I’ve had a drama-filled week so far (for me, anyway, I guess it’s all relative.) I gradually came down with a really bad cold during the course of last week. Tuesday night I had a sore throat, very sore Wednesday, Thursday a persistent headache, and stuffy/runny nose on Friday. By Saturday I was pretty sure I would be “fully” sick and Sunday I was miserable. The worst of it was I had social plans with several friends that I had to cancel.
My plans for Monday were sit on the couch and knit, and my friend CO was going to come over and bring lunch. My work was in a holding pattern, waiting for client response. I was picking up a few items of clutter around the house before CO arrived and found a slip of paper with something I’d wanted to enter into my computer calendar so I went to do that and remembered that I was scheduled for jury duty that day! My heart sank but I realized that I still had an hour and a half before the time to report, 1:30pm, so I called the phone number to see if I could find out if my juror number had been called. On the second try the jury clerk said they’d called everybody in. So called CO to cancel for a second time and pulled together myself and my stuff to drive to the courthouse. I just had enough time to fill out my juror questionnaire while I scarfed down the last dish of leftovers we had in the fridge. Thank goodness for those leftovers, I can’t function without lunch!
I stood in line with about 100+ people to check in at the jury assembly room. They were telling us that the trial might go for two weeks, but the only thing they could dismiss us for was if we had plane tickets purchased for travel during those weeks or a medical procedure we couldn’t reschedule. I should have said “I think I might have swine flu” and taken a deferral but my head was kind of foggy and I assumed I’d be out of there by the end of the day.
But no. We sat in the big room and the cheerful, friendly jury clerk (I do not envy her job one bit) talked to us, showed us an orientation video, and kept us posted on when the judge and possibly the lawyers might come talk to us. But by 4 they’d decided not to come so we got to go home but we had to come back the following day at 9am.
That night I wondered what was going to happen. My jury number was 22, and I wasn’t sure if that meant anything for the order in which they would process us, but I figured if they did it meant either I could be dismissed relatively early, or that I had a higher chance of being selected for the jury. No way to tell for sure. Meanwhile a new last-minute project came in at work and added something else for me to stew about. Would I be able to work on it, for delivery at the end of the week, or not? Again, no way to tell for sure.
Tuesday was the most grueling day I’ve had for quite awhile, even if I hadn’t been sick. They called my name in the roll just as I was coming down the stairs a bit before 9. Once we were all accounted for (91 people remained after those who took deferrals left the day before) they read off the names of 31 people who would stay in the jury room. The other 60 of us would go up to the courtroom. We had to go in small, elevator-sized groups because taking the stairs is a liability. One floor up, to the security gate. This was less time-consuming than the airport, because everybody had a lot less stuff, but it still took a while our first time through. Then onto the elevators again to go up to the courtroom.
Once we were up there they read off the randomly-generated list and we lined up in our official order. So my #22 didn’t matter after all. I was well into the second half of the group, but in the courtroom my seat was on the aisle of the first row behind the one reserved for observers (family, media…). The first twelve people were seated in the jury box, the rest of us were on hard wooden pews. We took a vow to answer questions truthfully and honestly.
This was a criminal trial. The judge read the charges. They seemed numerous, but it was my first time inside a courtroom and I don’t watch any of those TV shows that would give me preconceptions about court proceedings. (Not that the TV shows are always realistic, probably not in most cases.) In the orientation video that we were shown the day before, only 12 people were questioned in the scene, not 60. The other people present besides the judge were the prosecuting and defense attorneys, the defendant, the stenographer, and several law-clerk types who had shepherded us through the courthouse. There were a few folks in the observer pew and I’m not certain who they were. I overheard later that a few of them may have been relatives of a victim in the case. And I thought I was having a grueling day.
To start, we were read a list of people involved in the case and were asked if we were acquainted with any of them or with the major parties in the case. A few people said they were, and were questioned about that, and then the defense attorney began questioning each of us in turn. The first few people took so long that I wondered if we would be finished within the week, let alone within the day. The questions, besides asking if we had any connections in law enforcement, or had been, or had a loved one be, a victim of a crime, were mostly pertaining to the concept of “innocent until proven guilty.” Many people agonized over feelings, opinions, and experiences that made it hard for them to give the defendant the benefit of the doubt, especially since the attorney told us that the defendant has a criminal history including theft and drug use. The attorney emphasized again and again that jurors must be able to set aside those personal feelings and evaluate the evidence, apply the relevant laws as instructed by the judge, and if not convinced beyond a reasonable doubt, give a verdict of not guilty. She also put a lot of emphasis on the fact that the state (the prosecuting party) has the burden of proof of guilt.
My stomach was growling so loud that I was sure the judge could hear it at the top of the courtroom. At noon we recessed for lunch. They have a cafeteria at the courthouse but there was a long line and I had no reference on the food, so I walked out to a pizza place a block away or so. It was so cold outside that I stopped to grab a tall Chai but then I was really hot in the jury room waiting to be taken back up to the courtroom once everybody was back for lunch. I was also feeling anxious and tense up there all afternoon and I think the caffeine was a bad idea. I don’t think there was any danger of me getting sleepy. To me, the room was so tension-filled (and the bench so uncomfortable) that I couldn’t help but pay attention.
In the afternoon the defense finished questioning each person (some took a very long time and others were shorter, including me, because I don’t have close connection to anyone in law enforcement and I have not been a crime victim.) Then the prosecuting attorney took over. He had been allowed to question certain people before, when the defense attorney requested the judge to dismiss someone. When a person was dismissed from the jury box (such as a woman who was recently bereaved by a violent crime…) then the next person in line would replace them from the benches. A few people were dismissed from the benches (someone who felt she was unable to be impartial if drug use was involved in the case in any way) One person tried very hard to obtain dismissal for herself – I had overheard her while we were waiting in line saying that she was going to say what she could to make them dismiss her. She was successful and left the courtroom with a smile.
The prosecutor spent most of his short remaining time questioning those in the jury box regarding the concept of “aiding and abetting” in a crime. Apparently in Oregon the law holds accomplices as equally culpable. This was another thorny issue. 5 o’clock came and we had to disperse – with instructions to return at 9am on Wednesday. I was pretty well spent – I checked a few simple to-do’s off my work list when I got home but wasn’t able to produce a single drop of creative juice to help my project manager.
Wednesday morning was very similar to Tuesday – up in the elevators, through the security area, up to the courtroom. We had all memorized our seats by that time and things ran much more efficiently. The prosecuting attorney picked up where he had left off, and those of us in the overflow seats were given the opportunity to answer questions addressed to the group. There was more discussion of “aiding and abetting,” a difficult concept to wrestle with knowing so little about the specifics of the case, but we threw around some very hypothetical examples. Some people insisted, and I tended to agree with them, that providing the gun and pulling the trigger are different levels of guilt. It would have been nice to see the text of the law, because if it’s too vague I would probably say I don’t agree with that law. But for the present, we just had to decide if we were prepared to set emotion aside and apply the law to reach a verdict. The prosecutor was also very intent on finding out if anyone, if presented with enough evidence (beyond a reasonable doubt) to convict, would be unable to cast that guilty vote.
Even though the next phase was conducted with a very arcane (I suspect tradition-bound) procedure, it seemed to go by very quickly. The judge said that she would accept the first challenge. The law clerk walked to the attorneys’ desks, took a slip of paper from each, walked to the judge’s stand, and handed her the pieces of paper, then returned to her place, standing to the side. The judge looked at the papers, and one of 3 things would happen: the judge would dismiss someone from the jury box, and would call the next person in line from the benches to come replace them; or, she would simply request the next challenge; or once, she called both lawyers to confer with her up on the judge’s stand. In whispers of course. Now, I’m sure they were going in an orderly system through the jury seats, but once the replacements started getting dismissed and replaced again, I lost track of who was under consideration next. I’d love to know what they wrote on those little scraps of paper!
It was so nerve-wracking. My seat happened to be the first one of the second half of “extras” and I watched the other side get whittled down alarmingly quickly, but through a slow, suspenseful process. The last bench on the other side of the aisle started to empty and soon there were two men left ahead me. At that point, the judge said the 12 seated in the jury box would be the final jury. (I noticed that 6 of them were from the original group – I wonder if this is required, or happened by chance.) She called the last two men to sit in the alternate jurors’ seats – alternates are needed for a case that is expected to go for several weeks in case someone gets sick or otherwise needs to be replaced. One of these two had been in jail at the same time as the defendant, so no one was surprised when he was dismissed. I was called to sit in the alternate seat. It was definitely a change in perspective on the room – I could see the defendant’s face where before I was seated directly behind him. But it was not to last. The next slips of paper went by with no change but the following turn had me dismissed. The clock said 11:15 – we’d been in the courtroom less than 2 hours that day.
Out in the parking garage, I saw two women who had been seated behind me in the benches. They told me that one person had been dismissed after me, and then they kept the man who had been my second-to-the-left benchmate. So close! I’m very curious to know which of the attorneys wanted to dismiss me and what was written on those slips.
I was feeling a mixture of relief and disappointment. I was relieved that I would be able to continue my projects for work – to not let anyone down or have to burn any midnight oil. But, I had begun to feel prepared to perform my duties as a juror, and I know it would have been a challenging, even harrowing, experience to engage with a trial for crimes of this magnitude. It would have been a growing, learning experience to set aside my intuition – something I’m used to being my constant companion – and to be intentionally as objective, impartial, and reserving of judgment as possible. Also working with 11 others, some very different from myself, to make such an important decision would have been a valuable experience as well. Something I need to grow in, definitely.
I wonder if I will have another opportunity like this? I’ve been summoned for jury duty perhaps 4 times before, several times while I was a full-time student and begged off, other times when I my number was not called in. I learned so much, and it was quite fascinating to see how it all works (not very efficiently in some aspects!). I realize this particular situation was probably more intense than normal because it was a criminal trial, with a few extra plot twists. A civil trial would probably not have taken 3 days to seat a jury… at least I would hope not.
Another interesting thing was that I saw two people I know. GP was called in on Tuesday and I saw her in the hall while my group was waiting to be addressed by the law clerks. One of the sons of the B family, who I’m acquainted with at church, was in the group of 60. I didn’t recognize him immediately but when I heard his last name called I realized who he was. Eugene can sometimes seem a very small town!