Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Oh Boy! Jury Duty!!

I didn’t want to do it. I really, really didn’t want to go. I knew I had to; it was my duty, my obligation. A simple thing, really, in a country where we have the right to trial and should appreciate it. But I still didn’t want to go.

I went. Of course. I didn’t have a choice but even so, it was the right thing to do. Honestly, I haven’t had to do much jury duty at all, ever. It seemed so ‘inconvenient’ but really, wouldn’t I want someone to show up if I was in a position to need a jury?

I can remember, in the small town where I grew up in Texas, at the time I was asked to serve, I simply showed up at the courthouse, was ushered into the courtroom, and asked questions. I didn’t have to serve then and have only been called less than a handful of times, and I’ve never had to serve on a jury. Out here in Orange County, California, you are dealing with a numbers game in a situation like this. It isn’t just 30 of us being called into service- it’s about 150-200 or so, maybe more. A huge room, full of us, none of us wanting to be there. You can feel it.

I left the house at 6:30 a.m. so I could be officially checked in by 7:45 a.m. Yup. Crack of dawn-thirty. I had to drive only 20 miles to get to the county courthouse in Santa Ana, California, but I had to drive one of the major artery freeways to get there. Plus, there’s the length of the check-in line after you get there. The freeway was already busy, but at least it was moving. I got to the parking garage and walked about ¼ mile to the courthouse (parking is not onsite). I was in the check-in line by 7:15 a.m., and there were already about 15 or so people that had made it before me.

This is California. Land of casual, ‘we’re always late because of traffic’ excuses. I’m sitting there, thinking to myself, some more people better show up or I’m going to be serving on every case on the docket! And sure enough, starting about 7:35, here comes the crowd. The room swelled from around 20 of us to over 100 in 10 minutes. I was glad I’d avoided the line just by being 20 minutes earlier. More continued to show up for the next hour. The room went from almost empty to packed.

The clerks in this area do a very good job. There are good signs directing you where to go (although finding a way into the courthouse isn’t as visible; I had to ask where to go). They are friendly, and they are certainly aware that none of us were joyfully skipping up to their window to check in. They even had a sense of humor, rare in government employees (really! how many people smile at you at the DMV?) Still, in spite of signs and recorded announcements, people tend to follow the person in front of them. I could have bought hubby and me a nice dinner if I’d bet a quarter for every time the clerks had to remind people which line to get in (there were 2, one for check-in, one for questions/excusings.).

I love to watch people. This was the most interesting and diverse grouping of people I’ve seen in a long time (since I was last in Vegas!). That’s just what you want though, right? Lots of interesting viewpoints, I’m sure. It’s interesting to see how they dress for this occasion. Since it is Orange County, which is heavily influenced by Los Angeles, dress anywhere you go can be from extremely formal to extremely casual. Seriously, in some places, we’re just happy people put on shirts AND pants! Most of us were pretty casually dressed, but there were a few, um, fashion statements, wandering around. I just kept thinking to myself: a jury pool is no pool where I want to go swimming! Just kidding! People were well-behaved (of course, the jail is right across the street), polite, quiet, and bored.

It was also interesting to see how people prepared for the day. Some people had their briefcases, their laptops/notebooks/etcetera. I had a huge purse with my paperwork for the jury call, a book, and a lunch. One lady had all of her stuff organized in a manila file. Some people had their paperwork wadded up like trash. Some people, of course, didn’t have their paperwork. J

Speaking of bored, what is it with some people??? When I received my notice with the date for appearance, the first thing I did was scan my bookshelves for a book that was small enough to fit in my purse. Most of us had books, Kindles, cell phones, etcetera for some form of entertainment during the waiting process, but there were more than I expected that simply slumped down in their chairs and looked angry and bored. What’s up with that? You know you’re going to be there for at least a couple of hours till maybe later in the afternoon; how can you not bring something to look at? I even packed a PB&J and some snacks (and I’m glad I did!).

After about a 2-hour wait, the first wave of us was called in. For some reason, the song ‘Send in the Clowns’ came to my mind but then, my mind tends to work in mysterious ways (even to me!). We were given instructions on which courtroom to go to, told to grab a potty break, and then we headed to the elevators to make our way upstairs. More waiting. We were assigned numbers so no one would know our names, but they called out our names in order to assign the numbers. Go figure. I didn’t see anyone taking notes though, so I guess that’s a good system. J

We were warned, warned again, and, as the officer himself said, begged, to turn our cell phones off. Apparently, the judge we were getting to meet was very strict and had been known to confiscate cell phones, which were then taken over to the sheriff’s office (we don’t have police, we have sheriffs out here in Orange County), and put in as evidence. I cut my phone off and hid it inside my purse. I wasn’t taking any chances! I wasn’t unhappy; I was glad to see that a strict precedent was being set. No foolishness allowed in here!

We were told it would be a 10-day trial. More joy went through the crowd. What were we in for? It was a criminal case, and one I’m glad I was excused from- molestation, sexual violation. Of minors. Chilling, just chilling. I was sitting there thinking, ‘I can’t do this’ when the judge spoke, and asked if any of us had ever been victims or had a close relative be a victim of a sex crime, reported or not. Sadly, I answered yes.

When the judge asked that question, I realized I was going through a series of small shocks. The shock of a 10-day trial (I was back to not wanting to be there). The shock of the crime. The PTSD shock of flashbacks for me. The shock of looking at our group of prospective jurors, and seeing how many raised their hands as a ‘yes’ in answer to the judge’s question (how sad). The somewhat embarrassed shock of having to say publicly, in front of strangers, ‘yes sir’ and when asked my relation to the victim, having to say ‘myself’. It’s not something I talk about, much less admit to strangers.

And just like that, my day there was done. It seems ironic that something so horrific proved to be the way out. The lawyers did the right thing, excusing me. I was sitting there, thinking/wondering if I could sit on this jury before the judge asked that question. And no, I couldn’t do it. Try as I might to be fair and impartial, I was biased. I could not hear the facts of this case and give the defendant the fairness deserved. I realized that what had happened to me still affected me, and it would be hard for me not to be the victim again. In this way, the system worked. I hope the defendant gets jurors who can be fair and impartial; that’s the way it should be.

While I write this with a bit of tongue in cheek humor, I am impressed with our judicial system. I am not that familiar with other countries and their court systems, but what little I have seen on the news or read about tells me that while our system certainly is not perfect, it is good. It is an interesting machine that gets the job done in as fair a manner as I suppose it can be done. The burden of holding an innocent or guilty verdict in your hands is not something to be taken lightly, and that may be why so many of us don’t want to serve. It does take up our time and that’s not much fun but maybe that’s just the excuse. Maybe most of us don’t want the responsibility of making the wrong decision. There are too many what ifs. What if the facts are not presented properly? What is being left out? What if the prosecuting attorney has a better speaking/flair/presentation than the defending attorney or vice versa? So many nuances and possibilities to affect the final outcome. We all know about the mistakes where a person is sent to prison for a crime he or she did not commit; I would not feel too good about myself if I ended up doing that, even though it may be due to the facts I was presented at the time. The responsibility is a big one.

I’d sent my husband a text while I was waiting early this morning, telling him not one person in that room looked like they had any confidence in being there and that I wasn’t sure I wanted them on my trial. I was being silly, of course. I know for a fact I didn’t look any more confident than anyone else. We were probably all feeling that burden of responsibility, and I was just being flippant. Believe me; I sobered up quickly in the courtroom. Jury duty is our civic duty, and it needs to be taken seriously. I believe everyone that was in that room with me was willing and able to do the best they could with whatever information they would be given. Lest my patriotism be questioned, I would and will do it again when called. And I have a year to reflect on it!

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