Blogger’s Imposed Sabbatical: Jury Duty

Jury duty prevents my doing any research or writing this week, and probably next.

I take this civic duty very seriously. Even though we were scheduled to fly to DC for the inauguration, I told my wife that should I be selected, the trip would be off. This is a murder trial, and because I’m a surgeon, I fully expected – based on comments from a friend who’s a San Francisco District Attorney – I’d be dismissed, based on a peremptory challenge from one of the attorneys.

Because this is a high-stakes trial, I imagine, jury selection seemed especially laborious. I was among nearly one hundred prospective jurors who convened at the appointed time on Wednesday 2 January. After some preliminary housekeeping, 12 prospective jurors and 6 prospective alternates were selected at random; the rest of us followed them into the courtroom and took our places in the audience section. The judge briefed all of us: the charge is murder with a firearm; expect the trial to run three or four weeks.

Court staff handed us a questionnaire that asked the usual “what’s your address?” questions, but also if we knew anyone who worked in law enforcement, or if there was anything about this trial that might prevent us from weighing the evidence with an open mind and deciding a verdict. The judge keyed on those last questions when she questioned each potential juror. She also identified the individuals for whom a month-long trial would create hardship: college students with imminent return to classes; moms with children under five; small business owners whose absence would cause a financial hit. The judge released them all. Two people told her their Christian belief that only God could determine guilt or innocence; they went home. When I told the judge and the lawyers that I had an appointment in a week, I thought for sure it would mean my exit as a juror. Silence from all three.

The judge’s final questions to all were, “Can you weigh the evidence without bias?” and, “Can you keep an open mind?” Then the lawyers – first the attorney for the defense, then the District Attorney – questioned each. Finally, the peremptory challenges: each lawyer named the jurors they wanted excused with thanks. As prospectives were dismissed, the court clerk called names from the rest of us at random to fill empty seats in the jury box. The Q & A sequence repeated until late Friday afternoon. I was third from last to take my seat – juror #10. But we ran out of prospective jurors with empty seats remaining in the jury box. The judge told us to return at 9.30 on Monday.

With a new crop of prospective jurors, we repeated the questions, dismissals, questions and challenges until Wednesday afternoon, when, with only a few people remaining in the audience section, the jury, with me still in chair #10, were sworn in. The judge selected two alternate jurors from a reduced pool of four. She gave us her instructions, and the DA called her first witness.

Our days start around 9.30, except on Tuesdays, when the Judge’s court hear other cases, hearings and motions. We get a mid-morning and a mid-afternoon break, and an hour and a quarter for lunch.

We heard the DA’s witnesses for a week; on Thursday, it was defense council’s chance to create a reasonable doubt in our minds. Defense’s first Friday witness was an apparent no-show so Her Honor granted us an extra-long weekend. We reconvene at 9.30 on Wednesday.

Next week: Deliberation? A verdict?

©2013 Thomas L Snyder

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  • Genealogy Lady  On 20 Jan 2013 at 20:03

    I have been able to be excused from jury duty for several years now, mostly because of my children as I am the primary care giver during the hours of 8-5 (and since school gets out at 2:30..) Anyway, I did make it to being selected on a jury when my daughter was in pre-school. I was excited to take part in the experience. Sadly the first witness self-incriminated himself, so the trial had to be thrown out. I would like to experience the process in its entirety one day.

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