Mama Deb (mamadeb) wrote,
Mama Deb

Jury Duty

Let me say this first - I'm proud of our legal system. It's not perfect and there are injustices perpetrated all through it, but it's pretty darn good and the intent really is justice for all. And that it's done by a bunch of very ordinary citizens conscripted for the purpose instead of assigned or professional, and most pretty unwilling, is part of it all.

The other thing is that I found the procedures of the day to be FASCINATING.

There is no easy or convenient way to get to the courthouse from my house. I could have done it with a bus and subway or two buses, but they're doing massive work on the subway, with several stations closed, and one of those two buses runs very slowly. So I decided, just for this first day, to take a car. We hit a lot of traffic - I think I was one of the last people to arrive, just before 9AM. We were supposed to be there at 8:30.

Of course, I also had to get through security and the metal detector. My pockets were empty, so I just put my sweater and laptop and purse and knitting bag through the scanner. The first three went through JUST fine. The knitting, not so much. The guard asked if there were scissors, and yes. Two pairs, in fact. One embroidery scissors with three inch blades, and one folding scissors (which I unfolded for him because he couldn't figure it out) with 2" blades. He also found my US2 (2.75 mm) circular needles (fairly sharp) but not my US0 (2mm) circs (much sharper). Neither had a project attached yet. The decision? I had to check both pairs of scissors, but I could keep the circs. This was just fine by me, since I knew there was little chance I was going to finish even a baby sock that day, and if I did, I can break yarn with my hands. However, the needles were more of weapons than the scissors.

They did give me a receipt.

So, the jury assembly room. We were given detailed instructions (open the packet you got in the mail. Go to the front, which has your name and address. What color is the stripe? What date is there? Fill this part out. (I lent the guy next to me my pen and a book to lean on. I did that repeatedly that morning, plus when the sergeant gave us a phone number, I read it back carefully to him.)) Then we watched a couple of films. I started the baby sock.

The sergeant read off several reasons why people might not be able to serve (small children, health, lack of citizenship in either state or country, inability to understand English (and when people stood up, he said, "That you understood" and we all laughed) and I forget the rest because none applied to me.) and these people were sent to another room. Many of them returned, unhappily.

By 10:00, we were free to go to the bathroom (line in the ladies' room, of course) and go to the lounge area. Since I had my laptop, I could take advantage of their wifi in the lounge. That was cool and kept me occupied for another hour or so, and then my name was called for the first trial. The 50 or so of us were gathered into another room

Officer Bonnie read our names, mangling most of them (with apologies.) She liked that mine was simple. Then we were given instructions (no cellphones, don't enter the courtroom until instructed and all gentlemen should remove their hats. Yarmulkes were clearly not considered hats for that purpose, and women were not mentioned at all. This makes sense - after all, ladies NEVER remove their hats in public.) We took several elevators up to the 19th floor, sat down on the benches and waited. And waited. And waited. I knit. We were all still pretty much a bunch of strangers, after all.

By 11AM, we were in Court Room Nine.

This was a big, modern courtroom, all blond wood and metal. We were herded into the visitors seats. Facing us, there was a bench with the judge, a gentle-voiced older man. Facing him were the two tables you expect, each with two people. There was also the court reporter and the clerk and some bailiffs. To my right was the jury bench, with 16 seats in two rows of eight.

We were given instructions by the judge (be fair and impartial, presume innocence and HE is the source for all law in this case) and sworn/affirmed in. The two sides introduced themselves and we were given the charges of the alleged crime and the location. The suspect was right there, too.

We were asked if we had moral qualms, and to come up if we did. The woman next to me said she did, but she didn't go up. Then anyone who had an actual emergency was asked to talk to the judge since this trial would last about a week. I could hear some of them - job related things, child related things, someone had a court date, health issues. Some were excused but others were told to sit down. The lady next to me finally did voice her concerns but was not excused. Then the judge and the lawyers conferred in private, and several more of those people were excused, including that woman. They were NOT discharged and would have to back down to the assembly room and possibly be called for another jury.

Finally, sixteen names were called (and often mangled) and given seats in the jury box. Amusingly, three of them had the same last name - and it was the same as the judge's. Two of them, both women, were seated next to each other. My name was not called.

The judge asked all of them, one by one, in seat order, the same set of questions.
1. Full name
2. What part of King's County do you live? (Some people said "Brooklyn" (Brooklyn and Kings County are the same thing) and some said, "yes.")
3. Are you familiar with the area where the alleged crime took place?
4. What is your occupation?
5. With whom do you live?
6. What is their occupation? (if applicable - we had a number of parents.)
7. What level education do you have?

Sometimes he asked further questions if the answers warranted them.

Then he asked questions to the group - Were they or members of their family victims of a crime? (Raise hands), Arrested?, On a jury? (those that raised their hands were asked what sort of jury - grand, criminal or civil - and if a verdict had been reached but not what that verdict was) and if they or a member of hteir family was involved in law enforcement, or THEY had legal training. If someone was a victim of a crime, they were asked if that would affect their judgement. If they were related to a law enforcement person, they were asked if *that* would affect their judgement.

Occupations ranged from retired and stay-at-home mother to physicist. Education ranged from high school to master's, with a lot of associate degrees.

Then we were sent to lunch.

We were told to be back by 2:15, so we were, and we waited some more. By 2:30, we were back in the courtroom, with the sixteen back in the box. The lawyers began asking questions. The DA, who spoke very quickly, asked questions about credibility (how can you tell who was lying, for example, and can people see different things, and do you trust cops more or less than non-cops. This, btw? Not proper. They're to be treated as other witnesses.) One gentleman was clearly "the government was always more credible." Another spoke very bad English. A third still had flashbacks to when he was robbed at gunpoint years ago, when he first came here. Since this was an attempted murder case with a gun, that was a factor. And he took a long time to decide he would, in fact, be fair and impartial.

The defense attorney also wondered about impartiality and credibility, and also if they thought that a convicted criminal could also be a crime victim, which, um? How is one relevant to the other? The judge clarified things through out and asked his own questions.

Then we were sent out to the hallway - ALL of us - and waited until they were finished conferring. The sixteen were placed in the first two rows of the public area, and those who were selected - seven of them - were called back to the box and sworn in. The rest were dismissed and sent down to the assembly room to be discharged, their service done.

Sixteen more names were called. I was number eleven. The questioning was about the same for this group. The only real difference, allowing for different people BEING questioned, was that we were questioned not by the senior DA but by a very nervous and young junior one. The judge grinned at me when I gave my answers, but I'm not sure why. Also, the defense attorney never asked me a single question, not even the one he asked everyone else (Can you be fair and impartial?) I'm not sure why. Yes, I was the only Orthodox woman (and person) remaining in the selection pool, and the defense attorney was Jewish, but. I just don't know.

However, early on, one woman said she hated and distrusted cops and would never believe them. She was forceful and she'd said that quietly before she said it outloud, so I believe her. She was exused and another person brought into the box.

We were sent out to wait some more, as we watched the clock creep up to 5PM. We chatted. I knit. We were called back in. And of the sixteen of us, THREE people were chosen. The other thirteen of us were sent home - not even back to the Assembly room because it was empty.

Other than the waiting times, it was very interesting and if it weren't for other cirucmstances, I would have liked to have been chosen.

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