Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury

It's been a long time since I had jury duty, and I almost forgot I had it today.


Fortunately for me, I was summoned to my local municipal court, which is about three minutes from my house. I got there a few minutes late to find a crowd standing around. I handed in my jury summons form and waited. And waited some more.

The woman who collected the forms explained that the defendant hadn't arrived yet. Bad form. Both for the defendant, who should be on time for trial, and for the clerk, who shouldn't tell the jury that the defendant is late (or so I would think). Isn't that prejudicial?

We were finally seated in the courtroom. I was Juror 27. That's a nice comfortable number, especially once I noticed the six juror seats at the front of the room.

Then they made us go to the back of the room and reshuffled us. I then became Juror 7. Uh-oh. That's not good, especially when two or three of the seats in front of me were empty.

The prosecutor told us the trial was for someone who had been pulled over for running a stop sign. He asked if any of us had gotten a ticket we felt was unfair. Several hands went up. He asked each of them for details. They were all for speeding, and none was issued in our small town outside Austin. I didn't raise my hand, but I probably should have; I was recently issued a speeding ticket in Austin for which the officer said I was going faster than I think I was. But no matter.

When they called the names of the jurors, I was among them. There were four women and two men on the jury. The prosecutor and the officer had prepared their case carefully: they had pictures of the intersection, video of the officer pulling over the defendant (useless because of wind noise), notes the officer had made on the back of the ticket.

The defendant had made a diagram on a small white board, and she told us how she knew she had stopped: she was turning left at the intersection, and there was a Suburban turning right. There had been a jogger crossing the road that the Suburban had to wait for before it could turn, and she couldn't see around the Suburban to turn left. So she had to stop in order to see. She described every detail and admitted to us that she had thought she was being pulled over for failing to signal the turn. And why else would you insist on a jury trial for failure to stop at a stop sign unless you felt you were not guilty?

The officer didn't remember the details of the Suburban and the jogger, and her notes on the back of the ticket were wrong; she'd said the defendant was turning right at the intersection, not left.

When we got in the deliberation room, it really just came down to this: we all believed the defendant. We took a quick pre-vote a few minutes after entering the room, and it was already a unanimous Not Guilty. I was elected foreman due to my proximity to the door, so I got to write up our verdict -- although the judge read it, which I thought was anticlimactic. We were dismissed before 11am.

The best detail of the day came after all that, though. I pulled into my driveway and saw my neighbor from across the street, which wouldn't be relevant except that I had heard his name called that morning -- he was supposed to be in that room with me as Juror #2! So I waved him over and informed him that he was in violation of state law. He chuckled, but when I told him he had jury duty, his jaw dropped. He had just forgotten, like I almost had. I told him that, since he's retired Secret Service, I thought he had just gotten out of it somehow -- hey, he's done his public service time, believe me. Then we joked about how his son, the local police officer, could come and arrest him. Good times.

This is my first time to get picked for a jury. I'm glad it wasn't a serious criminal charge. What's your jury duty experience? Been called? Been seated on a jury? Tell me about it!


Piper said...

In college

Got a summons
Went to the cattle call
Spent 30 minutes talking very animatedly to a classmate while they sat the first jury
Got questioned for the second trial
The classmate was the defendant
Got let go.

Lisa said...

That's a fantastic story, Piper. They did, of course, ask us all if any of us knew the defendant or the officer (no one in the room did).

Jenn said...

I have never gotten called in. I think they are afraid I will speak my mind, which I would, so, it's probably a good thing.

Cindy said...

Only been cattle called & sent home. VERY anticlimactic.