Tag Archives: jury duty

Presiding Juror (The Aftermath)

statue of justiceThe twelve members of the jury walked back into the deliberation room, after we’d handed over our verdict and individually attested that we voted freely and according to the instructions from the court.

“Did you see his face,” asked one juror, meaning the defendant.

“He looked like the weight of the world came off his shoulders,” answered a juror. Kiffen was her name.

The mason grumbled. “He looks like he dodged a bullet.”

Soon thereafter the judge came into our room. He’d said he had a quick question for us, but we peppered him with ours first. They came out all in a barrage—why didn’t we hear from Grumpy and Stretch? why isn’t Officer Tony’s dashboard camera working? why was the testimony so vague? Did we just let a guilty man go free? What did you think about his guilt or innocence?

He tried to answer them in turn. He looked much smaller standing in front of us instead of occupying his perch above us, and his robes looked like they could smother him.

“Nobody can find Joaquim (Grumpy) or Stretch,” he said, looking like he was trying not to sound dismissive. “If we could have located them, we would have brought them in for questioning.”

Juror number 4—the woman who had sat in front of me the whole trial—asked why Stephanie wasn’t coached to be more assertive on the stand.

“Ms. Adele was brought here by officers, as a material witness. The prosecutor had to put out a warrant to get her here, and she stayed at a motel with a guard so that she would testify.”

Well, that explained the very large bailiff who’d accompanied her to the court. Read More…

Presiding Juror (Part 4)

College Place traffic stopThe criminal justice system in the United States seems to be founded on constraints. Who can get selected to serve on a jury. When the defendant can speak. Who can ask questions, and how those questions must be worded to be allowed in the courtroom. There are also the presumptions—the defendant is innocent until proven guilty, the jurors are presumed to be impartial, the judge is also presumed to be a fair referee in the battle between the opposing sides. Above all it is expected that justice will prevail. But nobody in the average criminal trial defines “justice,” even as they go to pains to map out the boundaries of “reasonable doubt.”

One of the constraints we faced in this trial was that we were not privy to any of the pretrial motions—by definition if an attorney is seeking to exclude evidence on the grounds it would predispose the jury to one side or the other, we cannot know the motion occurred. I suppose in a more metropolitan or populated area ducking the coverage of a trial would be more of a challenge, but in Walla Walla, there has been scarcely a peep about Skyler Glasby or Stephanie Adele leading up to or during the two-day trial. With only the evidence from people’s testimony and four exhibits from the trial in front of us, we looked to the closing arguments for some new revelation that would help us decide who was driving the car during a hit and run earlier this year.

No such revelations came to us. Read More…

Presiding Juror (Part 2)

When last we left our intrepid Walla Walla courtroom, a jury had been at last selected for the trial of State of Washington vs. Skyler Glasby. Twelve jurors and one alternate were ready to dive into the case, all with stenographer’s pads and freshly sharpened number two pencils at the ready. The judge looked at us, seeming to assess each of us as individuals. Five of us had on purple clothes. Three were men. All of us were white. Every single one, white. Eight of us wore glasses. We had discussed, with the judge and attorneys for each side, our understanding of “reasonable doubt,” the unrealism of NCIS, CSI, and Criminal Minds, the weighing of disparate testimony, and the gravity of our responsibility to remain fair and impartial.

Walla Walla courthouse in the 1920s: postcardHe gave us a look, tilted his head to one side, and then told us we would be breaking for lunch.

“The trial will begin with opening arguments,” he said, and it was clear he’d said this hundreds of times before. “We will begin at 1:30, so be back in the jury room at 1:15. My standard is that if you are here fifteen minutes early, then you are on time.”

Okay, tight ship there, bucko, I thought. This made him my people, this little insistence on punctuality. This is my cloth, and I wear it well.

We stood in the jury room for a couple of minutes, waiting for the bailiff to let us out.

“So how many children do you have,” Juror Number 3 asked the woman in purple paisley. The defense attorney had asked her a question during voir dire as if she had 18 kids at home. I admit, I was curious.

“Five,” she said. Read More…

Presiding Juror (Part 1)

I call myself a humorist. I make a piss-poor trade in identifying the funny stuff in the midst of garbage, sadness, strife, etc. I find humor to be life-saving, especially when it bubbles up in the midst of a gender transition, say. So I went into the jury summons process with an eye toward spotting the bits of funny. And somewhat paradoxically, the criminal justice system, even in the tiny universe of Walla Walla, has its side-splitting moments and instances that are absolutely chilling.

jury duty ecardIt started with a perforated postcard in the mail, back in early April, saying I was on the docket for June 2013. Walla Walla’s Superior Court uses a system in which jurors need to be on call to make an appearance on any given date during the month. Opening up the sealed card, one will find a short questionnaire which is supposed to be mailed back to the court right away. It tells the court if there are dates one can’t serve (I said I’d be out of town after a certain date in June), if one is or is not a United States citizen (Susanne gets out of all her jury duty for being Canadian), a resident of the county, and older than 18. It asks if one can read, speak, and write in English (illiterates need not apply?), and asks things about whether one is currently employed, and if so, what kind of work it is. There were other things on there, but I’ve forgotten them. Read More…

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