Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Jury Duty, Part 2

So here's the rest continuation of my jury duty story.

After arriving at the courthouse and finding the jury assembly room, I signed in with the very nice bailiff and sat around for 10 minutes or so waiting. Pretty soon the very nice judge began talking, acknowledging that he knew no one really wanted to be there and that we all had better things we could be doing. He stressed that serving on jury duty was a very important part of our civic duty as well as the judicial system in general. He then began talking about the trial for which they were selecting, which was a criminal trial (ugh). Specifically, a man had been charged with two separate accounts of r@pe (ugh again), and he was on trial for both incidents. I was completely mortified at the thought of being part of a jury who might convict someone of such a serious crime.

As an aside, let me just say that although I really know nothing about the judicial system (I've never watched an entire episode of Law & Order :), I found it to be really odd that he was being tried for both crimes at the same time. These were two completely unrelated incidents, about four months apart, with two completely unrelated alleged victims. My immediate thought was that it seemed way too coincidental for two different women to accuse this man of the same crime on separate occasions. While I obviously should have been imagining him as completely innocent until proven guilty, I'm guessing I'm not the only person who had that gut reaction. Which leads me to the question: how can this man get a fair trial when being tried for both of these crimes at once? I need a lawyer to help me out with this one.

So back to the story. After the judge told us about the case, he explained the process of choosing the 12 jurors. First, 36 of the 55 or so people would randomly be placed into one pool of potential jurors who would be questioned by both the prosecution and the defense. The remaining 20 or so people would still have to sit and listen to all the questions, making a mental note of any responses they might have. If any of the 36 were dismissed for any reason (one reason might be an acquaintance with the attorneys, witnesses or defendant), then one of the remaining 20 would be moved into their place, and would then have to present any responses they had to any previous questions.

After the judge finished describing the process, he went to round up the attorneys so they could start their questioning. The 36 potential jurors were chosen, and I breathed a HUGE sigh of relief when I wasn't one of the 36! They were all sworn in by the clerk as the court reporter started hammering away at her little shorthand machine, which, by the way, was completely fascinating to me! How do they do they record every single word and how does that chicken scratch make any sense????

The prosecuting attorney (an assistant district attorney, I think) was a rather serious and sort of sour looking woman, and she was assisted by another female attorney who had a stone cold stare that didn't change the entire day. Neither woman seemed especially likable--not that there's anything wrong with that. The defense attorney came in soon after, flanked with her assistant and a creepy looking white male I would guess to be in his late 40s. There was no doubt in my mind (and probably not in anyone else's) that this guy was the defendant. I immediately started trying to wipe my judgment slate clean, since I knew I didn't want to have to admit to a room full of 60 people that I had totally judged a book by its cover.

The prosecutor started off asking everyone in the question pool about any acquaintances they had with other potential jurors, the defense, the prosecution, or anyone else related to the trial, which took forever since everyone who knew anyone was asked to explain how they were acquainted. They then had to assure the judge and attorneys that their acquaintance would in no way affect their ability to give this guy a fair trial. Only one juror got out of serving in this way, when he claimed that he recognized the defendant from "around town." When asked to be more specific, he insisted that the man had come into his former place of employment to buy car parts, and that "knowing" the defendant in this way would prevent him from being able to be objective. Really. It was clear he was just trying to get out of his duty, especially when he said, in front of everyone, "I really just don't want to be here." The prosecutor laughed and said that if she took a poll, she guessed that not a single one of the jurors really wanted to be there, but the judge dismissed the slacker anyway. They called the name of one of the reserves to take his spot, and thankfully, it wasn't mine.

The acquaintance questions seemed to go on forever. There actually turned out to be a father/son relationship in the questioning pool, which the prosecutor said she'd never seen happen in 20 years--so that was kind of funny. There was also a guy who was the first cousin of one of the witnesses. He claimed that he wouldn't give her testimony any extra weight just because she was his cousin and so the judge let him stay--much to the dismay of the defense. I could overhear the whispers of the attorneys and judge when they approached the "bench", and the judge was concerned that a lot more people would be dismissed as the questions got more sensitive, so he thought they should keep the cousin around just in case they ran out of people later.

After all of the acquaintances were identified and thoroughly explained, the prosecutor went on to describe some of the details of each of the alleged assaults. The disturbing part about this was not that she went into any graphic detail of the events, but rather that she never once explained that what she was describing were allegations and not documented events. She told the stories as if they were fact: this is what happened. I'm sure this is a "trick" that they learn in law school, but I just thought it was so classless. It's like she was making the assumption that we were all stupid enough to believe that what she was providing was some sort of evidence--like we weren't going to realize that the stories were completely one-sided. Her ultimate point in giving us this information was to ask this question: since this is a "he said/she said" kind of case with no witnesses, if the only evidence we were provided during the trial was the testimony of the victim, and if she was believable, is there anyone who would have a problem convicting the defendant based on just that testimony?

Now that I've posed this question, I'm totally curious as to how my friends and family would answer. Since this post has gotten to be ridiculously long (as usual), and since it's late and I still have lots more to talk about (much to your dismay, I'm sure), I think I'll let you all ponder that question before I finish the story. So leave me a comment and let me know how you would have answered--and be honest. There's no right or wrong, really. Just one answer the prosecution wanted more than another. Tomorrow I'll let you know how the 36 responded. :)


James said...

First: you should really watch Law & Order. It's a great show! And they have an entire channel for it, oddly called TNT and not Law & Order Channel.

I just served my first time on a jury last spring, so this is all very fresh in my mind. I didn't particularly enjoy the process, and I felt really uncomfortable making a decision that hugely impacted a man's life since it wasn't a black and white situation. There was a lot of gray area we jurors had to sift through and basically make a unified decision based on our gut feelings. Hated it...

But to your specific question: I would have a really hard time convicting someone based on credible testimony alone. I don't think I could.

Last: is it OK for you to be blogging about the trial? I know we had to be super tight-lipped until it was completely over. Just want to make sure you're not potentially getting yourself into trouble.

Sorry for the LONGEST response ever! But for more of James' ramblings, check out teco/teca! : )

kjl said...

Thanks for your comments, James! I think I'll be okay blogging about this for a couple of reasons: 1) I didn't use any names of any people involved, so I don't think anyone could search online for related info and find this. 2) There was an article in the paper yesterday that provided MUCH more information about the case than I did! I was kind of shocked!!! Thanks for your concern though--and thanks for you honest answer! :)

Erin said...

No I couldn't convict someone on just testimony. Even if they were credible. I'm still blown away by the fact that you've lived in Lawrence for 18 years. Are we that old? I look forward to the continued story.

The Faulkners said...

I really am on the edge of my seat waiting to hear what happens next!!! I would say that no matter how credible the witnesses are, based on so many people being found innocent after years in prison for something they didn't do, I just couldn't find them guilty with no concrete evidence.

kjl said...

Okay, so apparently James and Erin AND Tracy are my friends! :) Thanks again for your comments, all! I am glad to know that other people were also on my side of the fence when it came to that question!!