Jury Duty

A happy thing happened this week — I got called to serve Jury Duty for California Superior Court when I actually am off work and have time to do it! I really value the privilege (and obligation) that we’re able to serve on juries and effectively manage our own community. I cringe when I hear folks talking about how easy it is to get out of doing it — of course it is — but that isn’t really the point.

Anyway, I went to the courthouse on Tuesday morning at 8:30a to check in — there were about 75 of us, and it was for just one case — criminal Battery. (I didn’t learn many of the details of the case, but it seems that the defendant allegedly assaulted a pregnant woman who called the police but eventually didn’t want to press charges — but in California only the DA can decide that, so the case went forward.)

We went into the courtroom around 9:30, and listened to the judge do his instructions/standup routine for maybe an hour, then started voir dire, or selecting the jury. Here’s how it worked: they called 12 of us from a random list — those 12 (not me) sat in the jury box. Then they called another 6 to sit in alternates’ chairs. The judge went through each prospective jury and asked them questions that boiled down to whether people really like & trust the police (or the opposite) and how they felt about certain aspects of the case (for example, one man whose wife is expecting a baby received extra scrutiny because the alleged assault was on a pregnant woman) — it all came down to trying to find a fair & impartial jury. This went on for a couple of hours (we had a break for lunch) and the judge eventually got through the 18; then the defense & prosecuting attorneys got to ask their own questions. After that, they each got to remove jurors for any reason at all — they each got 10 of these removals they could make. They each made 3 (6 total), so the 6 alternates moved up into the jury box, then the judge called 6 new randoms to sit in the alternate chairs and did the same thing all over again. This time the lawyers didn’t have any objections to the jury as constituted, so they kept the 12 plus one alternate and let the rest of us go home. I was home by about 3p.

The funniest question & answer was when the judge asked if one of the prospective jurors had any bias towards the lawyers or the defendant (he really meant racial or gender-based), and she replied that she thought the prosecutor was a lot smarter than the defense attorney. Everyone laughed. She didn’t make it to the jury, obviously. 🙂

Part of me wanted to be chosen for the jury because I’ve got the time lately and I think it’s an interesting & important process. But more of me was happy to get a day’s dose of it and still have the time to go to the gym. In between courtroom sessions I managed to read a good bit of a new biography of Andrew Jackson that mom sent me — I’ll post on that soon. Interesting book, interesting man. Funny/interesting how many of today’s political issues are echoes of similar ones from the origins of our country.

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