Thursday, October 12, 2006

Dodging A Bullet

I got called for jury duty this week. Nobody likes jury duty. I have served on one jury way back when I was in college and it was a unique experience, but I was not eager to repeat it.

As I’ve mentioned before, Howard County is a pretty low crime area. We get maybe five murders a year as compared to Baltimore City where five murders in a week is a cause for celebration. Many counties around us have gone to one day/one trial pools, but the number of jury trials in Howard County doesn’t warrant that. Jury duty in Howard County puts you on call for a week.

Since Monday was Columbus Day, I got a pass for that, but I had to show on Tuesday. They made the appearance time 2 pm, which struck me as odd, but at least I got in a half day of work. They had called a pool of 81 people for a single trial. I was hoping it would be for Brandy Britton, the post-doc hooker, but her court date wouldn’t be until the 24th, so I was out of luck. I would have killed for the chance to explain to the judge why there was no way I could be impartial.

The defendant was accused of stabbing his girlfriend. He was a middle-aged scruffy looking guy and had worn a ratty denim jacket for his court appearance. The dozen or more witnesses were all either cops or medical personnel. Now I understand the whole “innocent until proven guilty” thing, but it didn’t seem it would be that hard to prove. When the judge said the trial would last three days, I got nervous in the service. I did not want this trial.

They asked a bunch of questions and we got brought up individually to explain our answers. I tried three gambits to make myself unappealing short of outright lying.

  • I knew one of the witnesses. His son and my son both play saxophone in the high school band. They asked if that would affect my level of trust in his answers. No.
  • I had been on a previous jury. It was nearly twenty years ago for armed robbery and I voted guilty. Hopefully this sour me for the defense.
  • Economic hardship. My company does not pay me for jury duty. I am allowed to make up the time with overtime or take vacation. The judge thought poorly of this excuse and when about 30 people got sent away I wasn’t one of them.
Then the potential jurors got called up individually for selection. The defense struck about every other person and was up to candidate number 56 when the jury and alternates finally got picked. Since my number was 71, I was home free.

The selection went until 6:30 which meant we were the only people other than security and housekeeping left in the building. In the four hours I was there, I managed to get about two hours of work done, take a nap, and read a couple of magazines. They didn’t call me for the rest of the week, so I am home free for the next five years. Yay, me.

Blatant Comment Whoring™: Tell a jury duty horror story and I will tell the tale of my one and only trial next week.

Update (10/14/06): Here is the story of the trial I would have been on. The guy ambushed his wife and attacked her with a machete. A machete.

Also, the crime scene is about a half mile from my son's school and the attempted murder occured within an hour of me dropping my kid off for class.


Anonymous said...

I was on a jury for a day-long trial last year in Baltimore City. It was every bit as depressing as you would expect for a drug conspiracy trial in Baltimore. The police had run a sting operation, buying drugs and then arresting the perps; the person who actually took the money and handed the drugs over to the cop had a trial of his own, whereas three people that the cops had said were part of the operation had a separate trial -- the one we were the jury for. They were accused of serving as "touts" (i.e. signaling to people driving into the neighborhood that drugs were for sale) and directing the cop to the actual dealer.

It was all over quickly, and the only thing shoddier than the defense attorneys (three separate lawyers, maybe public defenders, maybe not) were the prosecutor (who looked to be about 23 and seemed way, way over his head) and police work (missing records, difficulty identifying the people involved, etc.). The fact that there had been some recent scandals involving the police arresting people out on the street en masse didn't help things. We the jury agreed that though it wouldn't surprise us if the accused were guilty, there was no way we could say that within a reasoanble doubt.

I have to admit that I was a little shocked by the attire of the defendents (two young men, one middle-aged woman, all African-American). All were wearing the inner-city uniform: baggy blue jeans that only go down to the ankles (I've seen these recently referred to as "men's capris") and oversized white t-shirts. Didn't everyone used to wear suits to court back in the day, or is that only in the movies? I understand that these people are capital-p poor but you can get a decent-looking suit at the Goodwill for $15. If I were a defense attorney, I think I'd have a bunch on hand.

Not that we jurors were any better, sartorialy. I felt enough pangs of civic responsiblity to wear long pants, even though it was during a real hot spell (and good thing, too, as it was air conditioned like you wouldn't believe in the courtroom). Most other people didn't bother; the only people who were really nicely turned out were a pair of Orthodox Jews. One guy wore a t-shirt that said "I [heart] PARTY GIRLS" and got yelled at by the judge. Perhaps we all thought that if they dressed like slobs, they wouldn't get picked for the jury. It didn't work. One of the women who got picked to be on the jury with me wasn't wearing a bra on the day we were selected. (She did the next day for the actual trial, thank God.)

Oh, and in the middle of the trial, one of the juror's cell phones went off. That was pretty much the high point of the whole thing.

Anonymous said...

Man, in California there isn't (or didn't use to be) any of this "one day/one trial" stuff. When you get called, it's for ten working days and you're usually expected to show up. Most counties have a system where you can phone in to find out if they need you, but where I lived the case load was always high enough that people always needed to come in. And unless you're an hourly worker, companies are required to release you to jury duty and pay you.

I got called to duty a couple times, but only the last time about 10 years ago did I get put on a jury. First I got called for a single-car accident, drunk driving case. We heard the prosecution's opening arguments, broke for lumch, and when we came back the defendant had pleaded out. Then I got called for a civil case the next day. Something about a motel renting a room to some underage kids and them getting harassed by gnag members or something. The motel failed to follow their own policy, so I had no problem deciding against them, but the plaintiffs got too much money.

Now that I think about it, there was one other jury about a year later (no 5 years of freedom in California). that one was a restraining order violation. White trash bad neighbors. Entertaining in a Jerry Springer kind of way. That wound up a mistrial because of the way the judge answered one of our questions.

One way to avoid getting picked is make friends with a cop or two; it makes the defense very suspicious of you. My step-uncle was a cop and I had a friend who was in the Naval Investigative Service. Yello, you obviously didn't pitch your voice right in your first gambit. You could have said no in a way that made it sound like you would believe every word out of the kid's mouth or that you thought he was an obnoxious little snot who needed to be horse whipped.

yellojkt said...

I threw the form away, but the jury notice had very detailed dress code suggestions including no jeans, shorts, or tee shirts. Pretty much everyone followed them to one degree or another.

The not getting paid for jury duty is a big problem with me and if I made a fuss they would probably have to change the policy. Now the point is moot. I was only out of the office for four hours and only need to make up two.

Elizabeth said...

When you get called for jury duty here it is for a month! I've never been called, but my friend’s husband was on the jury for the Rachelle Waterman trial. She's the young girl from Craig, Alaska who conspired to murder her mother. We had a bunch of news organizations from the lower 48 up here. It was a bit of a circus.

Jennine said...

Call me crazy but I've always wanted to serve on a jury. I think the judicial process is facinating. I envy your experience.

Mooselet said...

I don't have a story of my own, but I remember my grandmother being called for jury duty... 5 years after she died! She probably would've been more rational dead, come to think of it, but they'd have a heck of a time getting here there.

Anonymous said...

Why don't you tell us more about
the up coming Brandy Britton hooker trial?

You live in the same city, what's
going on with it now?

Have you read all the comments on
"Brandy's Back" update from May 21,

Anonymous said...

Hey Yello, we were payed $15 a day to be on the jury. Big money! Woo hoo! I bet you that you fancy types in HoCo get a lot more than that, so I don't see what you're complaining bout. We were also given the opportunity to have a little piece of paper saying that we were in fact really on jury duty notarized so that our bosses wouldn't think we were using the "jury duty" excuse to get an little R&R in. They seemed baffled that I didn't want one (apparently they didn't really grasp the concept of "self-employed").

Actually, after reading that story, I don't know if I can refer to HoCo as "fancy" any more.


yellojkt said...

Jury duty in Howard County only pays $10 and they were taking donations for some charity if you didn't want it. I kept my cash to cover the lunch I wouldn't have bought otherwise.

The attack happened about a half mile from my son's school and within an hour of me dropping him off for class.

Lots of places in HoCo are far from fancy.

Anonymous said...

Alameda County, CA, has one-day one-trial. I've gotten called up pretty much every year since I moved here, but I've only needed to go in once (I was dismissed around 1 PM; the highlight of the day was a false alarm, which meant we all had to file out of the building and then go through security all over again). I got my annual summons a couple of months ago, and since it was for the week we were due to leave on vacation, I managed to get it pushed back... 'til Halloween! Since Oakland is in my county, I'm sure jury duty here would be more like Baltimore and less like HoCo. (I got summoned at least 3 times when I lived in Baltimore, and had to go in, but never made it onto a jury -- never even as far as the jury selection phase.)