ntang (ntang) wrote,

Jury duty: the conclusion

So, after another day, I was dismissed, or discharged, or expelled, or whatever the term is when you're not picked for the jury. (I don't remember, and last time I mentioned it, I used the wrong term, apparently.)

I seem to have touched a nerve with my last post, so I'll start there. It's very possible that the judge was doing Extremely Important Work during the lunch break that, twice in a row, he was an hour late returning from. I find that somewhat unlikely, considering how little he seemed to really pay attention to things like, for instance, moving things along. I don't take it as a personal slight; that would imply that he cared about me in any way, shape, or form. I really don't think he did. I do think that he liked being seen as the friendly guy, wanted everyone to like him, and, as the court stenographer chuckled in the elevator, "likes to hear himself talk". I guess when you've been working as long as he has, you feel like you've earned the right to talk on and on and on and no one can say anything about it. That's fine. I don't see why I have to like it, though.

I'm also curious as to what the term "newbie" jurors means. Is there a secret society of seasoned jurors that lurk in the shadows that I'm unaware of? The jurors in my pool were of varied levels of experience, from the never-done-jury-duty-before newbies like me, to the 3-or-4-times-already veterans of multiple stints. The one thing that united all of us, though, was our shock at how slow it was going and how buddy-buddy the judge was acting. Even jurors who had been through multiple cases were wondering why exactly he was taking so long to get everything done.

So, back to the story.

We showed up on time, as prompted (and, technically, threatened). Well, except for one juror, but we'll get back to that in a moment. We were finally taken in to the room a bit late - 15 or 20 minutes, but at this point, we were all expecting that. He finished with the interviews of the 2 (3?) people in the box he had been unable to finish the night before (since he dismissed everyone at 4:30). When those were done, the attorneys each got approximately 15 minutes (total) with the people in the box, and then we were all sent out to take our first break, and then he called us all back in. They read off the names of the people that were to stay - everyone else in the box was sent back down to the main jury waiting room. Of the 16 people in the box, 4 were made jurors, and (do the math), twelve people were dismissed. We were all a bit blown away at that (yes, even the experienced jurors). What was really surprising were some of the people they dismissed - there were several we all knew would be dismissed, just based on the line of questioning the attorneys took with them, but there were several that seemed like fine candidates, that they didn't question much, that had no conflicts in terms of knowledge or experience or prejudice. This part, though, I won't question - they've got their own ideas of what they're looking for, and even if it seemed arbitrary to us, they did seem to have some method to their madness. I'd love to know who dismissed each of the potential jurors that were kicked off - not because it matters, but just to get some better idea of how that worked. Again, it seemed arbitrary from the outside, but we really had a limited view of that and it'd probably be fascinating to get a better picture of it.

So after that, they put the remaining people from the pool (17 of us) into the box. Two approached the bench and were dismissed (dunno why, they approached the bench, didn't say it out loud) and then we were each interviewed. Interestingly (and I don't know what this means) in each group there were one or two people they interviewed in only the most cursory of fashion, as if they had made up their mind what to do with them before even hearing them. I was one of the people from the second group, which I thought was interesting. The judge asked me a couple of quick questions, but didn't probe at all the way he had with most other people. The ADA and defense attorney didn't ask me a single question between the two of them. The prosecutor asked a few interesting questions - he seemed very into peoples' body language, and asked two or three people about movements they made. For instance, he asked one person why he had crossed his arms. Of course, the person had crossed their arms a while back and didn't particularly remember any motivation; perhaps it was just because it was freezing in the room. But he pressed him a couple of times about it, even though it seemed pretty clear that the guy had just been crossing his arms. (I will say this, though - body language can say a lot about a person, and it's entirely possible the guy had given up some unconscious prejudice without even knowing it. Or it's also possible the prosecutor was just insane, either explanation works for me. One thing that was definite: the prosecutor wasn't joking when he said he was bad with names. I've never heard someone maul so many names, so frequently, or so repeatedly - one guy tried to help him say it around 6 times in a row and finally he gave up.)

The seemingly random and inane questions from the judge did continue, unfortunately. When one person mentioned that working on his car was one of his hobbies, the judge proceeded to ask him question after question about it. Here's a sample of the actual questions he asked the guy (as far as I can remember - I may have forgotten some). "What kind of car is it?" "Oh yeah? What do you like to do with it?" "So you like car shows? Wasn't there one in Jersey last week?" "Do you take it to car shows and show it off?" "How do you get it there?" "Do you put it on a flatbed, or drive it?" In all honesty, the judge seemed to know something about almost any topic a juror could talk about, whether it was where the last local car show was, or telling the basketball coach that the court officer had been an all-star basketball player in high school, or the fact that Tobago and Trinidad are part of the same country, or that he knew the father of the head of the organization that the person was a member of... I couldn't quite tell if he just liked showing off his vast array of mostly useless knowledge, or was trying to connect with each juror on a personal basis, or what. Maybe some of each. Either way, while it was an interesting parlor trick, it got really, really old by the end of the selection process (or at least by the end of our part of it!).

After another long session, another long lunch break that ran almost an hour late, and another "10 minute" break, they called us back into the room, and once again, called the names of the people who were chosen. 5 more. The rest of us were sent back to the main jury waiting room.

The interesting thing is, at this point, they had 9 jurors (4+5). That's out of a pool of 52. The next pool was waiting outside as we shuffled out of the courtroom. Based on the first 52 people in the pool, it'll take him at least 3 full days to get 14 (12 + 2 alternates) final jurors. That's amazing, considering that the judge called it a small, quick case over and over again.

What bothers me, I think, is not how many they rejected, or how randomly they seemed to reject people. (As I said, I'll confess to just not knowing how the discussions went, and how the decision was made.) What bothers me is how long it took the damn judge to get through the questioning. I wasn't bothered at all when they asked relevant questions to the case, but when the judge finds out a juror was a member of the coast guard and says the coast guard's motto - and then spells it and defines it for the stenographer (or maybe for our benefit?) and then starts talking about his time in the navy... well, it wears on you after a while. Face it, the dude was way too fond of his own voice. Again, not a problem in some cases, but when he could've chopped hours off of the interview process with no loss of accuracy or quality of choice (you could probably somehow argue that knowing that the guy liked driving his car, so he didn't use a flatbed to transport it to car shows, was relevant... but I'd argue that spending time telling us about his own time in the navy was probably not), it gets frustrating.

Anyways, we waited downstairs for around half an hour, and then were sent home with our papers proving we served our time. Voila.

Overall, it could've been a much worse experience, but it also could've been a much better one. They said they're happy to get comments and suggestions, so I'll probably check out the website later and see if they have a way to send them suggestions. It'd be a much more pleasant process if they were more efficient, and while I know it runs counter to the concept of government to be efficient, maybe they could work on getting a little better. Also, I think if I had to serve duty under that judge I'd kill myself - listening to him tell stories about himself and find connections with everyone for a week straight would've been worse than being jailed. I feel sorry for the defendant (and the court officers and the stenographer and the attorneys and everyone else in the room) in the case - he's getting punished already. So much for "presumed innocent until proven guilty". I thought public torture was frowned on?

Oh - and it's apparently illegal to sell your jury story, so this one's on the house.
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