Thursday, June 11, 2009

Civic Duty...

I am serving as a District Court juror in my county of residence for the month of June. Now, given the fact that I'm a former state trooper, former Consumer Fraud Investigator, am a mystery writer and I happen to be employed as a security officer for the legislative and judicial branches of government, one would think I'd get a 'pass' on jury service. Not so.

While the idea of serving on a jury is, in fact, intriguing, the timing has left something to be desired. I'm in the middle of a number of projects. (I know. When am I not in the middle of some half-brained project? Don't answer that. It's more in the form of a rhetorical inquiry...

Anyway, I managed to dodge the proverbial bullet the first week of service as no jury trials were scheduled. This past week, however, I was summoned to appear on Monday for jury selection in a trial that was expected to last at least four days.

I arrive at the courthouse, remember the admonition to leave cell phones in the car, so I hoof it back to the Jimmy and return to the courthouse where I check in and proceed through jury orientation, several breaks, (courts take a lot of breaks) and then the first group of jurors is selected and go through the attorney questioning known as Voir Dire, or French for 'truth telling'. At this point I knew I'd never make it on this jury. For several reasons.

First off, I knew several of the parties involved, as well as a number of the witnesses (the hazards of living in a small town where you know most everyone and they know you), and got the feeling they weren't looking for someone with a background in law enforcement and fraud investigation. Still, it was extremely interesting--and educational--listening to the counsel for both sides as they questioned potential jurors looking for biases or conflicts of interests or other factors that might negatively impact their ability to be fair and impartial. I've been involved in court proceedings many times, but always in the role of witness--and generally for the State. This gave me an opportunity to see up close and personal what goes on in the process of selecting and seating a jury. It was quite fascinating. Other potential jurors in the gallery grew restless. I was rivoted. I only wished I'd brought along my notepad to take notes.

Now that wouldn't draw any attention, would it?

All in all, it was a diverting experience even if I didn't get selected for this jury panel. I have to check in this Friday to see if there is a trial scheduled for next week so I'll know whether to report or not come Monday.

This time I plan to take my steno pad.

I'm curious. Have any of you served on a jury? If so, what was the experience like? Who among you has even been called? How would you feel about serving on a jury?

I was surprised at the amount of nervousness I felt at the thought of the huge responsibility that comes with the power to determine the outcome of a court case and the impact that decision will have on the lives of those involved as well as their families. It's a responsibility that is not to be taken lightly, that's for sure.

Still, I must confess I was a wee bit disappointed that I didn't get the opportunity to serve this time--until I turned the television only to discover the movie Runaway Jury starting.

Oh well. One big perk about being a writer is I can go anywhere I want, anytime I want.

Even a jury deliberation room.

Talk about your 'disorder in the court'!

Have a great rest of the week!

~Bullet Hole~

P.S. My dad celebrates his 82nd birthday this Sunday, June 14th. (He always told us kids the flags flying June 14th were for him.) Happy birthday, Daddy Buck!


terrio said...

I have been a registered voter for harrumph years and never been called for jury duty. In that time I've lived in four different states, and nothing. And I've always wanted to do it too.

I think it would be interesting. I don't think I'd like to have to decide if someone lives or dies, but the rest I could handle. Okay, no sequestering (sp?), but I still think the rest would be cool.

LuAnn said...

I've been called for jury duty but never had to serve. I've often wondered why they make a person come down and sit through an entire day of questioning if they have no intention of picking them. One time, I told them from the get go that I knew all the parties involved and even wrote articles about the case in the local paper. "Can you be impartial?" Well, duh! Sure, I said, I can try and I would hope I could. (sigh)

Estella said...

I have served on a civil jury and on Grand Jury. I'll tale the civil jury anyday.
Grand Jury was interesting but hard. We had to figure out if there was enough evidence to indict a man for murder.
Civil jury was a vehicular manslaughter case, with several degrees of guilt.
I am so glad I was not the foreman of that jury. The poor man was about driven crazy with people changing their mind on the degree of guilt.

Both my husband and I have served on juries numerous times. We are getting to the age not(in our state it is 70) where we will not be called to serve again.

Suzan Harden said...

LOL - In sixteen years, I was never called for jury duty until three weeks before I took the Texas bar. I was seated next to a retired Houston police officer. Since it was a car accident case, we figured we'd be the first ones excused. Not only were we both tapped, I got elected as foreman.

Christie Craig said...


I haven't been called in a while. I find it very interesting.

Great post.

And tell your dad happy birthday!

Shel said...

I'm a lawyer, so it's highly unlikely I will ever be selected as a juror. However, having selected juries, I can tell you it is an exceedingly boring selection process on the other side. At least for me and others I know. I wouldn't mind sitting on a jury though - that's way more interesting to me, plus I wouldn't have to do all the work for the trial!

Refhater said...

Happy Birthday to your Dad! My birthday is the day before on the 13th. (29 again this year.) Hope its a good one for him.

I've never been selected for a jury. But, I've been through a murder trial. My foster brother was murdered by his biological father during an weekend visitation. Not fun at all. On behalf of the victim's loved ones and families, THANK YOU to everyone who serves on a jury. (And the judges, police, and lawyers.) Your time and service is appreciated.

Caffey said...

I actually wanted to do at least one jury duty in my life. See I got a notice that I was to report to Jury Duty. So I wanted to do it but need an interpreter for the deaf, so I told them and they said, we'll excuse you and I kept saying NO, I want to serve. They wouldn't let me! They finally get someone who wants to serve and they say no.

Happy Birthday to your dad!!

Anonymous said...

I was called for jury duty about 5 years ago or so. I thought it was really interesting, watching how things worked. It was a small county court, so there wasn't anything really huge.

I served on one jury, and I forget now exactly what the issue was. We spent the morning listening to evidence, deliberated in the afternoon, and found the defendant guilty.

The things that I really found interesting ... we had to leave 2 or 3 times because there was apparently prejudicial evidence that the lawyers had to wrangle about, so we knew there was stuff we weren't hearing. There was a suggestion that the female arresting officer might have known the defendant and been friendly with his girlfriend (who was on the prosecution side), but it was inferred so we didn't know for sure.

The instructions to make your decision based solely on what you hear is, in practice, really hard to do ... it's very difficult to separate out speculation about motive, your impressions from what the lawyers either don't say or don't want you to hear, etc. The guy hid from the cops & we were told we couldn't consider that as guilty behavior, but how can you not?

We were a relaxed jury and we meshed pretty well, and it wasn't a difficult case, but it was interesting observing everybody's way of thinking about evidence and coming to a decision.

Even though I thought we made the right decision, I was a little nervous ... what if we were wrong? What if he goes to jail and his life is ruined because of the decision we made? What didn't we hear that would have made a difference to us, but that the lawyers and judge thought would be bad for us to know?

I stayed after we were dismissed, sitting in the gallery, and watched the sentencing. Turns out the guy had a record of similar crimes. And that was kind of relief, because it made me feel like we'd made the right decision. And then I thought about how scary that kind of thinking can be, and why they don't always let you know the defendant has a criminal record. Just because they did it before doesn't mean they did it this time. You have to decide based on the circumstances of the current issue.

I've moved since then, and if I'm called up, I'll serve again. I found it fascinating. Sometimes I wish I didn't have to work for a living, so I could spend time sitting in court rooms. Lot's of really interesting interactions.