Sunday, April 4, 2010

"You've been selected for Jury Duty"!

In bold, red letters across the top of the folded page it said JURY SUMMONS. Failure to appear for jury duty is a misdemeanor ........ it continued. Only weeks before I had said to Peter that I would love to have the experience of serving on a jury: here was my wish granted. The list of instructions about what to do next was concise and emphatic.
Sunday evening March 21, I did as instructed and phoned the number on the summons ... darn my group wasn't called. But the message was to call again the next day after 4.30pm to see if my group had been called. It wasn't until Wednesday I finally got the call to be at the Superior Court of Pierce County by 8.30am with the admonishment to dress comfortably, park in designated areas only and make sure your juror parking sign is easily visible in your windshield.
Walking down the hill to the County-City Building the early morning air was cool on the face. Enter here said the sign ... WRONG door! said the security guard emphatically - this door is only for employees. Squeezed between two large, grumbling, men whose ample bodies could not fit between me and the door I placed my bag on the scanner bed and walked through the security gate which (of course - Peter would say) beeped. It's the metal eyelets on your shoes, said the guard as she waved the black wand over me from head to toe.
Room #123 on the 1st floor read my instructions. Handed my jury summons to the man who asked if there was any reason why I could not serve for the term for which I have been summoned? No. Then scan your bar code here
, he continued, and read the screen. Is that you? Is all the information correct? Yes. He handed me some papers and directed me to find a chair and read the information.
Settling in to one of a large number of cranberry colored chairs in rows across the room, I read the pamphlets and watched the parade of my fellow citizens of Pierce County filling the chairs. Tall, short, young, older, very thin, grossly obese, some looking very confident - others equally unsure we gathered. A short but large and somewhat rumpled, balding man with large, crooked, aviator styled glasses took to the microphone and droned on for more than an hour; reading every word that was printed on the brochures we were handed. He repeated and repeated and again repeated so many of the instructions one wanted to ask him to please stop! But he had the microphone and he wasn't about to stop! Why had I decided not to bring some music to which I could listen?
To my amazement my name was called to join a pool of potential jurors quite soon. Just as in kindergarten we had to line up only here it was by number not alphabetically. Thirty of us were led to the court room and asked to sit on the benches ... in our numerical order. The judge told us that the case was a criminal case .. the charges were assault, attempting to disarm a police officer and harassment and the questioning, to find a jury of 12 plus 2 alternates, began. We were told to raise our number if we wished to speak! The attorneys took turns to question us.
Is there any reason why you could not serve on this jury? ( 3 people were excused) Had anyone every been on a jury before? Was there a trial? Did you reach a verdict? What was it? Had anyone had a bad experience with
a police officer? What was it? What was the outcome? Were there any charges filed? What was the result of the charges? Do you know anyone who has been Tazered? Would you challenge a police officer if he came into a court room where you were and gave you an order? Would you challenge a police officer for any reason? And many more questions.

What I found fascinating was to watch the watchers! For example one of the attorneys would ask a question ( apparently innocently) and then swing around to carefully scan the group and watch the potential jurors reactions!
Of the people excused two stick in my mind: one was the young man who had been arrested for breaking and entering, resisting arrest and impersonating a police officer who "thought the charges were all dismissed but couldn't quite recall" and the woman, dressed much like a flight attendant in the 1950s ( only thing missing was the rakish hat) who'd been arrested for gambling. Twelve people were eventually asked to go to the jury box and then began the "picking off" (my phrase) ... with stilted language "The prosecutor respectfully thanks juror number ....for their service and asks the court to excuse him/her" ... then the defending attorney did the same. Each time someone was excused, another person from the benches went forward to fill an empty seat. Twelve were now selected and the young woman next to me, and I, were chosen as the alternates.

We were sworn in by the judge and the opening statements by both attorneys given. At the end of those, we were excused with instructions about when to return.
The testimony of the various witnesses didn't always make sense to me. Not that I couldn't understand but that I wasn't certain they were telling the "whole truth". Being a health care worker for 35 years I know well how differently people react in times of stress and if adrenalin is flowing lots, then the brain works quite differently: t
here would have been lots of adrenalin pumping in all the people present. The incidents happened, in a court room, early October last year and the questioning by the defence attorney, for example, about how many seconds elapsed between two events seemed nothing short of ridiculous. It was also disturbing to have the defendant's attorney actually alter, in his closing arguments, a piece of evidence. I do not believe it was a misquote by mistake.
At the time the jury was dismissed to deliberate the alternate and I were excused, with the proviso that we were not to discuss the case with anyone until we heard from the Judicial Assistant (JA)that the verdict had been reached, but that we were to remain available to serve in case any of the jurors could not be there. There was no question in my mind that the defendant was guilty of two of the charges: assault and harassment. But I felt there was no proof beyond a reasonable of the third charge and thus I felt vindicated when the J.A. called to say that the jury had made the same decision. It would have been very interesting for me to hear the way the jury argued their opinions. I felt that one man on the case would have found the defendant guilty on all charges, based on comments he made about "life" when we were in the jury room. But unless I meet one of the jurors somewhere, I have no way of knowing.
When I was in Bellingham last weekend celebrating our daughter-in-law's birthday, we saw this brilliant, huge heron (pictured below) sitting on a log in the rushing creek patiently waiting for lunch. He looked so wise somehow and I couldn't help but wonder what he would have thought about the whole process I'd just experienced.
It felt like a huge responsibility to determine at least a portion of how someone elses life might be affected by a decision I made. I am grateful to have had the experience and at the same time relieved I wasn't chosen for the ax-murder case that was being heard in the court house at the same time.

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