She and I also did some crossword puzzles together. In spite of all this, we were all still very bored.

Luckily, my fellow jurors were all positive and had good senses of humor. We laughed a lot in the jury room, which, we learned later, everyone could hear in the courtroom. One of the lawyers referred to it as "unnerving."

One day, someone googled, "50 ways to pass time during jury duty." The list included things like taking a nap, practicing rolling quarters between your fingers, drawing a flip book, seeing how fast you can tie your shoes, timing how long you can hold your breath, counting ceiling tiles and creating fake back stories for everyone involved the room. We discovered at that point, which I believe was around week 3, that much of the list we had all already completed. It was not the most encouraging list.

I can also say that certain parts of the testimony were extremely boring. I learned that police videographer is probably the most boring of all jobs. It involves taking incredibly slow videos of crime scenes.

Slow panning of the front of a house.

Long Pause.

Slightly closer slow panning of the front of a house.

Long pause.

Even closer slow panning of the front of a house.

Long pause.

Slow panning of the fence at the front of the house.

Long pause.

You get the idea.

And watching surveillance videos for an hour is awful. And testimony involving cell phone records and how they're made, analyzed and confirmed takes an inordinate amount of time and is extremely uninteresting. One of the lawyers told us afterwards, "I was boring myself with my own questions!" Obviously, I paid attention, but it was difficult. I found my compulsion to doodle to be almost overwhelming. I didn't cave since I thought it would be unprofessional, but it was hard.

Here are some funny things that happened in court that made it a bit easier.

1. Defense Attorney: "Would you say a 12 ounce bottle of beer holds the same amount of alcohol as a 12 ounce can of beer?"
Witness: *long pause* ...yes...

2. The same defense attorney was completely unable to tell the difference between north, south, east and west. Several times he'd say something along the lines of, "Here in the Northeast" while pointing at the Southwest end of a map or picture.

3. The medical examiner was one of the most literal people I have ever witnessed speak. It was hysterical. I tried really hard not to laugh but unfortunately could not contain it. Luckily, the judge, all the attorneys and several other jurors were also laughing. It was crazy. One of my fellow jurors witnessed him eating a sandwich and said it was also one of the most precise things he's ever seen.

Here are some of the questions and answers, which I will never forget for the rest of my life.

Lawyer: Is this the report you made?
Medical Examiner: No.
Lawyer: How do you know?
Medical Examiner: It's a copy.
Lawyer: Have there been any changes?
Medical Examiner: Yes. Three holes and a pink sticker with a number have been added.

Aka. It was hole punched and had an exhibit number stapled to it.


Lawyer: Was the [murder] victim capable of physical activity?
Medical Examiner: I don't know. At the time of my examination, he was not capable of physical activity.

One of the days, he was asked to identify some pieces of evidence. One of the 4 bags had been opened previously in court by another witness. He couldn't remember which one had been opened, so the following conversation happened.

Lawyer: Did you open this exhibit in open court yesterday?
Medical Examiner: There is a 75% chance that I opened this exhibit yesterday.

Lawyer: Can you make any conclusions about the position of the body at the time of the crime?
Medical Examiner: It is unlikely the assailant was lying down while the victim was standing.

4.We had a witness who was cooperative on day one, but on day two was extremely hostile. I won't go into theories of why that happened. But on day two, the only answer he would give was, "I don't know." Until he finally said, and I quote,

"I'm just here so I won't get fined."

He Marshawn Lynched it up.

It was a very serious situation that made me want to laugh inappropriately. I didn't, thank heavens.

5. Objections to the wording of questions was really common. Things like this would happen often:

Prosecutor: What was said about the timing of the beating?
Defense Attorney: Objection leading!
Judge: Sustained
Prosecutor: Who was beating whom and when?
Defense Attorney: Objection leading!
Judge: Sustained
Prosecutor: What was mentioned about a beating if there was one?

6. One day, the defense said to a witness: "We'll get to your excuses later."
Lots of yelling followed. We were immediately dismissed.

7. One of the attorneys pronounced "figure" wrong. At one point, she said the word "figure" approximately 12 times in 2 minutes. Think "Ironic" by Alanis Morissette... figger.

8. Prosecutor: "What kind of car is it?
Defense attorney: "Objection hearsay!"
Other Prosecutor: "How is that hearsay?!

9. We learned that if the judge brought us food, usually doughnuts, that it was because we would spend a lot of that day waiting in the jury room. At one point, he said to us, "I'd tell you the doughnuts were of the vegan variety but that would be a lie." The judge seemed like a nice person. He reminded us of the farmer in Babe.

10. Lawyer: Your pitbull was able to protect himself if he wanted to, right?
Witness: He doesn't know he's a pitbull.
*laughter among the entire courtroom.*
Lawyer: Well, I stepped into that!

11. At one point during the trial, we the jury asked ourselves if there had ever been a mutiny among jurors because the trial was taking too long. We asked this because it seemed like, at some point, somewhere, a jury would refuse to continue and then be held in contempt.

12. One of the defense attorneys used this bag analogy in his closing arguments. He talked about how you can speculate about what could fit in the bag, but anything could fit in the bag. One of the jurors later said, "I expected him to say, "If it doesn't fit, you must acquit!"

13. Since there were 3 defendants, there were 3 defense attorneys. They were constantly objecting to each other. I didn't know they could do that.

14. One of the defense attorneys did not understand "noise reduction" of a surveillance video and kept saying, "Somehow, even though there is no sound, removing the noise makes the picture clearer." We all wanted to yell, "VISUAL NOISE! NOT ACTUAL NOISE!"

15. Another of the defense attorneys seemed to believe that the process of rigor curled your limbs into your body. We are not spiders, people!

16. One of the jurors witnessed one of the prosecutors marching in front of the elevator, back and forth. Once the trial was finished, she said, "Umm, just to be clear, I am doing a fit bit challenge and am not crazy."

17. The day that we were told to come in at 8:15 but didn't go into the courtroom until 1:45, where we were then read 55 pages of jury instructions very quickly, the judge said he realized that morning that he was going to have us sit a lot. He said, "I felt guilty, so at 0700 hours, I was to be found wandering the aisles of the store buying you grub."

Some other interesting things that happened:

One morning, we came in after court had ended previous day when an objection was made by the defense. We entered the court room and the prosecutor said, "I will continue with the understanding the the objection was overruled." The defense attorney then said, "It was my understanding that the objection was sustained." We were immediately escorted out for another hour. I believe that was officially the shortest time we spent in court before being escorted out.

We noticed one day that one of the prosecutor's injured her foot. We noticed this since she was wearing a suit and running shoes, which was a weird combination. That, and she was limping. We asked her afterwards what happened. She asked if we really wanted to know. We of course said that we did. Apparently, she had an infected hangnail removed and her toe was so swollen her shoes wouldn't fit anymore. Gross. Wish we hadn't asked.

Closing arguments lasted approximately three years. The prosecution's closing lasted 2 hours after spending 6 hours in the jury room. I thought I would die. The next day, Defense 1 closing lasted from 8:30 to 11:30. If they hadn't taken an early lunch, I would have needed to say, "I'm not going to make it!" The second defense closing was from 12:30 to 2:30. The final defense closing was from 2:30 to 3:30. Then the prosecution rebuttal, which I didn't even know existed, was another hour and a half after that. I realized then that being excused from the courtroom every once in a while was a good thing, because when you're not, it's exhausting!!!

Intense listening followed by long amounts of waiting is mentally draining, I can tell you that.

Deliberations were intense. We had a juror who was one of the most unreasonable people I've ever met, which you would never have known in the previous seven weeks. It was insane. He wouldn't stop yelling at everyone! And he did not seem to recognize that he was yelling and was surprised that things were getting tense in the room. He also seemed to be working from a completely amoral background.

For example, he said, "If I see you get shot, do I have a duty to call the police? No!" which resulted in all of us yelling,  "What! YES!"

At one point, I was driven to the brink of insanity. I was attempting to explain something and the guy started speaking over me, saying, "Just listen to me!" to which I responded, "No, listen to ME!....err sorry." I never yell. I shocked myself. One of the other jurors said later that I had a very teacher-y voice. Whoops.

Also, at one point, he said, "You're just taking the rules and applying them to the situation!" to which we responded, "Yes, because that is what we're supposed to do!"

Basically, 3 1/2 days were spent fighting with him and then suddenly, out of nowhere, he said, "Oh. I see it here in the laws. You're right." Even though we'd read and re-read, and written the laws on the board, and reiterated over and over. It was so frustrating. Ultimately, we came to a decision that I felt comfortable with by law, but that doesn't mean it was an easy decision.

I can say that it's been an experience. Apart from the deliberation, as a group, we were able to make the situation a bit easier. But, it was incredibly stressful and I am hoping that in the future, I will not have to serve on a jury, or if I do, it's a case that's less emotionally draining. Yet, I made some friends, who I think I'll stay in touch with for quite a while, since we've bonded during an experience that not many others can relate to.

Writing this has been very cathartic. I'm glad it's done.

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