Monday, November 08, 2010

Jury Purgatory: The Final Chapter

On my fifth and last day of serving duty, I was denied a position on the 16-person jury. As explained to us by Judge Leon, there would be 16 people chosen: 12 regular jurors and four alternates. On the final day, after an estimated 4-5 weeks of service, the alternate jurors would be told their true roles. The other 12 would deliberate and conclude the trial. Judge Leon explained the reasoning behind not letting the jurors know who is "alternate" versus "regular": the alternates will pay as much attention the whole case as their "regular" colleagues. If one knows he is an alternate, then he won't pay as much attention than if he knows he's a regular juror. Ahhh... (nods) makes sense.

In the last two hours I was there, the remaining 75 (approximately) of us still awaiting our fate filed into Judge Leon's courtroom. We sat before the defendants, the prosecution and the defense. The judge sat before all of us, in his elevated and comfy swivel chair. His gavel sat near him and his papers were stacked in front. We were seated by juror number, which wasn't necessarily in any numerical order, in the section of the court where an audience would watch the proceedings. I'm not sure how they "ranked" us, but I was 20 people from the front.

We were told to file into the juror box 16 people at a time. When the box was full, no one else entered it. The remaining jurors to be evaluated stayed in the audience section of the courtroom.

The two sides, the prosecution and the defense, looked at their notes from the past four days and looked at the box of 16 faces. They exchanged notes with one another and then with the opposing side. The purpose was to pick people with whom both sides agreed that they wanted on the jury.

I watched as the people before me were dismissed one by one. The opposing sides would chat and then take some juror numbers to the judge, who would announce the juror(s) that were dismissed. No explanation for dismissals were given. Simply: "Juror number 0249, you are dismissed." The "cut" juror would grab his/her things and leave the courtroom.

Finally, I was called to join the box. I sat down in the cushiony chair that was bolted to the floor and couldn't help but think, "this is the kind of chair you need if you're going to be listening all day."

I looked ahead at the prosecution and the defense. I was one of three white women in my age bracket- you know, the 25-35 block. I felt like my odds were pretty good for being chosen to stay. I was thinking about my high odds when I saw it. One of the attorneys for the prosecution had a juror seating chart in front of him. Even from eight feet away, I could easily see the layout and identified my chair. Number seven. Then, as quickly as I'd identified my chair I saw the strike of his pen. He met my eyes and quickly looked away. I was out.

I watched the prosecution give their notes to the defense. The defense reviewed them and said something in a whisper back to the prosecution before both parties approached the judge.

Judge Leon, after hearing the new numbers, called out two. Mine was the second. I had been dismissed. My chair barely warm, I gathered my things and left the box. I exited the room and walked through the hall, rode down the elevator and breezed out into the sunshine.

While I'll always wonder what life may have been like for those weeks, I am not disappointed that I wasn't picked for the trial. It seems like it may have been emotionally taxing and (at times) boring or overwhelming. I'll follow the news as a verdict is made. I won't hear it announced from a jury box or hear juror arguments in a cramped boardroom behind a judge's chamber. Rather, the verdict will likely be read from the comfort of my home, where I can only guess at what the jurors learned and speculate as to how I may have been changed from it.

(Now that the "picking" is complete and I am not serving on the 16 panel jury, I felt free to do some digging of my own regarding the case that would have been my other full time job for 4-6 weeks. If you're interested in reading a snippet, then you can click here.)

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