I’ve been called for jury duty — they call it “service” — four times.
Four times I’ve cleared my calendar and dutifully showed up at the appointed location at the appointed time.
Two times I have been summarily dismissed when jury panels were filled without my stepping into a courtroom.
On one occasion I stepped into a jury box and a lawyer looked at me and dismissed me.
This time I was called along with I guess 60 or so other residents of the area, of mostly older folk, mixed gender and race.
The jury selection process
The group was divided, and our group entered a courtroom and sat in what I’ll call the gallery — though I’m sure that’s not what it’s called. Audience? I think not.
The judge went to great lengths to thank us for our service, to explain why serving is both a privilege as well as a responsibility of being a citizen, and to give a brief introduction to the players in the court case we might be impaneled to judge.
He introduced us to the court clerk, the transcriber, the bailiffs, the defendant and her attorney, and to the prosecution attorney.
He then told us that this case was a murder trial, and that the defendant was charged with colliding with another car while she was on drugs. The driver of the other car died.
He told us that because the defendant had pleaded not guilty, she was presumed innocent, and that the burden of proof was on the attorney from the District Attorney’s office.
He told us that we must come to a decision based on the evidence, and that we must listen carefully without forming an opinion as first the prosecution presented its case, and then the defense.
Then, the court clerk pulled names out to fill the jury box.
The judge asked each juror to give information about themselves — where they lived, what they did for a living, and the ages of their children.
He asked if any had been arrested and/or charged with impaired driving; or if any had been involved in an accident where an impaired driver was involved. He asked if any family member or neighbor or friend had.
The prosecuting attorney then asked follow-up questions, including whether or not jurors would be able to convict based on the evidence.
He then dismissed several jurors, and the clerk pulled names to fill those seats.
The cycle began again with the judge and then the prosecuting attorney, with one or two more jurors dismissed.
Finally the defense attorney asked questions, which included if any jurors had particular convictions about how drunk or impaired drivers should be treated legally. Again, two more jurors dismissed.
He asked if any jurors had contributed to organizations like Mothers Against Drunk Drivers. Two more dismissed.
My name was called to fill seat number 11.
“My name is Skip Marsden, and I am a reporter for the Hickory Daily News, and I have five children, ages 40, 34, 19, 14 and 10.”
The judge made a humorous comment.
The defense attorney stood.
“I believe we can save the court some time with this juror. The Hickory Daily News has written news reports concerning my client, and I ask that Mr. Marsden be excused.”
The prosecution had no problem with the request, and I stepped down and returned to the jury assembly room.
That was the way it was going to go. I would not be a juror this time, either, I thought.
To serve or not to serve: that is the question
There is a disparity among those called to serve on a jury. All feel inconvenienced. Some, downright angry.
One thin, tiny woman was clearly not happy to be inconvenienced, and was rude enough with various court personnel I thought she might get slapped with contempt.
While things in court are extremely polite (yes, Sir — or yes, Your Honor) — no one doubts the judge has the power to do what he wants within the law. And the law is very elastic in a courtroom where contempt and impoliteness are involved.
Most — if surveyed — would probably say they preferred to serve on a jury. And, when dismissed, leave the courtroom with a sullen demeanor.
Reasons for dismissal:
One woman was diabetic, and said at any time her blood sugars could cause her to lapse in her ability to concentrate for as long as a half-hour.
One man, a minister, said he had difficulty with the term “reasonable doubt.”
One man, a long-haul truck driver, said he was still upset after his house was broken in to 10 years ago.
Some jurors knew relatives of the defendants, or knew the witnesses, or had been in law enforcement.
The reasons for dismissal were as varied as were the prospective jurors.
The second courtroom jury was filled without my help. A lawsuit where a patient wanted damages from a surgeon.
Two and a half days later I walked into a third courtroom and a third case. It was the last case that would be tried that week, so anyone not selected was free to go.
I figured my job would likewise preclude me from this criminal case as well.
But, my name was called eventually, and I sat in juror seat number two. After giving my name, work and children’s ages, I waited for either lawyer to dismiss me.
Surely they will ask me a question and I will give the wrong response.
Didn’t happen. I was safe.
The judge asked us to stand, and swore us in.
I was impaneled, as were the other 11 jurors plus an alternative.
Tomorrow, Part Two: the trial
A woman in her thirties was charged with breaking and entering, larceny, possession of stolen property, and misrepresenting herself in order to gain something under false pretense. All felony charges.