February 15, 2006

That's Settled

I’m back! All that whining for nothing.

I parked in the municipal lot in Taunton, which turned out not to be too close to the district court. It was about a 5 minute walk, which made me a little late.

The metal detector was fun. I forgot to take all my metal stuff off in the car, so I had to empty lots of pockets. Nothing objectionable, but inconvenient. The guard was laid back, but professional.

I missed the beginning of the really boring video they show you. As one of the officers at the court said, “don’t worry about it.” The video is the same one they’ve been using for over a decade, so I’ve seen it. Plus, I’ve read the handbook, and I guess the video is a refresher.

When it was done, the friendly officer came back in the room and said: “Now wasn’t that wonderful?” He put Fox news Channel on the TV and we waited.

I looked around the room. There were 14 of us. 4 women, 10 men. The room would have accommodated three times as many people. One young guy in a hooded sweatshirt wearing a really thin black beard looked really nervous. The rest just looked tired, and some were taking a catnap. Slight anxiety kicked in and I felt a little warm claustrophobia, even in the large, reasonably comfortable room. I read to distract myself. (It was the Scarpetta novel. I decided that light reading would be best for repeated interruptions)

The judge soon came in — a large round-faced, jovial, white-haired man. He thanked us, told us they were sorting out the cases and said we were free to leave until they were done with that. About 45 minutes at the soonest. This was a pleasant surprise. The last time I was in this situation, I was told to stay put. But now the bailiff (I think she was a bailiff) was telling us we could walk to Dunkin’ Donuts if we wanted to.

Pretty much immediately, my anxiety evaporated. I took a leisurely walk north, past the DD to a gas station that sold stomach-calming ginger ale. Then I walked a circular route back to the municipal lot, getting a sense of the area. I emptied some of my excess metal in the car to facilitate easier court-reentry. Then I took an arcing route back to the courthouse, returning well within the allotted time.

More reading. People came and went (presumably to the facilities). Then, at sometime around 11, the judge returned and thanked us for showing up. We got a not-unpleasant speech about how our presence had helped cause the cases that day to come to settlements. And this being the case, we were now free to go. We had had served our purpose. No need to return now for at least 3 years.

All will be happy to know that I scurried my little fluffy tail right back to work. With a very brief stop at a bagel shop I had spotted on my walk, to pick up a sesame bagel, which I ate in the car.

I’m glad I didn’t read about B.O.B.’s 2.5 week trial until after I got back from today! That would have worried me. But I am jury-duty-free for another 3 years. And returned from the unfamiliar stresses of jury duty, to the familiar and mounting stresses of my mounting workload, still in progress.

Posted by James at February 15, 2006 11:56 AM
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I sat on a Grand Jury a few years ago. Even though it was a 4 month commitment (which turned out to be 2 days per month plus a handful of special sessions at the AG and county prosecutor's discretion) it seemed to go by fairly quickly. If I got to choose, I'd rather volunteer for a mostly known commitment like that over trial jury.

Posted by: Jim at February 15, 2006 1:32 PM

Oddly enough I've never been called to jury duty, even though I'm 32 and have been registered to vote and had a license (the two pools I'm told different states draw their jury lists from) since I was 18.

Posted by: DG at February 15, 2006 1:47 PM

Glad you helped spur the judicial system and still got to work. That will likely ease your stress levels.

Posted by: briwei at February 15, 2006 2:29 PM

DG- I'm sure they'll get to you. I hadn't ever been called either until I was 37 (almost 38). Everybody kept telling me it would be one day, 2-3 at the most. Then i got in the courtroom and realized that no one I had talked to had had a similar situation and I was in trouble. They stuffed all the jurors they had called for that day (>130, this was at Cambridge district) into a large courtroom and read some basic details of the case (it was a stabbing murder with an insanity plea). Then they started asking the questions that would eliminate people. Then they questioned everybody about their answers 1 by 1. Sending some home sending others to wait in the jury room. They got us down to 40 then brought us back into the courtroom. They impaneled the 1st 14 people and let the lawyers dismiss who they wanted. They went through a few cycles of this. I was put on the jury on the last cycle before they accepted the pool.

I arrived at 8:30 and didn't leave until after 5 that day (they did let us go while the individual questioning occured). That was by far the worst day. the trial itself was pretty cool (except for my spontaneous nosebleed during the questioning of an crime lab blood specialist) and the deliberations were interesting to say the least.

overall I'd actually say it was a very positive experience and I felt good about helping out the justice system.

Posted by: B.O.B. (bob) at February 15, 2006 3:11 PM

Last week on NPR, there was a very interesting interview with a defense lawyer. He talked about how in order to serve on a jury for a capital crime that could result in the death penalty, you have to declare up front whether you have reservations about supporting the death penalty under any circumstances.

Those who say yes, they do have a problem with the death penalty are automatically excused. The result, he said, is a jury that is predisposed to the death penalty, with no tempering "anti" voices.

Never thought about it that way, but he's right. That's not a good way to mete out justice.

Posted by: Patti M. at February 15, 2006 3:24 PM

Maynot be a good way to "mete out justice," Patti, but at least the audience gets that good old American satisfier: Vengeance.

Posted by: ThirdMate at February 15, 2006 3:34 PM

To quote Arlo Guthrie, "And I went up there, I said, "Shrink, I want to kill. I mean, I wanna, I
wanna kill. Kill. I wanna, I wanna see, I wanna see blood and gore and guts and veins in my teeth."

Posted by: Patti M. at February 15, 2006 3:43 PM

BTW - anybody interested in jury duty, the court accepts walk-ins. If you want to serve on a jury, apparently you can just walk in there. Maybe not always, but the Taunton district court announced on the call-in line that they were accepting.

So, anyone out there who hasn't had his or her fix... don't hold back.

Death penalty cases:

A reasonable person might respond "I am the type of person who likes to make a decision on the facts I am presented, rather than imagining hypotheticals."

I agree that weeding out death penalty opponents is probably done in a counterproductive way, if the purpose is to find reasonable, balanced peopel for the jury.

Posted by: James at February 15, 2006 3:55 PM

A reasonable person might respond "I am the type of person who likes to make a decision on the facts I am presented, rather than imagining hypotheticals."

You totally bogarted this from Alberto Gonzales!

Posted by: Patti M. at February 15, 2006 3:59 PM

I didn't know they took walk-ins. I wonder if I could have done that in Florida too. Being a walk-in juror would have been a decent use of my time when I was unemployed.

Posted by: Julie at February 15, 2006 4:53 PM

I did Federal Grand Jury in Boston when I was in college, and it was a month of calling in every day to see if I was needed. Then I did end up on a trial. The foreman of our jury had been on a trial before that. The one-day, one-trial deal is much better, IMO. Who can commit a month to jury duty?

I wonder if they pay walk-ins, Julie. It is another strange way of skewing the jury.

Posted by: Maggie at February 15, 2006 5:45 PM

Maggie - that sounds horrible. I didn't mind so much with the count/state Grand Jury since it was the same two days every month (Thu/Fri of the last full week as I recall) plus special sessions (which really were extraordinary circumstances for extraordinary times.)

Posted by: Jim at February 15, 2006 7:50 PM

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