The jury is…out

I recently spent a day as a juror candidate for Maricopa County, Superior Court of Arizona.jury badge-150

Having been called several times but never gotten onto an actual jury, my experience has been that there’s a good chance your duty will be cancelled when you call in the night before.

I have to say, the system is very convenient. You can acknowledge the jury summons online and call up to see if your group is being called. The parking was easy. And the juror assembly room — though not quite up to rock n’ roll standards — was equipped with WiFi and even had a computer terminal.

I spent a couple productive hours checking e-mail and doing bits of Internet research before our group was called up to Judgeclock 10 - background Gottsfield’s courtroom, about 10 a.m.

Since it was a criminal trial, the questioning of jurors turned out to be a laborious process. We were advised that the trial would most likely last 2½ days, that is, from Wednesday to Friday noon. Considering that we were well into our fifth hour and only one juror had been excused (he was not a county resident), I was wondering how they’d pull that off.

And, considering how people were practically slobbering like a dog kept indoors too long to get out of jury duty (the people, not the dog), I’m wondering how they ever manage to pull off a complete jury.

The broad range of excuses and explanations that I heard would put a school kid without his homework to shame.

I’ll just pause to note that I had very mixed feelings about whether to sabotage my own status by saying I couldn’t be “fair and impartial,” or sit back and just enjoy the experience of a 2 ½-day trial. On the one hand, I’m heading off to Saudi Arabia in two weeks for a year’s stay* and was behind on a final writing project…not to mention a hundred travel details to be attended to.

On the other hand, the case sounded pretty interesting and I’m sure I could be fair and impartial.

And on the third hand, it is, y’know, sort of a civic duty.

You couldn’t have proved that by the way people ginned up their excuses though.

The case involved a guy who “found” what he “thought” was an abandoned car, fixed it up and then got arrested for stealing the car.

There was a starting pool of 65 potential jurors at the beginning of the day. By 5 pm it was down to about 20. I was part of the 20.

The way people were jumping up like Whack-A-Moles to be excused, especially once they found out that “being too distracted by loss of work to be fair and impartial” might be an excuse, was worth the price of admission on its own.

  • “I’m the payroll manager at my company. If I don’t come into work tomorrow, no one gets paid.”
  • “I don’t understand English.”
  • “I’m a student and have finals.”
  • “I’m a student and can’t afford the time away from my studies” (It turned out that school didn’t start till next week; later, the student claimed he also had a problem understanding English even though he was able to express things pretty well earlier in the day.)
  • “I have three kids to take care of and can’t afford day care”
  • “I’m an engineer working on certain ‘black’ programs for the government that I can’t mention so there may be issues that I could not promise to be fair and impartial about.”
  • “I drive a gas truck and if I don’t make my deliveries, gas stations won’t get their gas.”

…and my favorite:

  • “I have hemorrhoids, high blood pressure…oh, and a blocked carotid artery.”

Most of these were moves of desperation. The real work of getting excused was already done when jurors were asked if they had any prejudices against Phoenix police, lawyers, defendants, the court system or the world.

Jurors were told that a police witness and a civilian witness must be given the same credibility in a criminal case. The judge then asked: If a policeman and a civilian witness disagreed on a point, would you automatically give the policeman more credibility?

A few people said “yes.”

The judge then asked: If the policeman were a football-field’s distance away and the civilian was three feet away from an incident, would you still automatically give the policeman more credibility?

“Yes.”

The judge asked whether the very fact that a person was even charged with a crime in a court of law would prejudice them against the defendant.

“Yes.”

Jurors were instructed that in a criminal case, the standard of proof was “beyond a reasonable doubt” and that the prosecution must prove each and every element of its case. If even one element of its case was not proven, the defendant must be acquitted.

The judge asked whether anyone would have a problem with that.

“Yes.”

I will say that Judge Gottsfield was practically a laff riot. When he wasn’t forced to read off elaborate scripted questions, he kept the mood light and polite. And when the defense attorney rattled off a juror question that was so long and tortuous that most of us had forgotten what the original question was by the time he go to the end, the judge’s scrunched up, bewildered face was delightful to watch.

clock 5pmThe mood in the hallway among the remaining 20 candidate jurors while the lawyers were hammering out the composition of the final jury was somber.

One woman said, “I can’t believe Hemorrhoid Man had the nerve to pull that stunt.”

I said, “I think it was a preemptory strike. He wanted to get out there firstest with the mostest, just to set the bar.”

About 25 minutes later, we filed back in. There were about 12 numbers in front of mine. All they needed was 9. The judge skipped mine and I headed out. scales of justice-backgroundI know the question that got me washed out.

But I’m not tellin’.

_________________________

*The Blog-In-Action may or may not go on hiatus for a while since the owner/operator has taken a one-year contract in Riyadh to teach English. Follow the adventure at Veeds Of Arabia.

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6 comments on “The jury is…out

  1. Don says:

    A fair and impartial jury? In this day and age of instantaneous sound bites and internet? Please.

  2. El Kabong says:

    As we learned in the OJ trial among others, it’s practically impossible for jurors not to get some outside information, at least in high-profile trials. And, of course, the problem with outside inforrmation is that it’s not vetted through the rules of evidence. But I think the point of the questioning in this kind of case is whether or not jurors can approach the case without various kinds of prejudice. So if you start out thinking that a policeman’s word is ALWAYS better than a civilian’s, the defendant is not likely to get a fair shake.

  3. Nice content indeed! i will visit as often as i can.

    cheers

  4. smwch says:

    I never post, but I just thought you should know I totally agree with you

  5. I really enjoyed this piece – I have added you to my bookmarks

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