My brief time as a Juror

http://www.newdorf.com/wordpress/wp-content/themes/zigzag3/images/gavel510pix.gif"A Jury Duty notice?!"

That line, spoken by Pauly Shore in his 1995 film "Jury Duty," is probably what goes through most people's minds when they open the envelope containing their notice.

The first 2 times I was summoned for Jury Duty I was able to get out of it - the first time, I was still a student, and since I had class on the day(s) I would need to travel the 30 miles back home to serve it I was able to get exempt and the second time I got a summons, it was to serve in the county where my school was, not where my permanent address was, so I was able to prove I did not live in that county. This time though, despite it being addressed to my maiden name and sent to my parents address (which both were changed on my driver's license and voter registration back in September 2008), it was clearly intended for me and there wasn't much I could do to get out of it.

After rearranging my work schedule for the week, I got up extra early for myself on Tuesday morning (after getting little sleep too) and headed down to the courthouse.

I got there right before 9am, checked in and they had me correct my name and address on the form, and I took a seat. There were probably around 100 other people in this large breakroom type room - there was a TV on each wall, playing CNN, coffee and supplies on a counter, several vending machines along one wall, and various magazine racks scattered around the room.

A little before 10am, a lady thanks us for coming, explains what it means to be on a jury and showed us a 10 minute video explaining the court process and what some of us will be selected to do. It was pretty boring.

At 10:30-10:45am they called a few people up for something but nothing major.

At 11:30am they called 40 of us to follow a bailiff to one of the courtrooms - my name was called, as was a girl in my Mary Kay unit that I knew. I meet up with her outside the courtroom and chatted for a bit.

We went down 2 floors to a courtroom, where we have a seat in the benches and they swear us in as a group. They told us that they will be calling us up in groups of 12, and then will be questioning us in panels of 4. I was the third name called and in the first panel they questioned.

http://www.eslpod.com/eslpod_blog/wp-content/uploads/2008/06/jury_box.jpgThe case was a domestic battery case, between a guy and girl who were in a relationship at the time a fight occurred between them and got a bit violent. They read off the name of the attorneys involved as well as the names of the witnesses we would be hearing - one of the last names was familiar, but I didn't recognize the first name, and since the last name while not exactly most common, it wasn't exactly uncommon either so I didn't think much of it.

They ask us questions like if we have connections to local police or attorneys, if we know any of the witnesses, if we've ever been involved in a domestic dispute before or if we are close to anyone who has... They also specifically asked asked us individually about instances we had written down on our jury duty questionnaire - for example, it asked if anyone in my family had been charged with a crime - my husband, as a co-manager for a Papa John's had been charged and accused for stealing $20 from a drawer at the shop; he didn't do it, and there was no valid proof or evidence that he had, but the money was apparently missing and they were claiming he stole it. Once he got a lawyer involved in the case they immediately dropped the charges and the case was closed. They asked me several questions regarding that case - if it went to trial, if I was a witness, was the case dealt with fairly, etc. They asked another woman who had been a victim of domestic abuse about her situation with that...

It was about 12:15pm by the time they had selected 3 of us and decided to dismiss us for lunch, where I ran into a former newspaper co-worker I worked with in college who was now working at the local newspaper just down the street.

We came back at 1:30pm and they finished selecting the first 4 of the panel - which included myself - and took us to the juror room just off the courtroom. There was coffee and water in this small room with a table and 12 comfy chairs, plus a men's and a women's single bathrooms, however the light in the women's we discovered didn't work. There was also a window along one wall that had a view of some not so great looking buildings in our downtown. The 4 of us sat there til about 2:30, chatting, playing around our cell phones since we were told we could have them on in that room but not the courtroom.

At 2:30pm they brought in the next 4 for the jury panel and the 8 of us waited some more. By now, the coffee was all gone too.

At 3:15pm they brought in the final 4, but we still had to wait, as they needed to select an alternate juror just in case.

By 3:30pm the alternate juror joined us and they said we would begin the trial shortly.

There were some pretty amusing things people said to get out of it though - one woman on my panel just kept going on about how she knows a ton of police and attorneys around town and that yes, they do talk about cases with her (one of the guys in my panel stated later she was full of crap, as his sister is her boss!); another guy, one of the later panelists shared with us, stated that he had been in front of both attorneys before and that the judge was his judge the one time he was in court - he stated he had been in the defendant's seat before and he sympathizes, saying that it's no fun being in that seat! They asked if he felt he had a good experience and his response was "seriously?!?" The judge at least asked if felt he had judged him fairly, which he agreed, but they dismissed him anyhow. We also noticed that everyone who stated they served on a jury before was also dismissed. 

A little before 4pm, they brought us back into the courtroom and the lawyers gave their opening statements. Our job was to determine if the defendant was guilty of domestic violence, or if he was in accordance with the law that states you have the right to use reasonable force to protect your property.

We listened to the 911 call that was made by a young son of the victim and you could hear the victim and the defendant arguing in the background and him yelling at her to get out of his house (she and her young sons had been staying at the defendant's house for sometime, however she decided to end the relationship and returned to pick up their things, but the defendant claims she was taking items that were his and not hers).

Next, we listened to the first witness - the victim. Several of the injuries and objects she claimed the defendant threw her into didn't match the statement her attorney had written previously, and the defense attorney made sure to point those out. She also waited several days until bruises and sores appeared before getting checked out.

Also, the defense attorney was trying to make it sound as though the victim was leaving because she believed the defendant was cheating on her, however she stated that no, while she did think that earlier, after listening to the defendant and him assuring her nothing was going on between him and a friend of his sister's she believed him. She said she left that morning to take her young sons to school, and upon returning after dropping them off, she caught him doing something with a young girl that bothered and upset her - she went to pick up her sons and then decided to return to his house to collect their belongings. Now she used the name of the young girl in her testimony, which one of the attorneys requested her to explain who that was, since we the jury had no clue who this other person was. She said the young girl is her 3rd cousin, the daughter of her 2nd cousin who had a previous relationship with the defendant. She said her 2nd cousin had some problems and was unstable and so she left her young daughter in the custody of the defendant, despite the fact that he is not the young girl's father nor a blood relative. She couldn't say much regarding what she walked in on him doing with the little girl, as she cited that's part of another case, but she alluded that it involved abuse and that she was very bothered and upset by what she saw.

As she was sharing all this, it hit me. I have prior knowledge of the situation with the little girl. And I think one of my close friends is distant relatives with one of the other witnesses that would be speaking.

Last spring, while meeting with my close friend for dinner and a movie, she shared with me that a relative of her cousin's (who has the same last name as one of the witnesses) was trying to get custody of a little girl - the girl's mother was unstable and had some issues of her own and for some strange reason the family couldn't figure out, she gave custody of her daughter over to her now-ex boyfriend, whom they had found out later was sexually abusing her, hence why they were fighting so hard to get custody of her.

After remembering all that, it dawned me, the defendant in this case is the boyfriend that had custody of little girl in the situation my friend told me about.

They dismissed us back to the juror room at 5pm, saying they'd continue with the first witness first thing in the morning. Before the bailiff dismissed us for the evening, he gave us instructions on where to meet for today and asked if there were any questions - I raised my had and said I had a concern, however I didn't think it was appropriate to say in front of the rest of the jury. The bailiff asked if it had anything to do with the case, which I said it did, and he told me we'd go over it first thing in the morning.

So I get up this morning and enter the courthouse just before 9:30. The bailiff meets me outside the backdoor to the juror room and asks if it was me that stated I had a concern regarding the case and asks what it is. I told him I think I know someone related to one of the other witnesses, as the situation the first witness mentioned regarding the little girl was all too familiar with a situation a close friend was telling me about. He tells me to join the jury in the juror room, but not to mention it to them, as he was going to inform the judge.

We're waiting for about 5 minutes, before the bailiff returns to the room and calls me to join the courtroom. I sit down, explain to the judge and attorneys and defendant what I had told the bailiff regarding my friend's cousins have the same last name as one of the witnesses and that I didn't realize there was a connection until the witness yesturday mentioned the situation with the little girl.

They asked me a few more questions regarding what I knew and had me rejoin the rest of the jury in the other room. A few minutes later, they requested me back in the courtroom. The judge thanked me for my honesty, saying it showed integrity that once I made the connection that I came forward with it and even admitted that he knows how sometimes we don't always realize there maybe a connection with a conversation we heard before until someone starts talking about it but he thanked me again for coming forward with it and said I was going to be dismissed because of my knowledge of the other case the defendant is involved in. The bailiff escorted me back to the juror room so I could collect my things and then escorted me back upstairs to get my check - they didn't have my day 2 one ready yet, so I just collected the one and they said they would send the one for today out that night in the mail.

Good thing too - regardless of whether or not he was guilty in this domestic battery case, knowing that he's the same guy involved in the case regarding the little girl that has ties to my friend's family, I wouldn't be able make an unbiased judgment!

So, needless to say, that's the end of my experience with Jury Duty. I got selected, I experienced part of a trial and then got dismissed at the beginning of day 2. I made a whole $26 - $7 of which goes to parking and $4 for lunch on Tuesday (I had a 6" inch sub and a cookie at the nearby Subway).

1 comment:

  1. ha, i'm glad you still got out of it, AND got some money. nice.

    i'm glad i'll never be a juror.


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