Waiting, waiting, waiting, all you do on Day 1 is wait. Bring a book or some other form of distraction or you will be bored senseless. I got through several chapters while waiting for a clerk to arrive in the big jury assembly room and read us our instructions. We then all trooped down to the court room and waited again while the judge stayed back to interview people who thought they should be excused from jury duty for one reason or another.
“I have surgery scheduled for tomorrow.”
“I have nonrefundable airline tickets to Hawaii.”
“I am a Mennonite.”
Those all work as excuses, by the way, but each judge is different. I have a friend who was forced by another judge to cancel her previously scheduled (non-elective) surgery because he didn’t give a crap. (He’s old and notoriously cranky. Let’s hope he retires soon.)
Forty five minutes of additional waiting later, Judge Brian McCabe arrived to read us yet more instructions then give us a break for lunch. And thank god because I was one of the last to arrive in the overcrowded courtroom and had been standing in heels the whole time. My bad hip was screaming.
The breaks are one of the highlights of jury duty, by the way. You get a minimum of an hour and a half for lunch (12:00 to 1:30) but the judge looks for a natural break anywhere from 11:30 onward so you may get out at 11:30 yet still not have to be back until 1:30.
Judge McCabe also gives short 10 minute breaks every hour, which is awesome when you are conscientiously trying to stay hydrated so have to pee constantly. I strategically placed myself near the door so I would be first to the bathroom and first back, ensuring myself a seat. I feel no shame for that, especially after discovering hard wooden benches, though better than standing, are no picnic.
I was not called to the jury box in the first round so was able to observe the process without the nervousness I would have felt with a room full of people staring at me. They started with eighteen or so prospective jurors, each having to state the following as posted on a easel at the front of the courtroom:
- Spouse’s occupation
- City of residence
- Number of minor children living at home
- Whether you have served on a jury in the past
I understand all of those except #4. What could having minor children living at home possibly have to do with jury duty? Child care issues?
The attorneys began their questioning, starting with the prosecutor, Deputy D.A. Steve Slocum, who was friendly, personable, easy going, and non-threatening.
Next, Chief Public Defender Eric Dumars had his turn…and alienated the entire room with his first question.
He didn’t mean to. In fact, I’m pretty sure he thought he knew what the prospective juror’s response would be and that it would be a nice segues from Slocum’s smooth, trust me I am the law persona, to Dumars' legally advantageous (presumed innocent) yet realistically not so much (overcoming the average citizen’s initial prejudice against those accused of a crime) position. It went something like this:
Dumars: What do you think my job is as it relates to this trial and Mr. Trimble.
Prospective Juror: To prove your client’s innocence.
OMG wrong answer!
Let me back up a moment and tell you the judge’s instructions to the jury before he let the attorneys loose on them included the whole “innocent until proven” guilty speech and specifically stated Mr. Dumars could sit there and “do a crossword puzzle” for the whole trial because he was under no obligation to prove anything. It was Mr. Slocum’s duty to prove Mr. Trimble’s guilt, not the other way around.
Let me further point out this particular potential juror, when answering question #5 above, said she had served on a jury twice in the past two years.
I submit to you, oh learned jury of opinion, Mr. Dumars started with her because he thought she would know the correct answer. Unfortunately, when she gave the wrong one, he kept asking the question in different ways (I assume with the hope she would eventually “get it,”) moved on to someone else, then came back to her until she finally said, “I didn’t go to law school!” and “I feel like you’re picking on me!”
First question out of the box and he has already alienated the entire jury pool. Not good.
What I do not understand is why he didn’t simply reiterate what the judge said and tell her what his role is when she gave the wrong answer. Is that not allowed during jury selection? Is the judge the only person in the court room who can educate the jury at that point? Since Mr. Dumars has found my blog (DISCONCERTING), perhaps he will tell us in the comments. Maybe he did eventually explain the defense attorney’s role but I missed it because I was busy trying to determine if 1) the potential juror fell asleep during the judge’s instructions hence missed the “innocent until proven guilty” bit, or 2) she was just dumb.
Needless to say, that potential juror was later dismissed.
On an easel next to the five questions above, there was also a list of potential witnesses. Each juror was asked if they knew either of the lawyers, any of the potential witnesses, or if they, a close friend, or a family member had ever been a victim of a similar crime.
An answer of yes, however, did not necessarily excuse them from serving. When someone did answer yes, they were next asked if it would influence their ability to act in an impartial manner. Some people had a little trouble giving a simple yes or no answer, which I found frustrating and made me wonder dear god how do the judge and lawyers do this over and over again with each new trial yet remain so patient?
The guy next to me in the jury selection box was a philosophy teacher whose friend or family member had experienced a similar crime. When asked if it would affect his ability to be impartial on this trail, he could not for the life of him JUST SAY YES.
He said, “Maybe.”
He said, “I don’t think so but the subconscious mind is a mysterious thing.”
He said, “It’s hard to say.”
Slocum had to spell it out for him with, “You would like to think it won’t influence you, but it probably will.”
Even that was a little too definite but, after much hemming and hawing, he finally admitted that, yes, it would probably affect his ability to be impartial.
He was later dismissed. No surprise there but what a waste of time. Remember they have to go through this with every single potential juror until they agree on the twelve-plus-alternates they need for the trial.
After the first few long, drawn out juror stories about prior run-ins with the law and such, followed by the lawyers thanking them for sharing their experience and asking if it would influence their ability to remain impartial, I realized, oh, hey, all they really care about is whether you can remain impartial on this trial. There is no need to go into the entirety of who said what to whom and what color underwear they were wearing. Keep it brief, people.
Alas, we listened to many more long stories before my turn came and I couldn’t resist when asked if I, or my immediate family, had any prior run-ins with the law: I said my ex-husband had been arrested for drunk-driving about 20 years ago, “and that is why he is my ex-husband.”
Slocum didn’t seem to think that was funny but it did get a laugh from the room. He has a most disconcerting way of looking at you during jury selection, that Slocum. I felt very much like a specimen being peered at through a microscope.
Though I found the potential juror stories annoying and often uncomfortable to listen to, the judge and lawyers really do need all that detail to help them determine if you can truly be an impartial juror. Because make no mistake, they are not going to simply believe you. They listen to the facts of your story and, perhaps more importantly, how you tell it to determine how they think you really feel about what happened and how it will affect your ability to remain impartial on the trial.
Seriously, give me the Internal Revenue Code any day. This relating to people and figuring out what they are thinking business is for the birds.