Jury Duty: Pick Me

Day Two (Morning):  I arrive for the 8:10 check-in a few minutes early and stand in line to go through security.  It’s pretty much like the airport except the security is actual cops and you don’t have to take your clothes off or get rid of your water and snacks.

Then we file into a big room and pick up a clipboard and information brochure titled:  A Juror’s Guide to Washington’s Courts.  We also have our juror badge scanned.  Every few minutes the clerk drones:  “Please have your badge out, it will go faster.”  Very much like having your boarding pass scanned.  A woman in back of me asks:  “What does ‘have your badge out’ mean?”  Please don’t let her be on my jury.  And really don’t let her decide someone’s guilt or innocence.

I take a seat with a couple hundred other people and settle in with a book and a bottled water.  We’ve been told there will be a LOT of waiting.  A quick look around the room tells me I am overdressed.   Easily three quarters of the prospective jurors are wearing jeans.  It seems to be pretty evenly men and women.  Age tends to skew older with maybe 25 people under 30 years old.  Most young people have a LOT more important things to do.

A clerk announces that the first trial and courtroom are ready for jury selection.  She reads off 35 names and I am number 14.  We are instructed to leave the room and go to the elevator and up to the fourth floor into yet another room and await further instructions.  By 8:45 I’m the room with 34 of my peers.  There are 20 men and 15 women.  Average age looks to be about 45.

I settle in to read my Juror’s Guide.  I learn that I need to be 18, a citizen (I wonder if they will ask for my birth certificate.  They guy next to me looks like he probably wasn’t born in the U.S.  Does that mean he’s not a citizen, or just can’t be president?)  If I was ever convicted of a felony, my civil rights must have been restored.  Oh, and I have to be able to communicate in English.  The woman in front of me is talking on the phone in Spanish … I wonder if she speaks English.  Oh, and hats are not allowed.  Weird.

An amazingly obese woman informs the group that she will be showing a video and reading a few more rules before the next step.  We watch the 3o-minute video titled:  We The People.  It tells us what to expect and our roles throughout jury selection, a trial and deliberation.  Then the woman tells us where the bathrooms are and that a judge will be coming in to welcome us.  Water leaks from the ceiling into a bucket.

A judge comes in and thanks us all for responding to the summons.  He points out that this truly is a sacrifice since this is a really old building and the seats are hard, the rooms small (especially jury deliberation rooms) and some courts are really cold and others too hot.  I can confirm that no seat has been comfortable yet.  He also lets us know that our selection was completely random via a computer.

Finally we are ushered into Judge Weiss’s courtroom in numerical order.  That means the first 13 sit in the actual jury box.  Damn.  I just missed but this isn’t selection yet.  It just means that the first 13 randomly selected are in the box and will sit on the jury if they survive the jury vetting from the attorneys.  I’m hoping one of them is booted so I will be on the actual jury.  The rest of us are all seated in the viewing (audience) seats. 

Judge Weiss welcomes us and introduces the prosecutor and defense attorney.  He also introduces the clerk, bailiff and court recorder.  He provides a synopsis of the case which is probably not going to be used for any upcoming Law and Order episodes. 

The case is simple.  A Washington State patrolman is standing on the shoulder of southbound I-5 in back of his unmarked patrol car checking for speeders.  His radar gun clocks a motorcyclist speeding (75 in a 60).  He waves at him to slow down and pull over.  The biker keeps going and the cop jumps in his car to pursue with lights flashing … no siren.  Within a mile the biker gets off the freeway and crashes the bike  on the off-ramp shoulder and skids into a car.  He is arrested and charged with eluding the police and driving in a reckless manner, which is a felony.  It happened in August 2009.  What the hell took it so long to get to trial … and should this really be a trial?

Next is voir dire which is the questioning process from the judge and two attorneys.  They ask everyone if they have any knowledge of the case, any personal feelings or feelings that might make it hard to be impartial.  My butt has lost all feeling but I remain impartial. 

They also ask if we have friends or relatives who work for the state, county or law enforcement.   One woman says that “my cousin’s husband was a Tukwila policeman 20 years ago.  He died several years ago so I don’t think it will affect my impartiality.”  When asked about involvement in a crime, one woman said she was held up at gunpoint.  She’s “not sure” if she can be impartial because she loves the police from her experience. 

When asked about knowledge or ownership of motorcycles several people raise their hands.  One guy was just pulled over for speeding last week on his motorcycle.  Two guys race bikes. 

When asked about general hardship by being here, two guys say they are out of work and this will cause them stress because they are the sole support of their families.  They want to be looking for a job.  (Don’t they know this pays $10 a day plus mileage?)

This process takes quite awhile.  The attorneys can remove jurors with a peremptory challenge (no reason needed) or for cause.  They get up to six of each.  Long story short, six are removed and I Am On The Jury.  I am lucky number 13. 

The judge calls recess for one hour.  We will come back at 1:30 and begin with opening statements.  By the way, both attorneys are young, probably mid-thirties.  We haven’t seen the defendant yet.

Next:  Testimony