Monday, December 05, 2011

Jury duty

The phone rang at 7:30 this morning. My first thought was that I had forgot to call Aleah's school to tell them she was going to be late/absent.   She woke up in a dreadful funk and was coughing, wheezing, and oozing, so I sent her back to bed and figured I would bring her to school when she was feeling better.   The woman on the other end of the phone asked for me by my full name, like my mother would when I was in trouble,  and reminded me that I hadn't called in for jury duty on Friday.  The Judge was expecting me at 8:30 she said.  I told her there was no way I could make it.  I had the kids.  They were sick.  She said the judge could hold me in contempt and send the marshalls with a summons.  I decided I could try.

I called a couple of families with young kids from church and found no one that could take the kids on short notice.  Then I remembered the Shooks - no kids, but retired and home.  They agreed, I bundled them in clothes and coats, dropped them screaming at their front door, and drove to Des Moines.

I was already a half hour late.  I parked in the parking garage next to the courthouse, and then realized I needed to go another mile to the federal courthouse.  I didn't have time to hunt for more parking, so I ran.  Wheezing through security, the guard informed me that it was against federal law to bring my cell phone inside and I would have to return it to my vehicle.  I was over a half hour late and didn't want to run all the way back  so I stashed it under some dried grass next to the river.  I felt like I was burying evidence.

I raced upstairs, checked in, sprinted down to the courtroom for rollcall.  Made it.  Then waited for an hour until the judge, the defendent, the lawyers, and police settled in.  There were two plainclothes policemen sitting in opposite corners.  Each of them were checking their email on their blackberries.  Apparently the ban on cell phones only applies to civilians.

The judge was in his sixties.  He gave very clear instructions about the indictment, the commitment and responsibility of being a juror, and then they turned what looked like a wooden bingo contraption and drew names.  Only half of us would be chosen initially.  The rest would wait, and assuming that the lawyers didn't exclude all of the rest would be free to go.  Of course, my name was on the top of the list.

Each of us were asked about our age, jobs, family, places we lived the last 10 years,  and if we had any reasons for being excused.  I had already discussed my situation with the clerk and she told me that it probably wasn't good enough to keep me off the jury so I didn't mention it.  Then they followed up with specific questions about previous court cases we had been involved with.  One fellow had two felonies, he  was a little bitter about it.  Apparently the police overstretched their bounds, so he said.  Some of the jurors worked together in the same company.  One woman had a vacation in California scheduled.  He asked if she could rearrange her flights.  We had filled out forms and mailed them in weeks ago.  He asked me follow up questions about Nicaragua, my educational background in genetics, and whether I had ever been arrested.  I told them about getting arrested as a kid driving an ice cream truck and getting robbed in Nicaragua.  That got a chuckle.

Each set of lawyers asked further questions.  The prosecutor tried to exclude the felon.  His motion was denied since enough time had passed that he was eligible to serve.  The defense asked repeatedly to each juror if we understood that the defendant was innocent until proven guilty and whether we agreed that the burden of proof was on the prosecution.  He was a more personable lawyer than the prosecutor.  He asked me again about Nicaragua.  He asked us if we were biased by cultures or lifestyles that are not directly related to the case that may be distasteful for us.  I raised my hand and asked him if he meant that we were going to need to judge whether certain lifestyle choices were related to the case given evidence presented by the prosecution.  He clarified and asked me more questions.

Then we waited, while the attorneys passed lists of jurors back and forth between them.

The judge finally announced around lunch time the final jury selections.  I was free to go.  Thank goodness.  I didn't feel like arranging babysitting and spending this whole time off as a juror.


Leila said...

Oh, goodness. I'm glad they didn't like you. :) I miss you.

Anonymous said...

You wrote, "I raised my hand and asked him if he meant that we were going to need to judge whether certain lifestyle choices were related to the case given evidence presented by the prosecution." This response was very shrewd. Rather than answer the question directly, you questioned its premise. That probably threw them off.

I hope you got your phone back.


Brian G. said...

It was still in the grass when I got out. Thank goodness. I would have hated to explain that to my boss.