I have been called for jury duty four times. The first three times I called the night before, as instructed, to find out my group was excused. Recently I received another summons and my group was called, so I spent a recent Tuesday at the Buncombe County Municipal Complex, which actually has a nice view and a very comfortable juror’s assembly area. (See the header image of this post!)
In the sterile but pleasant enough juror’s pad, we learned to say “jury service” in lieu of “jury duty.” There was one trial for the day, a criminal trial for whose jury all of us would be considered. One terribly acted, poorly produced video and an hour’s wait later and I was in the court room, hand over my nose to try to assuage the scent of the guy to my left, who seems to have gargled with garlic brine for a week straight.
The judge explains the precise roles of the people in the courtroom. Being a live person, it isn’t too vexing everything he has said is duplicating the information from the video. “Couldn’t court have just started earlier?” I wanted to ask. But, as I suspected and was come to realize more viscerally, efficiency is not characteristic of the juror's experience.
After sometime between thirty and forty-five minutes, twelve jurors are selected at random to enter the box and be questioned individually by the judge. The questions the judge asks are sensible and intended to ensure the majority of the jurors are going to stay in the box after being questioned more thoroughly by the prosecution and defense. To make this process go as quickly as the layered bureaucracy will allow, it is important for prospective jurors to be as honest and thoughtful as possible. For instance, if there’s a reason what one has heard about the case that seems distracting to one’s conscience, one should say so at the start.
After the judge agrees the prospective jurors in the box are suitable, the prosecution questions each juror in a way that is relevant to the case and based on the answers given to the judge a half hour earlier. In a criminal trial in the superior court, this is an attorney representing the state. Understandably, if there is a potential conflict of interest, it should be addressed.
If I were called up there, which I had an incorrect suspicion might happen, I would have likely stayed in the box, unlike the nearly every potential Juror 5, reminded needlessly yet prohibitively of every unpleasant but unrelated thing ever to happen to her or him. The judge eventually resorted to sniffing whether people would end up being trouble and dismissing them before they got their responses off to him.
And I understand why the judge got so impatient. Four people within the first group perhaps failed to understand the judge’s simple and contributed to the rising tension in a drama I’ll call “One Angry Courtroom.” Each time a juror is excused from the box, a new one is selected, the judge questions her or him, and, if approved, the prosecution begins questioning yet again.
When selecting the original panel and before the judge’s impatience became a motivation, two first cousins who never see each other but were both called for jury service and ended up together in the box inspired a bad comedy show in which many unfunny family reunion jokes were made to break up the procedural tedium in the room. I just wish the jokes had been funny and the prosecution didn’t make the exact same jokes as the judge.
While a seemingly nice person, the attorney representing the state who may or may not have a recognizable title I’m electing not to post here quickly waxed irritating, not being a public speaker or having any concept that reciting from a script all day is apparent to even to those who aren’t paying attention.
The attorney representing the state on this particular day has the exact same way of asking juror questions, which becomes obvious when jurors are questioned in several rounds. "I know we all like 'Law and Order’ and ‘CSI,’ but I don’t look like Mariska Hargitay – sorry – and you know you don't always get fingerprints and that cool stuff, right?" she or he asks repeatedly. It's cute and effective the first round; it gets more wilted what I'd imagine the salad bar at Golden Corral to be (note: I've never been, so I’m merely hazarding a guess) with repetition. What we can all learn from this is, when giving presentations, not to make repetition obvious.
Also, if a juror has a major disability that involves a stutter, maybe find an artful way of asking him questions rather than taking an extra ten minutes for him to articulate words he cannot. This isn't the fault of the guy himself, but those asking questions after he explained what his needs were. But I guess changing up approach in the moment doesn’t work for our venerable prosecution.
At some point we were tasked with a ten minute break, but we were instructed to go back to the really nice juror’s assembly area, a six-minutes-long trek out of the courthouse back into the municipal building for more than fifty people who have to stay huddled together. I thought about using the restroom upon getting back to the assembly area, but I had a feeling there would be no time until we got shuffled back to the courtroom. And I was right.
When the third candidate for juror seven is confirming an understanding that television and real life are not the same, the guy near me who smells starts to nod off and then his foot butts up against an older lady's purse, spilling the contents on the floor and making the already annoyed judge a little more annoyed. Oh, and that smelly guy’s phone went off, too, so the bailiff got the chance to admonish us for not having paid attention to the video and the judge.
I know a lot of people and several generally well-adjusted and –behaving citizens do brush up against crime in some way. But the majority of people selected that day for the jury had some sob stories that didn’t even relate to the case. And people with crime-related grudges tend especially to sit in juror chair five. Yes, that chair.
We went through more than ten people before someone was selected as a provisional holder of chair five. Finally, it was now the defense attorney’s turn to question jurors based on the notes he had made over the past too many hours, but he pointed out to the judge he needed more than ten minutes. Naturally, we were told to go to lunch.
After the lunch break, we just waited and waited, instead of returning to court at 2:15 so the defense could question the jury, remove and add jurors if needed, and the prosecution and defense could select an alternate. Since that took so long earlier in the day, it looked like we were going to have to go into tomorrow to even get the jury set up, even if we started right at 2:15. But a few hours later than we were supposed to go into court, we were informed, simply, "The trial has been canceled and you are all free to go."
Apparently a $12 check will be mailed to me at some point. With this plenitude I plan to buy something nice for my cats.
Jury service is probably a really a good thing, but aside from the web designer, unemployed medical consultant, and contract engineer, plus hopefully myself, I think most of the group of 50+ people I was in recently doesn't really make me feel confident should I end up on a criminal trial in any way. I know lots of competent people, but in knowing me they are immediately disqualified from being part of a jury I'd need, so I’m concerned.
Each time I give my cats the treats I bought with my booty for a full day’s unfulfilled jury service, I’ll make sure to be as repetitive as possible and remind them they get me, not the attractive person offering cat treats on those cat treat commercials, and the cat treats don’t ever look quite as good in real life as they do on screen. And, of course, I'll say this individually to each cat so I can repeat myself as much as needlessly possible.