In DC I get a jury summons every two years. On most of these occasions the case has been a drug related offense and once I mention that I’m in recovery they excuse me, they never say “Oh you’re in a twelve step program you can’t be impartial” but they’ve never let me stay. I think I could be impartial in a drug or alcohol related case, I can differentiate between my own experience and events in other peoples lives… right? On a few of the times I’ve been called I was dismissed almost immediately with a group of other potential jurors, perhaps a judge was on vacation that day. I was even called once to be a member of a grand jury, I think it was, where each night before 6:00 I had to call a number to see if I had to be present at a jury the next morning – that was like two weeks and I’m glad I didn’t get chosen for that.
This time I was hoping for the usual result, maybe get released no later than 3:00 – but that was not to be. When the second group of jurors was being called my number was selected and I got in line with everyone else and waited, and waited some more. Then they sorted us by some means that was not apparent to us and marched us into the court room. I was seated in the jury box in seat number 9 and never moved from that spot, I kept waiting and waiting but they never asked me to move to the audience. The judge, avery efficient no nonsense type lady, asked us ten questions that might get us excused from the case. I can’t remember most of the questions but they were like: do you recognize anyone on the witness list? have you or anyone in your immediate family been charged within the last ten years for resisting arrest, property damage, reckless endangerment or …, and if there were any reason you felt you couldn’t serve on the jury (sick kid, wedding, whatever). I honestly couldn’t answer any of the questions “yes” so I didn’t. The judge still called each member of the jury up to the bench, one by one for about an hour and a half to ask if they had any of the questions answered yes – in that time I did get to go out to lunch after I talked to her. That afternoon they played musical chairs with the jury, pulling this person out and replacing them with another they shuffled folks about five times before the judge finally let us know that those of us in the jury box were the “winners”.
My fellow jurors (12 with two alternates) and I all listened intently to the judge explain all the rules as the trial started, she was telling us to turn off our electronic devices when her own cell phone beeped and she smiled and said, this is exactly why. She explained that the lawyers could say lots of different things in their opening and closing statements, but those were statements and beliefs not evidence. We were to judge the case based on the evidence and while the attorney might believe that what they are saying is true, if it’s not presented as evidence then we should not consider it to be so. I could be messing this up, but this is what I interpreted her saying. The judge then read off a long list of charges for the defendant, a young looking african-american male, evading arrest, property damage, reckless driving… there were a lot.
We then heard the opening statement from the government, the prosecutor seemed nice enough, talked clearly and smiled an awful lot. The defense opted not to give an opening statement, which is their right. Before we knew it we started to hear testimony from the first witness called by the government. A police officer one of two that were involved in the incident came and answered the prosecutions questions amidst the objections and questions from the defense and occasionally prompted by the judge who could probably tell we (the jury) were already getting tired of the mundane nature of the questions. The defense questioned the witness next and did manage to poke holes into his testimony. The defense attorney was an older african-american woman who took a few minutes to get out of her chair and a few more just to get to the bench for private discussions – all the jurors mentioned it or giggled when talking about it in the jury room.
We had a break and when we came back there was a new officer on the stand who’s answers to the same questions were remarkably different from the previous officer. There was even a large map where the first officer placed stickers where the suspect was first seen, where he jumped a fence and where he was apprehended but the second officer placed his stickers in different spots blocks away. One officer said it was too dark to see in the vehicle, the other said he saw three or four people in it…. it was really kind of funny and it took a bit of effort not to giggle.
Then the day came to an end and we were asked to return the next day for a 10:00 a.m. start, getting into the courthouse through the security line can take a good 30 minutes if its backed up.
All 14 of us were there by 10:00 and we sat in the jury room for 45 more minutes before we were called into the courtroom. Once there the judge apologized for keeping us waiting and then explained that all but two of the charges were dropped from this trial. All we had left to rule on was reckless driving and evading arrest. We had heard the judge talk to the attorneys at the bench – we could hear in spite of the white noise machine and she had berated the prosecutor for trying to prove charges without any evidence to back it up.
We then were treated to closing arguments from the government then the defense and then a rebuttal closing from the government. Lots of statements that had no basis in the evidence that was presented, lots of boasting and such but nothing that told me this kid was even in the car.
The judge then revealed that the two alternate jurors were to be excused now and that those two jurors had been picked at random before the jury selection process had even begun. The two jurors were #11 and #9. So that was it, I was excused and sent home, they told me if something were to happen to one of the jurors in deliberations I might be called to fill their place.
I didn’t get to discuss the case with my fellow jurors, I’d like to think that they also hadn’t seen any actual evidence linking the defendant to the crime. I’d like to think they remembered it’s “innocent until proven guilty”. But, I know that people perceive things very differently and what I saw as Keystone cops they might have thought of brilliant work… you just never know.
I’m glad that I got to serve. Was it inconvenient? sure. But I hope that if I’m unfortunate enough to end up on trial for something (it’ll likely be murder) that people would have an open mind and examine the evidence before deciding my guilt or innocence.