Thursday, August 14, 2008

What's Wrong With Education In America Part 3: Adults

Could someone explain to me what possible benefit a defendant could achieve by going to trial in a criminal case but waiving the right to a jury and having the case be decided on by one judge?

Mr Funk, I'm looking at you.

I've been waiting 13 months for this. I got called to jury duty in the beginning of July 2007 for a trial in October of that year. I sent in the deferral card asking to serve in August of 07 but if they couldn't swing it then to make it August of 08. I got assigned to show up today. So for more than a year I've had this day where I had to be awake, showered and in Newburyport by 8:30 am hanging over me. I rolled into the jury room at 8:33 am. They had already started roll call but were only in the B's. I was on time.

This was my second time getting called in the last decade or so. It looked pretty much the same as last time. The room looked like the break room in an office park, white tables and chairs designed more for stacking than sitting. The jury pool was a pretty fair cross section of New Englanders weighted heavily toward baby boomer women. There were about 30 of us. Everyone was white and middle class. When they called our names we had to turn in a questionnaire asking some personal details about our education, family, criminal past and if we may not be an impartial juror. I answered that last question and for the reason put that I may have to obey my Freemasons oath if given the Grand Hailing sign of distress, murder and treason excepted. I was assigned number 26.

The clerk gave us some instructions about what to expect for the day. We listened. He left to get the judge. We read books and magazines for about 5 minutes. Most of the jury pool had coffees from Dunkin Donuts. I had a Coke. The judge came in. He was a handsome man in his late 40's, He had that just beginning to turn grey but wouldn't be considered the creepy old man at the night club look. I could listen to that man read the phone book and find it fascinating. He was clear, concise, articulate and funny. He's probably given that same speech 500 times but made it sound like it was a casual conversation between a couple guys sitting on the deck at the yacht club. We all listened to him carefully hoping that he'd actually tell us what is going on and what the trial will be about. No such luck. It was mostly about how important jury duty is and thank you for not blowing it off. Still, that man could sell tea to a Chinaman. He must have been a great lawyer.

Then they showed "the movie." It was a 15 minute slice of tedium. It was supposed to explain our duty as jurors and what to expect from the day. About half the pool watched it as if they were watching an episode of 'Law and Order'. I figure it was conditioning. The TV set has a courtroom on it. Where's that guy who sells Robot Insurance? When he comes on he'll kick some ass!

The rest of the room dropped their heads back into their books. A couple people went to the bathroom. One young woman, a cute 20 something bottle blonde put her head down on the table top and I'm pretty sure she fell asleep. I later saw that her late 90's Ford Explorer had her name on the license plate. There's something sad about a vanity plate on a crappy car.

The fate of this hapless criminal defendant is going to be decided by a room full of people who are one of two things, conditioned to turn into zombies when a TV is turned on or have the kind of ADHD where they can't even pay attention to a short film.

Maybe it's because we're all the kind of good citizen who shows up for jury duty. We consider ourselves smart and maybe a little bit jaded. Call me silly but unless you do it for a living, if you're going to decide someones fate maybe you should pay attention to the instructions. Hopefully the folks who watched the video can fill the rest of us in when the time comes. Truth be told, I did watch the video but only to see if they actually told us anything useful. There was some bit about how important it is to show up for jury duty. A bit about what to expect in the courtroom. It grooved on some of the legal terms we would hear and what the general procedure would be. There was absolutely nothing about why a jury is important for the protection of individual rights and nothing about jury nullification. You know, the reasons why we're actually here. It's just as well there wasn't. I don't think the jury pool would have cared or even comprehended such abstractions. They certainly wouldn't have understood what it all means after ignoring the pretrial infomercial in front of them.

As for my day as a juror, after the film we were told that the case will go to trial but we would be given a 45 minute break. I don't know why we were given a break from the strenuous work of sitting and reading magazines. I hope the court clerk is getting some kind of kick back because the Dunkin Donuts across the street must get mad business from the courthouse giving us just enough time to cross the street and get a snack but not enough time to drive anywhere else.

We were instructed to return by 10:15. At 11:00 we were sent home. This is a one chamber courthouse and we were told that there was only one trial scheduled today. I have no idea what the trial was actually going to be about but there were a lot of police cars from Merrimac in the parking lot and there were a bunch of kids in front of the courthouse smoking. It could be related to some teen drinking arrests last spring. I'll try to remember next week to check the Newburyport newspaper for the court filings.

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Anonymous TommyOkktane said...

I actually had to sit on a jury a few years back for a rather significant (at least with respect to the defendant's freedom) trial. I can't even begin to describe how utterly scary the deliberations were. Three quarters of the group remained completely quiet, looking utterly pissed off that they had to waste a such nice day sitting on a trial, and one of the two vocal members (aside from me) was ready to call the defendant guilty because - in her words - "he creeps me out." Seriously three of us decided this guy's fate over the next ten or so years while the rest of the jury were ready to go along with whatever got them out of there fast enough.

I hope to god I never have to face a jury.

Aug 14, 2008, 10:09:00 PM  

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