Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Disenchantment in the jury box

I think today was supposed to be inspiring, awesome, and gratifying.  Or at least that is sort of how the judge got the instruction hour started.  I had the (not so) coveted jury duty letter in my mail box a few weeks back.  Today was the day.  I remember when I had received one back during my days at Metro CareRing.  I read my book and magazines for three hours and then caught a bus back to work disappointed that I didn't make it past first base.  I was really intrigued about what happens in the great halls of justice, but didn't get invited past the sea of peopled numbers. 

Today I figured that I could head down to Tiri's Garden afterward to check-in as the Urban Peak youth were leaving.  I thought I might take care of an errand while downtown, and then after a bus ride home, I hoped to harvest potatoes and make jalapeno pepper jelly.  Of course last night I wondered if my plans hadn't jinxed me.  Tonight I can say the jinxed me.

The first group of numbers called was at least four pages long, a murder trial I overheard from an old lady who was dismissed late in the morning and then called her husband from the public phone in the waiting room.  She said they expected that trial could last a week.  Phew!  There were a number of groups that were called and left.  I just kept getting closer and closer to the end of my book.  Then between 11:15 - 11:30 am I heard "#1360", and before the woman could call my number again, I snapped to and called back "here".  Another half hour and I would have been on my way! 

The trial was briefer than the briefing for jurors before jury selection, before trial, and before instructions on how to deliberate.  I cannot imagine how dull that gets to be for lawyers and witnesses waiting to get on with the trial.  The trial was regarding a protection order and determining whether or not the defendant broke it.  I was in the first twelve to take a seat for questioning and wasn't suprised when I was asked further about the kind of law my dad practices.  I listened to the comments of others about their previous experience with protection orders, quite a few actually.  Some potential jurors seemed argumentative just to get dismissed.  One woman who was quite emotional about her story ended up not getting cut.  I noted that maybe only two others had college degrees, which made we wonder if the others with degrees were "smart enough" to get out of it. I was in the six to make it to the next round.  Though it wasn't the outcome I wanted for my day, I felt the sense of obligation and accepted it without complaint. 

What troubled me, and still does, is that at 6:15 pm when I delvered the verdict in court, I felt so much more mistrustful of our justice system than inspired to have been a part of it.  To watch the public defenders trip over their words, objections, and questions, it doesn't give you hope for low income peoples who cannot afford to hire a lawyer.  A comedy of errors that left me disappointed.  And the prosecutor carries such a weight of the burden of proof, but the facts and evidence provided was really quite slim.  It makes one wonder to what a jury of your peers looks like: race, ethnicity, gender, education, etc.  What makes the people who decide your fate your peers?  Unfortunately, there was not a great consensus in the jury room to start our deliberations, and admittedly I felt a bit outnumbered and belittled for my understanding of the "facts".  I would have felt more comfortable knowing that a more logical, objective group of people would be deciding the fate of the defendant.  There are winners and losers, and sometimes they win and lose for the wrong reasons, or at least that is how I felt at the end of it all.  But my "one day, one trial" is done; it will not carryover to another day.  I am left disenchanted and hopeful never to be sitting behind a table waiting for six people to decide my fate, as the case was tonight.  Six people who brought baggage to the table and various interpretations of the law, too.  Oh boo...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

First off, does Tom know that you were trying to get past first base at the jury pool? Perhaps a skimpier bathing suit would have helped that mission. Ha, Ha...bad joke.

You ask a lot of good questions there, and a lot of those answers can be found in the disproportionate guilty verdicts of the poor and minorities. The public defenders office is a place where 'new, idealistic' lawyers go to get their wings before moving on to the more lucrative defense attorney world. It's a sad state of affairs.

I have also wondered about the definition of 'peers.' I think that if you are a single parent living below the poverty line, then shouldn't a jury of your peers hold the same restrictions of life? I feel like it is rarely that way.

But on top of all of that, you eluded to the most important thing that someone can do to ensure a fair trial: don't end up in court to begin with.