My Jury Duty Story|
The morning of jury duty I was herded through security but pulled out of line due to the suspicious epi-pens in my purse. I explained them to the satisfaction of the gendarmes and was allowed to enter the courthouse. I checked in and headed directly for the comfortable couch. It's interesting to me that every time I've gone to the jury pool, the majority of people choose to sit in the uncomfortable seats in rows while only two or three grab couches or tables at the back. Everyone was there by 8 am. At about 9:30, a judge came in and droned on in the most uninspiring fashion about juries and our duty to the country. Then they showed us the world's lamest film about what juries are and why. It was middle-school level at best, and I was stunned to see that they thought we were that clueless, and further stunned to see my fellow potential jurors watching with interest. After a while, they started calling people randomly to go up to be selected for the first trial. They called 30 people, and I was thrilled to be one of them.
We got up into the courtroom, and the judge welcomed us warmly. I was surprised to see that the defendant was sitting there watching us. They seated us in numerical order, and the Voir Dire process began. We passed a microphone throughout the jury pool and introduced ourselves, said what we did for a living, what our education levels were, what our hobbies were, if we lived with anyone, what our cohabitors did for a living, did we drive, and did we have any experience with domestic abuse. The questions were standard, then became much more pointed, mostly centered around sexual assault and abuse. I said I was an art-school drop-out, which got a laugh. People began whining about how they had pressing engagements and couldn't possibly serve another day. Most of them were dismissed. Then there were people who said anyone accused of any sort of sexual assault was by definition guilty. Those folks were also dismissed. After what seemed like an hour of questions, we were sent into the jury room while the judge & lawyers picked their 12 out of the 20-odd who were left.
When we were called back in, they called us in order. I was selected to be Juror #10. I was both elated and a little annoyed. I mean, I've always wanted to be on a jury, but being picked is a little less fun in real life. Because there you are, in charge of someone's life, more or less. It's a feeling that settles almost immediately around one's shoulders, and it's not a bit light.
We were sworn in and almost immediately sent out of the room. When we were called back in, the proceedings began. Allow me to digress for just a second and show my age- I was thrilled beyond words to look around the courtroom and see that the clerk, the bailiff, the judge and both attorneys were women. I know it's no big deal today, but there are times in my lifetime when it would have been. And I appreciate that it was normal.
The case was a criminal one, the state of Oregon versus the accused. The accusations were a count of attempted rape, a count of assault in the fourth degree, a count of menacing, a count of coercion, and a count of interfering with a call to 911. The defendant had an interpreter, as English was not his first language. We listened to testimony from the alleged victim, who was the estranged wife of the defendant. They have been married for 18 years, and she recently found a new love. The two of them have two children.
I won't drag you through all the details, but we heard a lot of conflicting testimony, a lot of stories with holes so big you could drive a truck through 'em, and then we were shown a video of the defendant being interrogated by some detectives who, it was plain to me, had an agenda. A list of charges to tick off on their clipboards, whereupon they could bundle this guy away to jail and close the files. The fact that he clearly didn't understand the questions didn't stand in their way for a second. It was scary, almost like watching all of your bad dreams come true. I have a pretty healthy distrust of authority to begin with, but seeing that tape made me feel like I am way too trusting, too credulous and too naive when it comes to The Law. Watching that tape made me want to cry. After the tape, there was some more testimony and then it got to be five-ish, and we were dismissed and told to return upon the morrow.
We got back on time, assembled in the jury room- and waited for about an hour and a half. Which was okay for me, I had books. But people were restive. Then we got called in and heard more testimony, including testimony by the defendant, through two interpreters, only one of whom seemed really good. The attorneys gave closing arguments and this went on for hours- long boring hours of repetition, dead horse flogging, and pedantic asides. By the time they were finished, it was well after six, so we had to come back for deliberations in the morning.
Few of us were on time. The courtroom had been moved to the attic, and the jury room was tiny and low and dark and windowless. One of the jurors was claustrophobic. The fluorescent lights flickered. It smelled funny. It was a miserable room. We spent a few hours there, but mercifully were moved to another room later. We agreed in pretty short order that the guy was guilty of the lesser charges- interfering, menacing, and coercion. We also agreed easily that he was not guilty of assault. Then we addressed the alleged attempted rape- and nine of us were certain there was reasonable doubt and three of us were certain that he was totally guilty. To those of us in the majority, it seemed perfectly clear that there just wasn't enough evidence to send this guy down the river for an alleged attempted rape -not to mention the clearly unreliable witness who had plenty of motive to want him out of her life entirely. To those in the minority, it seemed perfectly clear that any sort of discussion about sex after one party has said NO constitutes attempted rape. (Okay, that's total simplification, but it's also how I walked away feeling.) Also, the 3 who felt he was guilty saw no badgering or misconduct on the part of the interrogators, while the rest of us felt very strongly that the detectives had a quota to fill. This was perhaps the most interesting facet of my service, discussing how differently we each saw the same film. Mind-boggling, actually.
We argued and discussed and importuned for about 5 hours, to no avail. Finally we called the clerk in for instructions, and she told us to write down our conundrum and submit it to the judge, which we did. We were summoned back to the courtroom, where the judge asked each of us if we were quite certain that we would not change our minds. We each agreed that we would not. She then announced our verdicts on the other charges, and declared a mistrial on the one count.
She thanked us for our service, told us she'd come down to the jury room shortly for debriefing, and dismissed us. Most of us waited for her to arrive and asked all sorts of questions once she did. She told us that we were under no obligation to tell the attorneys how our vote was split on the attempted rape count, but that we could tell if we wanted. By acclaim, we decided to tell. Then she said that both attorneys were quite new and would appreciate any feedback we might have- so about 8 of us trooped back to the courtroom and told the lawyers what we thought worked, what didn't work, and how we reasoned our way to the various verdicts.
That part was hands-down my favorite part. I loved the majesty of the courthouse, I loved the shine on the brass finials at the newel posts on the stair corners from decades of hands caressing them. I loved the brave and original art I saw everywhere. I loved the fact I finally got chosen. I loved the fact that the 12 of us felt so strongly about the charges that we gave up 3 days in order to argue about this one man's fate.