Jury duty is: 1. A civic responsibility 2. A time-sucking inconvenience 3. Excellent experience for a mystery writer 4. Tedious 5. Inspiring
Pick one? The correct answer is: All of the above. I’ve just finished being on a trial, my third. It did take six days out of my life.
While waiting in the jury pool, you may read, check mail, do a crossword puzzle.
However, once selected for a jury, you must pay attention. It can be tedious. (“Stop with the objections already!”) Or interesting. (“That witness keeps changing his mind. Lies or nerves?”) Every time the jury left the box, there was a long list of the same instructions read. (“Ok, we got it the first – second, third – time.”)
The last part, deliberation, is always interesting for the interaction among the jurors, the way people work things out, who is surprising and who surprises himself.
In three trials, one each for homicide, dental malpractice and criminal misdemeanors, no one on any jury has done less than their best to understand the case and apply the law fairly. In short, the system worked. Seeing that in action is actually quite inspiring.
So here are a few random observations:
The first trial was the homicide. The accused owned up to the shooting, possibly because there was an entirely credible witness. The question was whether or not it was self defense. There were a number of possible verdicts and we deliberated for about three days. At least two people reversed themselves as we talked. One was less sure of his original, open-and-shut assumptions and one did the opposite, becoming less sympathetic to the accused.
The first thing that was said when we finally began deliberation: “The only thing I am sure about is that if I am ever in trouble, I want the defense counsel for my lawyer!” We all agreed immediately on that. He was that good.
The second trial was dental malpractice. It would be beyond my powers to describe how boring two days of dental charts are!
We learned that in a civil trial,if there is doubt, we were required to find for the defendant, and we did.The plaintiff’s lawyer had not proven his case.
In this most recent trial? Simplifying it, the accused, who had not actually done anything, was frightened when some men approached her and she ran to her car. Turned out they were plainclothes cops, they pursued, they jumped on her car and she kept driving for a brief time. They were hurt, a little, and that is where the charges came from. Was it deliberate? Had they properly identified themselves or not? She said she did not know they were cops and had some reason to believe she had been set up. She is a tough young woman – a boxer! – but had never been in any trouble with the law. On the very first round, five of the six of us voted to acquit, which speaks strongly to which witnesses were convincing.
1. In my previous blog on jury duty, I included this impressive photo of a courtroom, pristine and dignified.
Ah, not exactly. The room was quite cluttered and cramped in real life. There is a table for each side, often covered with papers and files. The is a court reporter with a special stand, chair and bulky equipment. On the side there is a another desk for the court officers, also piled with papers and files.
2. Every court officer I have encountered, in all three trials, seemed to be friendly, funny, helpful, at least in dealing with the jury. Are they hired for that personality? Are they trained that way? And who would have expected that, in busy Brooklyn courthouses?
3. First time for me, the judge in this recent case was a woman, perhaps 40, very gracious and pleasant.
(this is a stock photo)
4. Completely unimportant but: I have space age metal in both legs. I have never set off an airport metal detector, but I did it every single time I walked into the court building! By the end of the week, I was taking regular kidding from the officers.
Feel free to ask me questions, here or offline.