Jury Duty on April Fools

Note: I do want to keep my blog mostly about videogames, but once in awhile, I’d like to write something non-gaming.

In December of 2010, I was gearing up for the Christmas holiday. I was in a pretty jolly mood, but then in the middle of the month I got something that I had been dreading (a little bit). I received a letter from the local court summoning me for jury duty. The date I had to report to court for this jury service was Friday, January, 14, 2011.

So I celebrated Christmas and New Year’s, and then about a week and a half before I was supposed to report for jury duty, I get a letter from the court saying that the trial was postponed and was not rescheduled yet. When they reschedule the trial, they will send me another letter.

Now a part of me was relieved, but another part of me was like, oh man, I want to get this jury duty thing over with.

So weeks passed, and then at beginning of March 2011, I get a letter from court saying that the trial had been rescheduled for Friday, April 1, 2011, and that was the date I would have to report for jury duty.

Now this would be the second time that I would be going for jury duty. My first time was back in February of 2004, and the courthouse was about an hour drive (with morning traffic) away from my house. I got to court that day early in the morning, and after passing through a metal detector and checking in at the front lobby, I was sent to a huge room to wait, along with lots of other people who were also called for jury duty. I would say there were more than 100 people there waiting with me. To pass time, I bought a copy of Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer”. I think I only managed to read 3 or 4 chapters that day.

To entertain us, there were actually 3 TVs in the room, hooked up to one VCR and throughout that morning they actually put in 3 movies for us to watch. One of them was Apollo 13 and another one was What Women Want (yeah, I was soooo dying to see this movie… hahaha!). I don’t remember what the third movie was.

I also bought some food with me. I had a bagel (wrapped inside a plastic bag) in one of my coat pockets and a small bag of cookies in the other coat pocket. I ate the cookies but I don’t recall eating the bagel. But I probably did end up eating the bagel, since I do remember getting a little bit hungry while I was sitting there waiting.

And wait was basically all I did that day in that courtroom, since my name was never called to be a potential juror to serve on a trial. Just before noon, I was dismissed and that was my first jury duty experience.

Back to the present, a few days before April 1, 2011, there were two main things that was on my mind about going for jury duty this time. The first thing is “How should I dress for jury duty?” Now I know each court has their own rules and regulations about dress code. When I received my jury summons, I also received a letter with it stating the rules and regulations for jurors at this courthouse. There was no mention of what I should wear. Now I know I probably should have called the court asking them specifically what the dress code (if any) was for jurors, but I didn’t. Anyway, the last time I went for my jury duty, I wore “professional clothes”, so this time I decided I would wear the same type of clothes again.

The other concern I had was, if I was chosen as a potential juror, would I be able to handle the questioning from the judge and the lawyers from both the prosecution and defense? Now I had done quite a bit of research on the internet about what these potential questions could be and prepared myself as best as I could. But there is always a chance that there will be a question that I would totally not expect and my fear is that I would become uncomfortable to the point where I would mess up somehow.

For anyone who doesn’t know, if you get summoned for jury duty, you arrive at the courthouse and wait to see if your name gets called to serve as a potential juror. If you make it to that stage, you will be asked questions by the judge and the lawyers for both the defendant and prosecution, basically to see if you can be fair and impartial.

The night before jury duty I was afraid I was going to have trouble falling asleep. I was going to a different courthouse this time, and so instead of being an hour away from my house, this time the court was less than ten minutes away, so I would not have any worries like being stuck in bad traffic and getting there late. In fact, there was nothing really to worry about, as I had prepared myself as best as I could and this would be my second time going for jury duty, but in the back of mind there was always a little fear that something bad and unexpected might happen.

To keep my mind distracted, I played Final Fantasy XIII and concentrated on getting the “Treasure Hunter” trophy, which I did manage to get that night. Feeling satisfied, I went to bed and got a decent 6-7 hours of sleep.

I was asked to report to court at 9:00 AM, so I woke up at around 7:15 AM, left the house at around 8:15 AM (and no, it doesn’t take me an hour to get ready in the morning – there was some down time and I passed the time by reading a Sports Illustrated magazine), and got to court at about 8:30 AM.

I passed through a metal detector and checked in at the front window, then was asked to wait in an area to the left of the lobby. Unlike last time, this was a small courthouse and only about 20-25 other people showed up there with me for jury duty. Just like last time, I had a bagel in one coat pocket and a small bag of cookies in my other coat pocket. For reading material this time I bought with me a magazine – a 2010 fantasy baseball magazine.

Yes, I bought the 2010 edition with me – since I was a bit lazy this year and had not gotten the 2011 edition yet (haha!)

Now I know that the date was April 1, so it would have been awesome if the judge came out and said, “April Fools, there is no trial today. You all can go home!” Sadly, that didn’t happen.

So as we waited, I looked around and noticed the kind of clothes my fellow potential jury members were wearing. Now I was starting to feel little bit overdressed. I had dressed professionally and only one other dude was dressed professionally as well (he did wear a tie though but I didn’t). Everyone else wore comfortable “casual clothes” – long sleeve shirts, sweat pants, jeans, etc… Nobody wore anything outrageous though. Oh well, I guess it was better for me to be safe and overdressed, then to be “underdressed” and sent home to change.

At either 9:30 AM or 9:45 AM (I don’t remember exactly what time) the court police officer called us into one of the courtrooms and we sat on the benches behind the prosecution. We were to wait to see if our names would be called to serve as potential jurors.

The judge explained a little bit about the trial case. There were 2 charges. I don’t remember exactly what the charges were, I believe one of them was driving with a suspended license or driving without a valid license, and I think the other charge was reckless endangerment.

The judge mentioned that the trial should last for this day only, but unforeseen circumstances could pop up and extend the trial to another day.

The judge also mentioned the defendants had chosen not have a lawyer represent them in this trial, which was their right to do so. Now I don’t know about you, but if I was a defendant in a trial and did not have enough money to hire my own lawyer, I’d rather go with the lawyer they provide for me than none at all, because I figure having any lawyer gives me a better chance in the trial. But to each his own.

The defendants were a guy looking like he’s in his 40’s and his mom, who he would later mention that she is 73 or 74. I’m not sure which one was driving the car that led to the charges in this trial, but I think it was the elderly lady.

So the courtroom secretary randomly calls up 7 people to the jury seats, and luckily I’m not one them. (Whew, dodged a bullet…) Now this is where the judge, the defense, and the prosecution lawyers/people start asking questions to the 7 individuals sitting in the jury seats to see if they will be fair and impartial.  Since the defendants did not have lawyers representing them, both the 40-something guy and his elderly mother would be the ones asking the questions. The questions they asked include personal questions about where you live, how long you lived there, your job, education level, etc… Surprisingly, there were no questions about religious beliefs.

Since the prosecution side would include testimony from police officers, a question that was asked of every potential juror was “Do you have a family member or friend who is a
police officer, and if so, can you still remain fair and impartial while listening to the testimonies of the police officers here?”

Also since this trial involved driving, all potential jurors were asked if they had a valid driver’s license. One lady did not, and she was asked further questions about why she didn’t have a license, and whether or not she knows the local city streets well. Potential jurors were also asked if their mother has a drivers license and how often she drives.

Another question of note that was asked is “Have you served on a jury before, and if so, was it a good or bad experience?” One lady said that she did have a bad experience, as one of the defendants from her previous jury service threatened her in the hallway, but she had a police escort to her car, and everything was fine. She said that despite this experience, however, she could still be fair and impartial.

As the questioning period dragged on, some of the questions the defendants asked seemed to me like they were… irrelevant to the case, or at least that’s what I thought at first, so I found some of the questions they asked to be quite hilarious. When the elderly lady asked one of the potential jurors if she ever went to the local fair, I almost burst out laughing and really had to contain myself in the courtroom.

I’m like, what the heck does going to the local fair have to do with this trial? (haha!)

The judge later mentioned that if any of them asked a question that he felt was indeed irrelevant to the case, he would not allow that question. So what I think happened is that the defendants were pulled over and charged near where our local fair was located.

Every summer, around the end of June or the beginning of July, we have a local fair, and for a week or two (I’m pretty sure it’s two weeks), they will close off a section of some public streets, and hold the fair there. The fair itself is pretty cool, but I drive through those streets practically every day, so it gets annoying when they have this fair in the summer, close down the streets, and I have to find an alternate route.

Now during and after the Q & A, the judge and the lawyers can remove people from the jury for one of two reasons – with cause or without cause.  First, if the lawyer wants to remove a person with cause, then he/she has to give a valid reason why he/she wants this person removed, and this has to be approved by the judge. In this case, every time the defendants side tried to remove a juror with cause, it was shot down by the judge.

Second, a lawyer can remove someone from the jury without cause, and this means that he/she can remove someone without stating any reason at all. However, each lawyer from each side can only remove a maximum of three people without cause from the jury (your local laws may be different).

Each time a potential juror was removed from the jury, that person was done for the day and could go home. Another person, picked randomly, would be called up to replace the departed person. Every time this happened, I held my breath, hoping that my name wouldn’t be called. So far, so good…

This Q & A sessions could have gone more quickly and efficiently but the judge was patient, since he knew that the elderly lady was under stress and perhaps there were other health concerns. The judge did say that, as time passed, if he felt anyone was stalling or whatever, he had the power to tell them to move quicker.

In fact, I think the health concerns with the elderly lady was what caused the trial to be rescheduled from the original trial date in January. I’m guessing what happened is that they requested the judge to reschedule the trial because of some health concerns with the elderly lady, and the judge granted it, but this is just a guess.

Anyway, as I said above, the defendants did try to remove a few jurors with cause but the judge didn’t approve of this. So both the 40-something guy and his mom each went on to remove their maximum of 3 people without cause from the jury. Therefore a total of 6 people were removed from the jury by the defendants.

The prosecution, on the other hand, chose not to remove anyone from the jury, with or without cause.

Once the defendants had exhausted the maximum amount of people they could remove without cause, the judge declared that “we have a jury” and dismissed everyone else who was not called up to the jury seats. I sat through the whole process and never had my name called up to the jury. It was about 11:00 AM, and now I could go home! (Or go eat lunch or whatever.)

The judge said that anyone who was dismissed from jury duty was welcome to stay and watch the trial, but guess how many of us stayed…?

… yeah, zero.

All in all, it was a very interesting day.

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