Monday, December 7, 2009

Jury Duty

After a madcap trip from Chicago to home in two days, I'm now sitting in a jury box in the courthouse - waiting.  The bailiff has treated us like cattle at best, as though we were the criminals.  They showed us a video that enshrined jurors as representative of all that is good and right about our free society.  But in reality they treat us like fodder.  It's hard not to resent that. Maybe I'll suggest that Bailiffs have some hospitality training or experience on their resume.  Not likely, probably too much to ask, to expect them to distinguish jurors from criminals.
In principle the video is true.  The right to a trial by a jury of your peers is critical to the maintenance of our freedom.  In practice there doesn't seem to be much corollary.  Perhaps the number of potential jurors who try to shirk their duty may influence their attitudes as well. Today's pool doesn't seem to be that way too much.  Maybe the judicial system has grown to resent that it is citizens like us, not they, who have the final say in the case before us.  Most judges I know are pretty certain they know how things should turn out.  It would be easy for them to be put out that a bunch of "numb skulls" get to decide for them.

I'm quite certain this was the case on the previous occasion I served on a jury.  The judge at that time was clearly in the camp of the prosecutor.  Yet the jury decided that the prosecutor didn't make his case - to the consternation of the judge and many others.   Who wouldn't resent a jury that would defy the court and let the accused go free.

The defendant just walked in.  While I'm convinced I could give him an impartial trial, I do know him and much of his history, so I'll probably be dismissed.

The judge should be here soon.  Better sign off for the moment.  I want to look good for this, I'd like to be selected.

Still waiting....

Well, another observation.  The Defense Attorney looks sleazier than his client.  That ought to have more influence on the jury than anything he might say in his client's behalf.  I think his client might do better if his attorney cleaned himself up or better yet, recused himself.  Not that any of this will influence my decision on the verdict; or anyone else's for that matter, the Prosecutor looks pretty rough too.

They sure do drag things out.  If they would just ask us a more general question regarding anything that might influence our decision in the case many of us would be forthcoming and lots of issues would be cleared up significantly more quickly.  The judge informed us early on that the wheels of justice have traditionally turned slowly in this country.  What happened to the right to a speedy trial.  There is certainly nothing speedy about this process. Obviously, the judiciary will claim they are in compliance with that Constitutional edict, but it is equally obvious that they have the power to decide which clock and at what rate that clock is used.

They told me I could bring my laptop and that WIFI would be available.  WIFI is not available, perhaps only in the court room, we'll see.  Anyway the other potential jurors are either jealous or shocked that I would have the gall to drag it out and start writing.

Oops, I just slowed down the process considerably.  The judge finally got around to asking a question that should have been asked first of all.  "Is anyone here personally acquainted with the defendant?"  I raised my hand and was called upon.

"Do you affirm that you are acquainted with the defendant?" the judge asked.

"Yes, sir."  I replied.

"How did you become acquainted with the defendant?"

"I was a volunteer at the county jail and the defendant was an inmate there at that time."

As soon as I said it I knew I was in trouble.  The attorneys asked to approach the bench.  After some conversation there the judge called a recess and met with the accused, his attorney and the prosecutors in his chambers.  I'm writing while we wait.  I'm pretty sure this isn't going to be good.

They're back.....

Sure enough a mistrial has been called.  I thought the other jurors or the judge or attorneys would look at me, maybe even scold me.   They didn't.  The judge simply declared a mistrial and dismissed us.  As I walked out I passed the bench and apologized to his Honor.  He took the blame saying, "It is my job to anticipate such problems.  Your job was to be honest and you were."  I was grateful to be let off the hook.  I wonder if my name will henceforth be stricken from the jury pool.  Clearly it is important that the jurors not know that the defendant has previous convictions, which might influence their verdict.  Having volunteered in correctional facilities for nearly 10 years now.  It is likely this problem will come up again if I am called to be a juror.  Not good.  Expensive.  Now the wheels of justice must move even more slowly for this man.

Outside the snow is falling.  As I walk to the car I detect a festive spirit amongst my fellow travelers.  For them I made jury duty quick and painless.  At least a lot more so than it would have been.

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...