Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Summoned to Jury Duty

Today, I had to report for Jury Duty, which was my first since I moved to Oregon in 2006 and only my second time since reaching the voting age of 18. The last time I was called to Jury Duty was in 1996 in DeKalb County, Georgia. I was selected as an alternate, so that meant that I got to sit in on the trial, but I could not participate in the deliberations. I was just as clueless as the defendant in how the jury would render its verdict. In that case, the criminal defendant represented himself. He was charged with possession of cocaine with intent to distribute it. The most memorable event during the trial was when he asked the police officer who had arrested him to show the jury the pat down procedure he gave the defendant the night of his arrest. The police did so. Afterwards, the defendant pulled out a plastic sandwich bag filled with white powder. Everyone was stunned and the prosecution objected because the police officer was not giving a real pat down procedure. The judge sustained the objection and told us to disregard what we had just seen.

What was the point of that object lesson? I think the defendant was trying to get us to think the police officer might have planted the bag of "cocaine" (the defendant admitted that the bag only had detergent, rather than cocaine). This was in the aftermath of the O.J. Simpson trial, so anything to get juror's suspicious of the cop was probably his only hope of a not guilty verdict. However, as the prosecution said in the summation, if the defendant had changed as he claimed, why did he keep going back to his old neighbourhood and hang out with drug dealers? The defendant also was permitted a public defender, but chose to represent himself. The jury ended up with the same verdict I would have given at the trial's conclusion: GUILTY!

For today, I was up bright and early to be at the courtroom no later than 8 a.m. I decided to stop by the place near my old apartment and work for breakfast and to say hello to the young Korean lady who works there, whom I'd gotten to know for all the lunches I ate there from 2006 through 2010. She was surprised to see me again and was happy to make me my regular (Chai Latte, which is better than the version Starbucks makes). I really hope that I can find a job downtown again. I love and miss working downtown. If I get to work downtown again, then I can stay downtown after work to do my usual things, rather than having to travel an hour from work to downtown and then 45 minutes back to home when I'm done downtown. My life was so much easier when I lived and worked downtown. Too bad it was such a sucky job that depleted my soul. Had I been in a better job, I might have never moved away from downtown.

After going through airport-type security (I actually had to take off my belt and my shoes), I went to the Jury Assembly room where many people were already seated. It was a large room that from my guess had about 200 chairs, plus a few sofas to the side. There were also restrooms, a few desks for people to plug in their laptops, and a kitchenette. I have never seen a more elaborate room before. Just for jurors? There were also two flat screen TVs and a couple of bookshelves filled with a few hard cover books and mostly mass marketed paperbacks of novelists like Danielle Steele and Clive something or other. According to the flat screen TV that displayed useful information, all books were donated by the Multnomah County Library as a thank you for our Jury service and are free to be taken. Though I had brought my own book that I'm reading (Carl Jung's Memories, Dreams, Reflections), I was still curious about the books on the shelves and was disappointed to see crappy novels. Granted, these are the kinds that one likely finds in drug stores and airport bookstores, and mall bookstores, nothing was worth taking. Maybe I should donate old books to the courthouse!

Shortly after 8 a.m., a video about jury duty started showing on the flat screen. I thought this was a nice touch. When I served on jury duty in DeKalb County in 1996, they had nothing like this. But of course, that was 16 years ago. The video was informative about the process, with the repeated message that serving on a jury is an important civic duty that doesn't exist in other countries and is crucial for our democratic system and Constitutional rights. No arguments there. I'm not one of those who schemes about how to get off jury duty when I receive a notice. I was looking forward to serving on jury duty, even though my supervisor kept insisting that I needed to let them know that I could not serve on a jury because it would be a hardship on my income as well as for the company. While I agreed that my bank account will take a huge hit if I'm on a jury for a week, the company seemed to function just fine when I was gone for a week during Christmas. Of course, that was in between holidays, but still. Nothing I've done in the 16 months I've worked there has been so crucial that I couldn't miss a week.

I told my supervisor that I would tell the judge that serving on a jury would be a hardship, but I wasn't going to attempt to get out of serving on a jury. In reality, I was looking forward to it. This has always been an experience I look forward to. I was envious whenever my mom, dad, brother, and co-workers had to serve on a jury duty. My chance never seemed to come and the one time it did, I was merely the alternate. The 13th Juror. Kind of like Miss Beauty Pageant Runner-Up. I'd only get to join the jury of 12 if one person is dismissed or falls ill. And prior to that, I had received my first jury summons while I was in Basic Training in 1991. Of course, I was excused from Jury Duty for that.

At 10 a.m., a group of us were called to report to a courtroom for Voir Dire. Then we were seated by the judge's assistance. I got to be seated in the jury box. There were a list of questions we had to answer. Not only basic info about our names, occupation, where we live, but also, have we ever been victim of a crime, if we knew anyone in law enforcement. The last two questions were more for filling out our personalities for everyone else's benefit: what are our hobbies and how would people who know us describe us? The judge read the indictment against the defendant, which was a bunch of legalese that almost put me to sleep. But, it was a long list. The defendant was facing 17 indictments that included robbery, assault with a deadly weapon, and kidnapping. I looked at the defendant and was stunned. He looked like a twentysomething fresh-faced guy who should be in college. He was an African American and so was his lawyer. Besides the long list of indictments, the prosecution listed the names of about 20 people he would call as witnesses (for the purposes of the juror so we can mention if we know any of the witnesses). The defendant only listed one witness: a forensics expert. To me, this was stunning. He had no relatives or friends to call in his defense? The deck definitely appeared to be stacked against him.

The judge said that this trial should last through Friday and depending on how long it takes for the jury to render a verdict, we could possibly be on duty through Monday. Plus, there were two days in May that required our return. Then began the process of each juror going through the list of 10 questions to answer, with everyone listening (I hate that!). Based on how we answered, the judge would ask follow up questions. I got her questions when I mentioned being robbed at knife point while on vacation. She asked if it happened in Portland, and I told her that it happened in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1994. She asked if my experience would affect my ability to look at this case with an impartial eye. I said no. I meant it, too, because each case is different. Besides, I had processed my own experience years ago and it no longer has any emotional "residue" for me. For hobbies, I said that I love reading, writing, and traveling. As for what friends would say about me, I said "They'd say that I was thoughtful." As I heard other juror's answer the questions, I regretted not going for laughs, because some jurors did get laughs from their statements. Had I known, I would've answered, "Well, my best friend once introduced me to people as having the kind of loyalty that you can't even find in a dog." I'm sure that would have caused laughter!

One guy answered that people who know him would call him "dull", and people laughed. The judge was even stunned. She said that he didn't need to think that poorly of himself, but he said that it was true. Yikes! Who thinks of themselves as dull?!? Another guy answered that question similarly and also got laughs. He called himself "boring." However, the biggest laughs went to the guy who answered the question about our experiences with courtroom procedures that he had a lot of experience. He shared some of them before admitting, "I actually have an outstanding warrant for my arrest in Los Angeles." The courtroom exploded in laughter (the loudest of any of the laughs). The judge was stunned and said, "That's actually something that you probably should not have disclosed. I'm going to have to check what the proper procedures are and talk to you in my chambers afterwards, but the purpose of these questions is not to incriminate anyone today." Wow, amazing. The guy admitted that the warrant was issued in 1974, so you'd think there would be a statute of limitations and it sounded like it was for possession of marijuana or something. He said that he had not been back to Los Angeles since the warrant was issued.

As I listened to the jurors answer the list of questions, I was stunned by how many people had been robbed or burglarized. There was no way that the defendant would be able to dismiss everyone from the juror who had been personally affected by crime. And besides, of the pool of 38 jurors, only one was an African American. So, this young African American man was looking at a "jury of his peers" being mostly middle-aged white people with college degrees and plenty of experience with having their houses or cars broken into and robbed.

After each juror had the chance to answer the questions, it was time for lunch break, which was from noon until 1:30 p.m. I love that length of time for lunch break! The judge told us to meet back in the Jury Assembly Room at 1:30 p.m. and she would call us back to the courtroom when they were ready for us. So, for lunch, I went to the nearby Pioneer Square mall, which has a nice food court. After that, I still had plenty of time to kill, so I went to the public library to check my email and post comments on Facebook about my Jury duty.

I made it back to the Jury Assembly room at 1:30 p.m. and waited and waited and waited and waited. At 2 p.m., the lady next to me mentioned something about how they expect us to be back on time but they aren't in any hurry to call us back to the courtroom. I remarked to her, "Perhaps the defendant took one look at the jury pool and decided to plea bargain." I was certain of that, because it simply did not make sense that he would only call one witness and that there was a list of 17 indictments against him. My impression (based purely on observation, as I knew nothing about this case nor had I read about the armed robbery that happened somewhere in Portland in May 2011) was that he probably refused a plea bargain, thinking he'd have better luck with a jury. The prosecution went ahead with the trial, but because of our legal system with the number of cases involved, no one really wants to go through the expense of a trial so at every stage in the process, there is hope that a plea bargain deal can be reached.

This Voir Dire was probably the last moment before trial, as the prosecution is able to show the strength of their case against the defendant and with the jury makeup being predominantly white, middle class, college educated citizens who have experience being robbed, the defendant likely realized that no sympathetic jury was possible for him. Better to accept a plea bargain than to lose a trial, which will have stiffer sentence for him. Plus, even though he claims "not guilty" to each of the 17 indictments against him, he knows the truth of what happened during those incidents. If he is truly guilty of the crimes he was charged with, it was better to come clean and accept the lesser punishment of the plea bargain than the heavier sentence he would likely receive at the end of the trial.

At 2:40 p.m., just when CNN was interviewing Mitt Romney about his chances in the Mississippi and Alabama primaries, the lady in the Jury Assembly room muted the flat screen TVs and made the announcement that the judge has dismissed the jury, as the defendant came to an agreement with the prosecution. We were free to leave, our jury duty having been met. We would not be called for at least two years. Everyone was happy. We turned in our Jury badge, got our letter to employer, and left the courthouse. I was relieved, even though it would have been nice to experience a trial. However, this one seemed a little obvious from the beginning, so I think it resolved itself for the best. A jury trial where there's more room for doubt would have been nice. However, had this gone to trial and I was stuck through the end of the week, my supervisor would not have pleased. During the Voir Dire, those who expressed the hardship serving would have put on their finances or work responsibilities, the judge asked if we might lose our jobs because of it. However, I think there is legal protection. If one loses their job because of serving on a jury, that seems grounds for a wrongful termination suit. I definitely would press for this case if I lose my job because I did my civic jury. After all, I'm not really hurting the company. My job will get done next week, but all I'd lose is almost a week's pay and that actually saves my company money.

After leaving the courthouse, I went to the nearby eyeglass shop that I've been meaning to visit since last November when I saw that they had the Ernest Hemingway of glasses that I wanted to see for my next pair of glasses. Unfortunately, they aren't part of my vision insurance plan. My vision insurance plan's network of opticians does not include eyeglass frames from the Ernest Hemingway collection and I really love the tortoise shelled frames from this collection. I may have to just buy a pair when I get my tax refund and then get a reimbursement from my insurance company. I think I look really good in those pair of glasses.

In the evening, I had free passes to see the film Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, which I will review for tomorrow's post. All in all, it was a good day and only reminded me how much I miss being downtown, with all the energy that comes with the various workers in all the businesses and offices. I feel so isolated with where I work now, out in the boonies in some huge warehouse / office complex. I really need to find a job that will bring me back to the downtown area.

Below is a photo I found in a Google search that looks exactly like the jury box that I had sat in for my Voir Dire. I wonder if all courtrooms adopt this style.

1 comment:

Trish and Rob MacGregor said...

Good post, Sansego. I've been called twice and got out of it both times. I knew I couldn't have done anyone a service by sitting on those juries. One of them was an insurance case for a guy in a wheelchair. I said I was a novelist and that in my books, the guy in the wheelchair always won.