Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Jury Duty

Hey, it's been awhile since my last entry. Really busy over the last two weeks. I recently served on Jury Duty for two days. If you haven't had the privilege of serving, it's both a blessing and a curse. It's cool to see how our vast judicial system operates up close and personal, but devastatingly lame when it doesn't work as planned.

I arrived with over 300 county residents at 8:30a on the first day. We were trained by an ABC news video full of patriotic images and "you are a proud American fulfilling your duty..." soundtrack. A local judge talked about the process of selecting juries, followed by a bailiff reading off the numbers of jurors who were selected. I was selected to serve on a civil case and brought in to a courtroom to be interviewed by the two attorneys handling the case - a prosecutor and a defense lawyer. The case was about a two-car accident in the parking lot of our local mall. An "actress" suffered injuries from getting hit by a young man which "hampered" her acting career over the last four years. She was looking for monetary damage$ to compen$ate her lo$$ of work. All I could think of was, "If you are an actress what are you doing in a small town in Southern Oregon?" I wasn't selected for the jury and got to go home early.

The next morning all ~300 of us got called back, which they say is unusual. I was selected for another case - 4th degree assault, and harassment. This time I was selected to serve. I learned that lawyers have the ability to manipulate the jury selection process by asking jurors questions related to the case and the charges set forth. Jurors are then dismissed or maintained based on the requests of the attorneys. The gist of the case was:

  • Older married couple drinking (too much) at a bar just after Christmas

  • Grandpa stays and plays in 9-ball tournament, Grandma goes home

  • Grandma sees that the awning of their trailer is broken due to a snow storm

  • Grandma gets angry and returns to the bar

  • Grandpa gets a beer thrown in his face

  • A scuffle ensues, and Grandpa hits Grandma in the eye with a pool cue

  • Four gentlemen jump Grandpa

  • Grandma is dragged away, and calls the cops

  • Grandpa is arrested and charged with 4th degree assault and harassment

Based on this outline, it seemed like a pretty easy case. As a viewer of many lame court-TV shows, I expected the usual parade of gruesome evidence and carefully crafted legal arguments from both sides. Instead, we spent all day hearing from witnesses who were perfectly lucid about the sequence of events all the way up until the time that Grandma was popped in the head. At that point their minds walked into a large murky cloud. Even Grandma contradicted herself on the stand, and essentially confessed that she didn't want to get her husband in trouble.

Based on the minimal evidence presented in the case, and the lack of relevant testimony, we let the defendant go on both counts - not guilty. Did I think the guy did it? Absolutely. Did all parties lie on the stand? Seems like it. Are they both train wrecks? For sure. My fellow jurors and I were all stunned at the lack of momentum in Grandma's efforts to testify. Why take it to court in the first place if you don't want your husband to get in trouble? Is it fear of retribution? Admission that you are also at fault? Love's blinding power? As I was leaving the court house I had the new and creepy experience of seeing the families of both parties waiting in the lobby, carefully examing our faces for some sign of the jury's decision. As we descended in the elevator I thought about how frightening it would be to hand down a jail sentence, and then face those same prying eyes.

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