Posts Tagged ‘Jury Duty’

Jury Duty: The Verdict

The testimony should end today.  The prosecution has only two witnesses today and the defense hasn’t said.  I’m guessing the defendant is it, and he may not testify.  I’m hoping we get the case early enough to arrive at a verdict so we can be done by 4:30.  The rules are that jury duty is one week or one trial.  If we can be done on Tuesday that would be sweet.  But I will miss the $10 a day plus mileage.  

Of course I’m more interested in justice being served, no matter how long it takes.  I have pretty much decided but will keep an open mind until the end.  I wonder if this is how all jurors feel.

Speaking of the jurors … there are seven men and six women.  Ten of us are wearing jeans.  I’d put the average age in the mid- to late 40s.  Myself and one other guy are retired.  Another has been an attorney for 38 years.  He’s my choice for jury foreman.  There is a young Indian guy who works at Google wearing jeans and flip-flops.  Nice.  I immediately like him. He’s outgoing, funny and thoughtful.

The trial resumes with brief testimony from two state patrolmen.  They pretty much duplicate yesterday’s witnesses by saying the defendant eluded the police and that when questioned after being stopped, he’d admitted that he made a mistake. At that, the prosecution rests.  Funny term.  I mean the guy didn’t go anywhere or take a nap so exactly how is he resting?

The defense attorney is a young woman who immediately calls the defendant to testify.  As he begins answering questions it is apparent he needs to get close to his microphone and talk louder.  He speaks just above a whisper and he mumbles. 

Basically the defense attorney takes him through his version of the incident.  His story is that just as he got on I-5 he realized he was about to run out of gas.  He did see a light blue sedan with a guy standing in back of it on the shoulder … but did not realize it was a cop or that he was being signaled.  His attention was totally on getting to the next exit.  When he got to the off-ramp he passed cars on the right — on the  shoulder — to save time and somehow lost control of the bike.   He vaguely remembers talking to police but can’t remember anything specific.  He had no idea he was being chased.

The prosecutor reminded him that he had noticed he was running out of gas the night before and asked why he didn’t fill up before getting on the freeway.  The defendant said he forgot. 

Closing arguments are quick.  The prosecutor says he proved his case beyond a reasonable doubt and takes us through the key witness testimony as well as that of the defendant to prove his points.  The defense attorney starts with another analogy.  This has to do with rock climbing.  She is holding a rope of someone climbing a rock face.  She knows beyond a reasonable doubt that she can save the climber should he fall because of her training and experience.  Somehow she tries to connect that to our task of believing that the defendant is guilty beyond a shadow of a doubt.  My thought was:  “What the f**k is she talking about?”

That’s really the essence of the case.  It is a “he said, they said” story.  The judge reads our instructions from a typed 12-page instruction document.  We each have a copy and read along with him.  The key instruction components are:

  • That the defendant willfully failed or refused to immediately bring the vehicle to a stop after being signaled to stop;
  • That while attempting to elude a pursuing police vehicle, the defendant drove his vehicle in a reckless manner.

The judge picks one juror’s number out of a hat who will become an alternate and be on call.  He is dismissed.  It is the attorney and he’s pretty happy about leaving.  There goes my choice for jury foreman.  It’s now about 2:30 and we are sent to the jury room to deliberate.  I’m thinking we can decide this by 4:30. 

We first pick a Seattle firefighter as our foreman, mainly because he was sitting at the head of the table.  He looks pretty pleased and I’m afraid he’s going to launch into an acceptance speech.  Instead he says we should all re-read instruction number 7 which contains the crime elements which must be “proved beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Most of the elements are pretty mundane, like the date it happened and where it happened.  We quickly agree on those and a couple of similar minor points through a hand vote. 

Then we discuss the two key elements described above.  The discussion revolves around credibility of the witnesses and the defendant.  In short, most of us agree that the four cops are more believable than the defendant.   His testimony that he didn’t notice the cop didn’t hold water.  Most of us have seen cops on the side of the road and most of us can tell a long way away, especially when we are in the HOV lane next to the shoulder — which is where the defendant was riding.

One woman holds out for a while because she “doesn’t want to spend the next 30 years regretting her decision.”  She want to be completely fair and not dismiss the defendant’s story out of hand.  She “just needs time.”  The Google guy calmly takes her through the key points while I do a crossword puzzle on my iPod, and others read magazines and check their phones.  Then I remind her that the day prior to the incident the defendant said he was at a gas station filling his tires with air.  It stands to reason that he would have filled his tank then, since he had testified that he first realized he was running out that day. 

That decided it.  We all vote guilty.  It is 4:15.  We buzz the clerk in and tell her we’ve reached a verdict.  A few minutes later we return to the jury box and the judge asks the foreman if we have reached a verdict.  He says yes.  The jury verdict is handed to the judge who reads it silently and then passes it to the clerk to be read aloud.  (Just like on television.)  I stare at the defendant for a reaction and he just blinks and that’s it.  His mother, who was there throughout the trial, was in tears.  We are dismissed and told to return to the jury room for a few minutes.

The clerk comes in and says we are free to go.  We are told that the judge and two attorneys are willing to take questions from any of us if we choose.  Sentencing is set for sometime in June.  Most of us leave but a couple of guys want to stay and tell the judge they would hope for leniency on the sentence for this kid.  We all feel kinda sorry for him and don’t want this to mess up his life right at the beginning of adulthood.

Jury duty was a good experience.  I wish it had been a more exciting or interesting case but I’m happy I did it and feel we made the right decision.  It’s interesting how important that became.  Myself and the other jurors all agreed that when it came time to vote we felt the importance of what we were about to decide.  It’s someone’s life and you can’t take that lightly. 

I would do it again especially if they raise the per diem and provide more comfortable seats.

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Jury Duty: Testimony

We return after lunch and hear opening remarks by the attorneys.  The prosecutor lays out the state’s case by saying they will prove that the defendant willfully eluded police and drove in a reckless manner, which is a felony.  He says they will have lots of witnesses and charts and photos and maps and stuff to prove their case.

The defense attorney says this case is all about perspective.  She talks about how we have all experienced times when we may have heard something entirely different from a friend in relating a story.  Two people hearing the same thing … hear something entirely different.  Perspective.  Then she launches into an analogy about two groups of people rafting down a river.  They both see some markings on a cliff.  One group believes the markings to be the result of eons of weather.  The other group says it is the result of a recent flood.  I’m like:  “What the hell is she talking about?” Now I’m really thirsty.  All about perspective.

I notice the defendant is twitching and constantly moving around in his chair.  His attorney says he has a bad back and not to be distracted by his obvious discomfort.  The defendant is a little guy who appears to be in his early twenties.  He is pretty stoic throughout the trial.

The prosecution’s case revolves around the testimony of four different state patrolmen and one “civilian” witness.  In varying degrees they all talk about how the defendant ignored the pull over signal from the cop and then crashed his bike driving on the shoulder of the off ramp.   Two officers say they asked the defendant:  “Why did you run?”  They both say that the defendant responded:  “I made a bad decision” and “I was scared.”  In neither case did the defendant say he was unaware of being chased which is the crux of his defense.

They show lots of overhead photos of the I-5 stretch where the “chase” occurred and the crash site of the off ramp.  There are also photos of the wrecked bike and the damage to a car that the bike hit.

The defense questioning of the officers is mostly about where they were standing on the shoulder when waving down the defendant.  Also, she asked a lot about the specific hand signal that was given to pull over.  And how far away the biker was when the cop got in his car and began to pursue him.  Finally, she asked where the nearest gas station was to the   off ramp where the crash occurred.

We are now at the end of the day for court.  The judge tells us to return to the jury room at 9:45 the next morning.  He cautions us to not talk about the case to anybody including family or other jury members.  Damn.  I was gonna have my peers over for some beers and nachos and watch 12 Angry Men and see if we can’t get some deliberation ideas.  Besides, we should get to know each other before we start arguing, right?  We are also told that we should not loiter in the hallway if the jury room is not open. 

Speaking of the jury room … it is about the size of a walk-in closet.  There is a table with 13 chairs, a microwave, some old magazines and two bathrooms.  Oh, and a mini-refrigerator.  We are told we can bring food and warm it in the microwave.  The room is so small that I have to walk sideways to get around the table.  No windows, either.  I’m thinking it is designed for fast decisions.  You really don’t want to spend any more time in there than necessary.

When I get home I immediately tell my wife about the case.  She doesn’t render a decision but seems to be leaning toward guilty.  Mostly she was happy to have me gone for the whole day.

Next:  Guilty or Not Guilty

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

Jury Duty: I’ve Been Summoned

Here we go with another post-ISC experience:  Jury Duty.  I have been called twice before but never selected.  Maybe this time I will actually get on a jury and decide someone’s fate. 

It’s interesting that while I was working at the inter-galactic agency many of my peers were diligent about getting out of jury duty.  They felt that the need to knock out a couple of contact reports and write an ad was way more important than sitting on a jury.  They figured out ways to let the courts know that their work was indispensable and bragged about it.

But I digress.  I can hardly wait.  The following is a chronology of my recent jury experience.  I was forbidden to write about it until it was over.  It is and this is what happened.

Day One:    I receive my summons in the mail.  It instructs me to go online and fill in demographic data.  It arrives with my jury badge which I need to bring to the courthouse.  I need to call in and find out if I’m going to be in the pool of possible jurors.

I call the number and a recorded message tells me I have to be at the Snohomish County courthouse Monday morning.  The instructions say I should bring water, something to read and wear casual, comfortable and “appropriate” clothes.  I guess I need to leave the tank top at home.  I wonder if I can wear jeans.   I watch a bunch of Law and Order re-runs to see what the jury is wearing and they all seem to wear sweaters.  I also took a peek at To Kill A Mockingbird and noted that the jury was all men and they were really sweaty.  I think I will go “business casual”.  Back in the day that meant khakis and a sport shirt.  I dig the khakis out from way in the back of the closet.  They are only moderately wrinkled so I’m good to go.

I set the alarm and doze off with visions of 12 Angry Men rolling through my brain.

Tomorrow:  Will I get picked?