Tuesday, September 9, 2008

jury duty report

Here is my story about my jury duty.

I was summoned in the mail to appear for jury duty September 3rd. It tells me to call the night before or look it up on the website to see whether or not I need to actually go to the courthouse.

The night before, the message is: check-in again tomorrow at 11:30 am.

When I called at 11:30, I learned that I must be at the jury room of the San Luis Obispo courthouse by 1 pm.

It was a cast of thousands there in the jury room. Apparently the judge feared too many from the county would be informed about the criminal case because of news reports, but that turned out to be unimportant because of the way things were handled. We checked in, and sat or stood and waited for directions. Then got some information and waited some more. Finally, we were led to a courtroom where the good judge gave us some information and began a very preliminary questioning of people who had "excuses" why they shouldn't be considered for jury duty.

Most of the excuses were "I bought plane tickets for a vacation and can't refund them." Lots of people go on vacations next week, I learned. Next, there were the mothers/fathers of children who must get them to and from school and don't have another soul who could take over this duty. There were a few students who support themselves working 2 part-time jobs without pay for jury duty and they got off as did the full-time self-employed workers who also don't get paid if they don't work. Jury Duty pays next to nothing.

The next round was to eliminate people with knowledge of the crime who might be influenced by what they heard or read or saw. At about 3 pm, the judge decided to take a break and told us to meet back in the jury room at 4:30.

About 10 minutes later, the judge called us all back to the courtroom. A bunch of folks took the judge at his word and went shopping or ? and were no where to be seen in the courthouse. So, he sent us out of the courtroom and told us to come back at 4:30 when the "shoppers" would return.

At 4:30 we dutifully marched into the courtroom and learned that we could go home for the day because he was done, but we'd need to be back at 10:30 on Thursday.

The next day.

Immediately after arriving in the courtroom, 18 people were picked to be voir dired. The initial questioning was very general and done by the judge. We had received a survey that asked a bunch of questions and each person was asked to give their name, town they lived in, who lived with them, # of kids, occupations of all who lived in their home, whether they had been a juror before. The next part asked whether they could follow the law in coming to a decision. The third part, asked a bunch of personal questions looking for particular bias: have you or a close relative been arrested? convicted of a crime? Are you or someone close to you involved in the legal field? police officer? District Attorney? Public Defender? etc. Also asked about any relationships with witnesses, etc.

They got through a few, then called lunch from noon till 1:30.

At the resumption of the questioning, they got through them all, eliminated a few for cause and a few for preference. Each side, we were told, could eliminate 10 potential jurors for any reason. I think total only 4-5 were actually tossed out.

I found the lawyers' questioning to be pathetic. There were people interviewed who expressed particular bias (a police officer, a couple of women who seemed to have a bias against alcoholics - the defendant is an alcoholic--long-time friendship with a witness), yet the attorneys, both the DA and the Defense, did not pursue any questions to expose that bias. They each simply asked the person if they could "put aside any biases you might have to come to a decision." And accepted their "yes" as adequate.

Overall, it was an interesting experience, but not very satisfying. At least half the jurors expressed a bias toward the prosecution, yet were not challenged, and so are sitting in judgment. No wonder there are so many wrongfully convicted.

Greg Cryns

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