Friday, February 04, 2011

The Jury's Out

Well, actually - the jury's in....I'm just not on it.

I was summoned for jury duty - beginning this past Monday.  I've been called twice before and served on one jury, but never being a stay-at-home mom with a two year old at home.  I really didn't want to go at all - but didn't want to neglect my duty either.  I figured odds were with me and I'd hopefully get sent home after a day or so.

What was I thinking? Since when do I have the odds in my favor when big things are at stake.  I should have known better.  We were informed on the first day that there was really big case on the docket. Not only was it a big case, it was a big high profile murder case that was expected to last at least two weeks.  I started panicking as I was not at all prepared for that much time away from my child.

They had us all fill out a lengthy questionnaire regarding this trial and I did my best to make myself look as undesirable as possible.  (Not that I had any idea how to really do that.)  I did note that I was very concerned about the length of the trial and said that I had child care for this week (my mom) but the next week that wouldn't be the case.

Out of the 300 or so in the jury pool they called 50 or so to be considered for the big case.  Guess who was in that 50?  Lucky me.  Out of the 50, they called 20 or so for individual interviews because of something we had written on our 4 page questionnaire. Yep.  I was one of them.

Apparently, they were concerned about my comment I made childcare.  I was sworn in and had to take the witness stand.  I was interviewed by the D.A. and the defense attorney and the judge.  I cannot begin to tell you how demeaning it was.  I felt completely belittled by their questions and comments.  "Why can't you just get someone else to watch your child next week."  I told them that was not possible and the only alternative was for my husband to take off of work - which may be made complicated by the unforeseen issues happening at the plant.  They were unimpressed.  I told them that I had waited a long time to become a parent and that my choice to stay home was so that I could be there for her and that I could be the one meeting her needs.  They were again, unimpressed.  It's not that I wanted a medal, but I did want a little respect and validation.

The defense attorney asked, "So, Ms. Lewis, are you going to be completely ticked off at the court if you are called to serve on this jury - making you unable to render a fair and impartial verdict?"  Of course I was irritated that anyone would have questioned my ability to be fair - and answered, "No."  It wasn't until later that I realized I was mistaken.  When I returned to the jury pool, I learned that another juror was released because she was a middle school teacher and serving as a juror would prove to be a hardship.  My mom was a teacher. I completely get that. But, sheesh - I have a two year old that I have been away from for more than a day or choice - not because I can't find a babysitter.

Back in the jury pool they called the first 14 to be questioned.  They went in at 11am, broke for lunch and were question until after 6pm.  After lunch the rest of us were told to go home and come back in the morning.  The next day, they again, took the first 14I was at the end of the list, so I figured they'd probably never get to me. What was I thinking?  They took the first fourteen in to be questioned.  They went in at 11am and stayed til 6pm.  They reported back that next morning with the rest of us and were questioned for another 3 hour.  Eight hours of questioning for 14 people! And that was only the first panel of juror. That's eight full episodes of Law and Order. Can you imagine?

This lengthy questioning of perspective jurors apparently isn't usual.  It certainly wasn't my experience of my first jury experience 20 years ago.  But this was a criminal case. We were informed that the defendant was charged with 2nd degree murder. The victim was a 20 year old marine just back from Iraq.  The gravity of the situation and the responsibility of the chosen jury was great.

After lunch on Wednesday, the judge called the next 14 jurors for questioning...and he wanted the rest of us in the courtroom while that went on....hoping that listening would make our questioning take less time.  Meanwhile they called another 25 jurors from the original 300 to come back in. Holy cannoli.  It became clear that they wouldn't be anywhere near starting the trial until next week.

To witness the questioning of the next panel was interesting, entertaining, disheartening, and frustrating.  There was a lot of 'explaining' about he process, the charge, the situation, the law, etc. threaded between all of the personal questioning.  I just felt terrible that some of the people who had to share highly personal, emotional facts about their lives, jobs, families. A lot of the questions were insensitive and presumption were unfair.  It is such a shame that the experience of many jurors is that they are being accused of a crime. On the other hand, some of the jurors REALLY enjoyed the spotlight.  One after another all but started 'trying out' to make the jury.  It was hilarious to watch the dynamics - but frustrating to see how much time it was taking.

First it was D.A.'s turn to interrogate the individual jurors.  It took him over four hours to get through the fourteen.  Then, the defense attorney began. He only got through two jurors before the judge finally let us go.  It was 6:15 pm.  I got home 15 minutes before Gianna's bedtime. 

Meanwhile, the weather reports were grim for the end of the week and the judge said that the court would likely be closed on Friday - and that we'd have to come Saturday.  You can imagine the reaction THAT got!  And even though the city was shutting down on Thursday, we were told to show up to continue questioning. Lovely.

Thursday morning we started at 9:00 am and the defense attorney finished the rest of the 14 jurors. Me and the remaining 11 hadn't even begun our rounds of questioning...and I was getting nervous.  By this time I was getting an idea of what they were going to focus on with me and I was practicing my answers in my head.  I had a couple of speeches brewing that were going to be fabulous.

At 11 o'clock once we returned after a short recess.  The judge said, "Well folks, I've got good news and I've got good news."  We all looked around a little nervous and excited. 
"Ladies and gentlemen, we have a jury. (He named the ones who were chosen from the current panel.) We will begin the trial Monday.  You are all dismissed."

Hallelujah!  We were thrilled.  And then on our way out I caught a glimpse of the young man being accused. And then I caught a glimpse of the victim's mother.  My life's temporary inconvenience was ovcr - but their lives' tragedies were continuing.

As the trial begins next week, I feel called to pray for all those involved in this sensitive case.


  1. Wow! I had a feeling that you were summoned to that specific case. It seems to me that this specific case is going to be very long and emotionally draining, especially for the victim's family and friends.

    Also, I have a feeling that I would have never been selected due to the fact that the murderer, in my opinion, should have life in prison, with no parole...ever. The whole process sounds very time-consuming and tedious, and I'm sure you were checking the time and thinking about Gianna constantly. I'm happy that you weren't selected, but I still want to be on a jury one day. :D

  2. Wow Maria! Sounds intense! Glad you are off the hook and get to be home with Gianna next week. Doesn't being away from her just a little make your time with her so much more special?!!!!!


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