Saturday, October 17, 2009

Juror #248

WARNING: I get a bit long winded. Please forgive me.

Jury duty. Hmm. I'd been called twice before. The first time was for jury in Minneapolis. Unfortunately, or fortunately, I had already moved to Phoenix. It would have been a big commute so they let me skip it. The second time was when I lived in Phoenix, but I was eight months pregnant, and they told me they didn't want me going into labor at the courthouse, so I was excused.

No real good excuse this time. I had mixed feeling about the whole idea of jury duty. I might be cool to see how the whole process works, but not very cool to sit around all day knowing that I probably wouldn't be picked for anything. Alas, I got my butt out of bed early Thursday morning and headed over to county courthouse. I had to be there by 8 a.m., which is about two hours earlier than I've been forced to go anywhere in the last two and a half years. I know, boo hoo.

After passing through security, I headed to the basement of the courthouse to the jury waiting room. Never had I seen such a diverse group of people. There was a woman who looked like she had just come from the gym in her spandex capris, a huge man in a huge sloppy red t-shirt and sweats, a guy who, if he had been wearing a hoodie, would have looked exactly like the Unibomber, business people with their laptops, a college girl who looked scared - you name it and he/she was probably there. I also took note of how quiet the room was. I know that we were all strangers, but I don't think I've ever been in a room full of adults that was so quiet.

After the juror orientation, I settled in with my book (Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol - really good, by the way). I figured I'd have lots of time to read and might even finish it up; however, two pages into reading, the first bailiff came into the room and began calling names of people to head up for the first jury selection. What was that? Juror 248, Vordermark. That's me!

As I stood at the side of the room, I could see the look in other jurors eyes - part "you lucky duck," part "argh, I have to sit here even longer now." But I was thinking, "Awesome, I'll get to go home early!" If I only knew.

The walk from the bowels of the courthouse to the third floor was ominous. The ceiling was so low in places that I had to duck my 5' 11" frame down so I would take a blow to the head and have to sue the county! There were pipes and beams along the stairwell walls. It was obvious that the basement was not originally meant for daily occupancy or for people over 5 feet tall.

Fater climbing three flights of stairs, we arrived at the jury room of Courtroom 303C. Eighteen adults in a 20' X 20' room with 13 chairs. If I thought the jury waiting room was quiet, that was nothing compared to this tiny room. Strangers all waiting for the unknown - it was a bit like a social experiment. Those who weren't looking at the old magazines on the table were just looking around at each other, trying not to make eye contact. If this weren't a non-competitive task, I'd say we were all sizing one another up. People probably were suspicious of me as I was looking around at all of them and then scribbling furiously in my little notebook (so I could write this!). Oh well, that's just what I do. I'm juror #248. Boy, did I need my chai.

So after a few minutes we were all led into the courtroom. I was asked to sit in the front row, center. Good view, I guess. Both the prosecutor and defense attorney seemed really young and nervous. They asked the potential jurors questions. Some people answered more than others. I spoke a little but not too much. Then decision time came. It was sort of like the draft. The judge asked the attorneys to make their first picks or rejections. One by one my front row bench mates were sent home. "Woo hoo, I'm going to get to go home early!" Wait, wait. "Mr. X, please take the first seat in the jury box. Miss Vordermark please take the seat next to him."

Me? Did the judge really say my name? Yeah! I mean, Boo. Yeah - the girl with glasses finally got picked for the basketball team. Boo - I don't get to go home early like the other lucky bas*@#ds. So the final jury count was five men and me. So I'm the only one with boobs and am by far the youngest by at least a decade. So it goes.

For the sake of not being long-winded (is it too late?), I'll cut to the opening know how we're all human and tend to make snap judgments, well it's hard to not do that as a juror. But I got over it pretty quick. As I sat there listening to the prosecutor, I was thinking, "Easy. Case closed." Then the defense attorney spoke. "Oh, you mean there is another side to the story? Hmm. What now?"

The case involved two criminal misdemeanors having to do with domestic violence. Great (said with sarcasm).

The hardest part of the whole day was listening to a 911 call from the defendant's wife. She was sitting calmly and unharmed in the witness chair while it was being played, but her voice was terrified in the call. My eyes began to well up with tears. But I'm a face, poker face. I kept telling myself that the woman was safe - she's OK. Don't cry. How bad would that look? The sole female juror starts crying. I suppose the prosecutor would have eaten it up.

It was interesting sitting there listening to the witnesses (police officers, the wife, the defendant) and hearing how stories drastically changed from the night of the incident to the day of the trial. We, as jurors, had to figure out which of the evidence to take as fact. It was quite an overwhelming feeling. You are making decisions that are going to affect people's lives. In the end, we found the defendant guilt on all counts. It was a hard decision, but the right one to make legally.

I took away a new found respect for the legal system and the jury system in particular. You have to keep emotion out of it. There are strict legal guidelines that must be followed. But thank goodness for that.

My civil duty has been fulfilled - at least for two years!

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