Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Jury Duty, Part 3

For a while there I thought James was my only friend. It turns out that Erin and James (and Tracy!) are my only friends. :) Thanks to you both for being brave enough to offer your opinions on yesterday's question!

Okay, back to the jury duty story. The prosecuting attorney asked if there was anyone in the jury pool who felt that they wouldn't be able to convict the defendant based solely on the credible testimony of the victim. Immediately, my mind began racing, as I tried to imagine myself in that position. On her testimony alone? If there was no other evidence that a crime had occurred? Even if she was completely believable, what if the defendant was completely believable as well? I just couldn't imagine putting someone in jail for any crime--let alone one this serious--if there was no physical evidence to corroborate the victim's story. Maybe it's because I'm such a stickler for details that I felt I would need the "detail" of some actual proof.

Out of the 36 jurors in the question pool, only a few people raised a hand to offer a response. Most of them responded that yes, if the vicitim was credible and believable, then they could find the defendent guilty based on her testimony alone. Only one brave woman in the pool had a different response--and she didn't actually even say no. When she responded with "I just don't know," the prosecutor pressed her, reiterating that this is assuming that the victim was completely believable. The woman said she still just couldn't say for sure, at which point the attorney continued to present arguments until the woman finally gave in and said "I guess."

I was completely fascinated by the responses--and lack thereof--to this question. I just couldn't fathom how every one of those 36 people could honestly say they would be okay with convicting this man--a man who happened to be right there in front of us--based on the testimony of one witness and nothing else. Maybe some of these people just weren't comfortable speaking out in front of everyone, but was almost as if once the people got put into the question pool, they were all about giving the attorney exactly what she wanted to hear instead of their honest opinion. It was a bizarre phenomenon--one that I thought would make an interesting psychological study!

So while I was still struggling with the "testimony only" question, the prosecutor started a new line of questioning, asking the group if anyone had a family member who had been imprisoned, or knew someone who was s3xually assaulted, or had ever been the actual victim of a violent crime. I was really quite surprised that so many people had family members who were incarcerated. Many others knew people who'd been assaulted or had been assaulted themselves. Since each potential juror was asked to elaborate and then given a series of follow up questions, these questions took forever. Ultimately, the final question always was: would your experience (family member imprisonment, friend's assault, your assault) prevent you from being objective and giving this man a fair trial? For a few people, their lives had been affected deeply enough that they were, either by their own admission or by the ruling of the judge, dismissed from the pool and from the day's proceedings. After each dismissal, the clerk stood up and called the name of one of the extras, and each time I could feel my blood pressure rise as I held my breath waiting to hear my name. Thankfully, after 4 or 5 dismissals, my name had still not been called. I felt so lucky that I started wondering if I should go buy a lottery ticket when the day was all over.

The next bunch of questions were pretty easy. Anyone who had a legitimate conflict, such as a plane ticket within the next week or a business conference, was dismissed by the judge as free to leave. The one brave woman who gave the honest answer earlier was dismissed so that she could be present at her daughter's surgery. One student was dismissed because she claimed to have finals (Really? This early in the semester?). Will someone please explain why these conflicts weren't addressed as the FIRST line of questioning? I'm sure there's a reason, but couldn't they have saved all of these people 2 hours by asking them at the very beginning if they had a conflict? Regardless, after each dismissal another name was called to take the empty chair. Still, after 5 or 6 more dismissals, my name wasn't called. I started to wonder if they'd even checked me in at all that morning since it seemed that I'd never in my life been that lucky.

After almost 3 hours of questioning by the prosecuting attorney, we were able to break for lunch. During the entire hour I kept running over the "testimony only" question in my mind. When and if I did get picked for the pool, I would have to provide all the responses I had to any questions that had been asked at any time throughout the day. I knew I couldn't pretend that that one didn't bother me, and yet I wasn't sure how to voice my opinion in front of everyone since clearly I was in the minority.

When we returned from the break, a couple of people in the backup group had been dismissed, so now there were only 3 of us left who weren't in the question pool who had actually been there all day, and then another 3 people who came in so late that they didn't have a clue what was going on. It was the defense attorney's turn to question the jurors now, and her methodology was completely different than that of the prosecutor's. She was very friendly and was clearly trying hard to appear likable. She brought up topics and issues and then invited people to offer their opinions, often calling out a particularly quiet person who hadn't spoken up yet during the day. She talked at length about the presumption of innocence, the prosecution's burden of proof, and the idea that guilt must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

The defense attorney was also quick to point out that we potential jurors had not yet been presented with any information about the case that could be construed as evidence, going as far as to define and describe several types of evidence that can be used in court (which I thought was completely pointless). It seemed she was trying to straighten out anyone who might have been mislead by the "facts" that the prosecutor presented that morning, and yet minutes later she was employing the exact same tactic. She asked one of the nurses in the pool about drug interactions and about how important it was to take prescription medications properly and not mix them with illegal substances--a lame question to which everyone already knew the answer. Clearly she wasn't interested in finding out any juror opinions on the matter, but instead was taking an opportunity to discredit at least one of the witnesses, as the implication was that at least one of them was on drugs at the time of the assault and therefore made poor judgments.

Throughout the defense's questioning, it continued to feel like the potential jurors were all trying to give "right" answers instead of being completely honest with themselves and everyone else in the room. Everyone was politically correct, and everyone seemed to be trying hard to give answers that wouldn't ruffle feathers or get them excused. It was almost like now that they'd invested all this time and made it this far, they actually wanted to be one of the chosen 12. No one would say anything they thought the attorney wouldn't want to hear. For example, she began to talk very explicitly about some of the terms that would be used in describing the assault, which the defendant claimed was consensual. Some of these terms were slang I'd never even heard, let alone things I would write here or actually speak about with other people. The attorney asked if everyone in the pool would be comfortable hearing and discussing these terms for the entire week. No one willingly expressed that they would be uncomfortable. She singled out several people, including a very conservative-looking retired professor, and asked if they would be comfortable using these terms. Everyone said yes, they would be comfortable with it. Really. I could see such a response if the question had been could they discuss those things professionally if they had to--but comfortable? Really? I couldn't really think of many things more uncomfortable that listening to and discussing some of the terms she had just taught me! I really think people were more concerned about appearing open-minded and progressive than they were about being honest!

The defense attorney finished her questioning in just under 2 hours, at which time the attorneys, judge and clerk started deliberating about which 12 would be selected. They checked their notes, put names with faces, and went back and forth until after about 20 minutes the clerk read the 12 names. I felt so sorry for those 12 people, and yet none seemed at all distraught about the task at hand. They moved to their chosen seats, and then the judge dismissed the other 24 potential jurors, but asked the few of us left in the backup group to stay (gulp).

After everyone left, the judge informed us that since this would be a long trial, they would need to select a 13th juror as an alternate. Of the 6 of us left sitting there, they would select 3 to question, and then select 1 of the 3 to be the alternate. I immediately started sweating bullets. Since 3 of the 6 hadn't been there all day, there was no way they'd be picked because they hadn't heard all the questions. I knew my luck had just run out. The clerk called my name along with the other 2 reserves, and we went and sat in the front row, directly in front of the prosecutor, right across from the jurors who'd already been selected.

After swearing us in, the prosecutor asked if we'd had any responses to any of the questions asked earlier in the day. The woman to my left knew some other people in the pool and had been assaulted 15 years ago and had served on a jury before. The guy to my right had no responses to any questions. I, however, couldn't go without responding honestly. I explained that when I went home for lunch, the question that kept running through my mind was the one about convicting the defendant based solely on the testimony of a credible victim. I said that although I felt a little strange admitting it since no one else responded the same way earlier, that I was a very analytical, detail-oriented person who felt like I would probably need additional evidence to support the victim's story. I went on to say that it must just be my nature, and that I felt I had to be honest since it was the question with which I had been struggling.

After about 60 more seconds of deliberation, I saw the clerk mouth "Richardson" and knew that the poor guy next to me was unlucky number 13. I couldn't hide the huge grin that crept across my face. I left the jury assembly room and practically skipped to my car. I can't even express how thankful I was that my honesty paid off and helped me to avoid jury duty!!!


James said...

Great recount, Kim! It had me tense! Man, I feel for you. As much as I like to think I'd easily go against the pack mentality in a given situation if I knew something wasn't right, it's still tough when actually in a situation, so way to be honest and bold!

Erin said...

I'm proud of you for speaking up and being honest. Although I wouldn't expect any less of you. I just got done reading a James Patterson book called Judge & Jury about one gals story of being on a jury for a mob boss murder trial. It was really quite awful. The book was good but being on THAT jury would have been awful. Do you remember (or did you even know) that my mom was on the jury for Juan Anthony's murder trial? She said it was horribly stressful. Anyways, I'm so glad you didn't get picked!

kelly said...

Wow, Kim...that was a good read! I guess I never really knew how picking a jury worked. My parents get called to jury duty all the time, but have never had to sit on a jury. I never get called...most likely because we move around too much.
Erin, I did not know your mom was on that!

Amy Reeves said...

Great posts, Kim! You did yourself well by breaking it up into three days and kept us all coming back for more! You brought up some great points and did some great writing too. Sheesh, now I'm sounding like a teacher! Really, I just liked it!

Anonymous said...

Hey girl, that was really impressive. I can imagine you were sweating. I had no idea you were part of it. But you did well and your honesty is terrific.
I sat on one jury when you were still in school. It was a robbery. And you may already know the story but the ending was a surprise. Mom