Civic duty done

While on maternity leave, I received a questionnaire from the county hinting that I was under consideration for jury duty. I filled it out, sent it back and about a month ago I received my summons. You get assigned a number and a date to report for duty. You're supposed to check the number on the website or by dialing in to see if you're needed. I was #29.

If you were number 1-164, you were supposed to report for duty, do not pass go, do not collect $200...oh, wait.
Woo hoo, I was in!

Soooo....following a very poorly drawn out strip map on the back side of my summons paperwork, I made a bunch of right turns until I found the poorly marked parking lot. I showed the police officer guarding the lot my summons (I guess people try to park for free) and found a spot. Then I took the poorly drawn strip map and walked up to the "Judicial Center."

I had to go through metal detectors. Then I had to go up to the jury lounge (but only after asking information because there were no signs). The "lounge" was a huge room where everyone who had been summoned waited. I was #29 out of 164. I checked in (no one checked ID, but I saw my age and sex marked on their paperwork), got my juror packet and this lovely sticker:

I found an empty seat and waited. I also asked where I could pump and the lady in charge said there was a room in the library on the third floor. Unlike work some places, the "judicial center" accommodates nursing mothers without making an issue out of it.

Well the way my fine county does it is first, they see if there are any trials because some of the scheduled trials settle out of court. There were only 3 criminal trials taking place (and yes, I got excited--no boring civil cases!), and each one requires 12 jurors. When selecting jurors, they called our numbers in order, so I was 29 and each group of prospective jurors is about 35-40 people. They call numbers in order, so I got called up in the first group. We had to go up to the court room to be selected. So then in the courtroom we all sit and the judge asks questions, like whether you are a cop or you know police officers or law enforcement people, whether you have family members that are lawyers, whether you have sat in a criminal case before, etc. Basically trying to weed out people that may be biased. One person wanted to get out. She claimed her job was important and she could not afford to be there longer than one day. The judge was unsympathetic. "There are no other psychiatrists in the entire District of Columbia? What if you get hit by a bus?" And so on.

So the next thing they do is go into further questioning with certain members who answered a certain way. Some of those people got booted (people who knew cops or lawyers, people who were cops or lawyers, etc). Then they start filling the seats on the jury. So the lawyers on both sides can say they don’t want someone as a juror. From what it looked like, they wanted women, but they did not want older Asian women or any men. "They" claim to not look at race or sex or age, but "they" are hoodwinking. "They"(the lawyers) are looking for advantages.

There were 11 women on the jury and one man, and one male alternate.

The case was about two neighbors who had once been friends. One filed a “peace order” which is a restraining order, against the other. They lived in adjacent townhouses. The case was about whether the one lady violated the order. The one who filed had three daughters. Well, the mom was at work and the oldest was watching the other two. They heard a bang on their back door but did not see what caused that. Then the oldest one opened the sliding glass door and said the neighbor was looking at her and “using profanity.” The kid called her mom, who was driving home from work and the mom said to call the cops.

After the selection and opening arguments (fun seeing a very pregnant state attorney and the hired defense attorney trying to dramatize what looked to be pretty simple turn of events. Not fun knowing my taxes probably funded part of this process. Here's where my taxes didn't go: the building itself. It looked like it had not been updated or redecorated since the '80s).

They were trying to prove that the neighbor was trespassing by reaching over the privacy fence and banging on their door, and that the neighbor was “attempting to contact” by yelling at the kids.

Most of the discussion hinged on the height of the fence and whether the neighbor reached over and knocked on their door. We don’t know it happened because no one saw it, they just heard a bang. There were no photos of the fence or anyone reaching over to the neighbor’s door. It just was witnesses saying how tall they thought the fence was (anywhere from 5 ½ to 7 feet) and speculating whether the neighbor could reach across and bang on the door.

The judge had closing arguments and released the alternate. The 11 angry women and one man went to a back room to deliberate.

"I wanna believe those kids" one person said.

Another one: "I'll bet those kids could talk some shit too."

We sympathized with the defendant. The woman was in and out of her townhouse and had to face a neighbor who filed a "peace order." When you live in that kind of set up, giving someone the wrong look could be enough for them to nail you. It was not enough for us to say she was “guilty beyond reasonable doubt” so we all agreed she was not guilty and we came back after an hour and said that.

What was that about boring civil cases? I said that not knowing "criminal" cases could be boring too.

No comments: