27 April, 2011

Jury Duty

We finished up our fifth day as jurors with a verdict.

I thought to describe my stint as a juror (in my county). Because the process was fascinating even as we wallowed in tedium.
This was my third call-up in four years and I had a feeling that I would be picked this time.

In our county, we call the jury hotline the night prior to see if our juror number is to report for duty the next day.
I started calling  Friday evening prior to the Monday jury date. My number was fairly low but was not called.
On Monday night, I repeated the process and  Wednesday yielded my number.

You cannot bring anything weapon-ish into the courthouse so you are pretty much restricted to a book to pass the time. Before the magic 'orientation', your time at this point does not count. However, If you get to the 'orientation' point, you cannot be called up for another 24 months.

Our jury pool was several hundred and the docket had quite a few cases. I made the first list and we had to line up in the hallway in numerical order. We were then marched outside, around the block, to the courthouse, where we divested ourselves of phones, belts, our jury button & anything else metal. We could carry opened water bottles inside but we had to sip out of the water (to prove it was safe). The metal detectors ran us through one at a time and as soon as we were all through, we lined up again in numerical order and we were sent upstairs to our courtroom.
Jury selection:
In the jury box were 12 possible jurors and another 21 were in the witness/spectator area. The judge talked to us about the case (sex abuse) and that he expected it to last five days. He then took care of anybody who felt they should be excused. The number one excuse was difficulty in finding child care. The next batch were people who thought they would have difficulty with the subject matter. This did not automatically excuse you; the judge listened to each person and then said you could stay or you could go.
Both lawyers were then  given a chance to ask questions  so they could select the 14 jurors. 12 plus two alternates.
We then filed back out to the Holman building to wait upon the lawyers decision. My number was called and I was on the jury.

We started the trial that afternoon after lunch and went through three long days of testimony and evidence. Both the defense and the prosecuting attorneys repeated points multiple times. We were allowed to take notes but as we didn't know the attorneys' motives in bringing up, for the fifth time, having a witness say the same thing, sometimes you didn't know that particular notation would be important. We also didn't know who would testify nor how many witnesses would be called. Attention lapsed, pictures and doodles were drawn. Arguments on paper to fill the time. Multiple recesses as the judge and attorneys discussed a legal matter.
We could not ask for clarification which proved difficult. We also could NOT discuss the case with our fellow jurors. Not until we arrived at the deliberation portion of the trial. As a juror, you are not allowed to talk about the case with family, friends or co-workers either. Nor are you to utilize the internet to get background on the trial.

In our windowless juror room, we could talk of our jobs and bosses, our interests and hobbies (yarnbombing!), our kids and where we lived. I cannot imagine how much more chatting you could do with your fellow jurors on a longer trial - like the gentleman sitting behind me on the bus Friday night who was on his second week in a six week trial.
We finished the trial late in the day Tuesday. We were given instructions by the judge as to what 'beyond a reasonable doubt' meant and that 'any witness whose testimony we believed was sufficient'. This is a  particularly difficult concept. You do not need to be 100% absolutely positively sure of guilty/not guilty. You need to have a moral certainty but the reasonable doubt could be 98% sure. We also needed to have ten out of twelve jurors for the verdict.
If we could not agree or get to 10/12, this is called a hung jury. In this case, they may redo the trial or let it go.
We started the deliberations late in the day and quickly established we were 8 for guilty and 4 had reasonable doubt.

I can tell you about the case now as we have reached a verdict.
This case involved a 9 year old girl, accusing her great-uncle of sexually abusing her.  Touching in a  sexual manner with or without clothes on is a first degree offense under Oregon law when it involves a minor under 14 years of age.
The case basically amounted to a she said vs. his not guilty plea.

We, as jurors, are directed to only consider testimony and evidence as we deliberate. We cannot speculate as to why certain witnesses are not called, or use in our deliberations our personal biases.
This was why certain possible jurors were excused based on their previous personal experience with pedophiles.

The 9 year old disclosed this event as having happened a couple of years in the past. Much was made of by the attorneys about her extended family, who I swear, were all cousins. Everyone involved was related (doubly-related). Her bio-mom used meth. Her dad, who she lived with, used marijuana often. The girl was hospitalized a week or so after her disclosure as being toxic with marijuana. The prosecuting attorney had her step-mom and dad offer the barest of answers and they relied heavily on "I don't know" answers. The key component  of the trial was the 9 year old's testimony and her taped interview with the Children's center in Oregon City.
(As an aside, putting my 9 year old on the stand would NEVER happen. Several of us were appalled at how unprotected this little girl was).
Her testimony was compelling and most of us believed her. The minority thought she had  possibly been coached.

For the defense, the attorney called witnesses but not the defendant. NO character witnesses were brought forth to defend the defendant. Witnesses were called but their testimony gave us a lot of confusion as to the time lines. The little girl has lived in multiple places, as well as with grandma (twice) where the uncle also lived. The girl has had multiple moms over the course of her nine years.
The defendant lived with his sister (the girl's grandma), and was unmarried. He worked in the family business on a swing shift. Typically he left for work at 2pm and came home sometime after midnight. He then would stay up until 7am, drinking alcohol and utilizing the jacuzzi. He was known to wear just a robe around the house. He looked grand-fatherly. Speculation was rampant at how well he fit a pedophile profile. The early hours of the morning don't lend themselves to fine-upstanding citizen behavior. So ---we could not use anything but what the police officer disclosed from his interview with the defendant.
Certain people important in the life of this girl were not called as witnesses.

This left us with a 9 year old pointing the finger at this man. Had she been coached? Was it another person? We mostly all agreed that this girl had gone through a sexual trauma based on the evidence.

What was left to deliberate was the identity of the perpetrator. Was it the defendant?

We watched the children's center video again. This made 6 of the eight guilty votes more sure of the defendants' guilt and the veracity of the child. The four not guiltys were not convinced (beyond a reasonable doubt) and were mired in speculation.

This morning we got to the point of 8 guilty and four not guilty and could not budge. We called for the judge who then set up the courtroom with the attorneys and both parties (& families). He told us to break for lunch (The county paid for lunch to be delivered to our jury deliberation room on this day) and get some fresh air and reconvene at 2pm. Most of us are getting frustrated ( a little) about work commitments, families, etc. but it doesn't appear the judge will accept our hung jury.

When we came back, one of the guilty's asked that we be allowed the flat screen and children's center video. This time we watched and paused and discussed.
And finally, we got to a part where the girl did a little mumble that up to this point, we had ignored as unintelligible.
With the ability to control volume and replay, we discovered a chilling part of a sentence we don't think the prosecutor found. When we heard it, it was an immediate 100% sure Guilty as hell.

All of us had been vacillating to some degree as to whether it was the defendant or not. Those of us who were wanting to render the verdict as guilty were mostly going on this guideline: "The testimony of any witness you believe is sufficient".
But that little mumble turned everyone to a absolute 100% verdict of Guilty.

Our two alternates were with us until deliberation. They were then sent home.
Stitch was a great magazine to bring today.
Especially when we were deadlocked at 8 to 4.
To see more of Stitch, go here.

My job pays me while I am on jury duty. Many of the jurors get paid the county per diem of $10 a day for the first two days and $25 for any days thereafter. Plus a whopping $0.20/ mile for traveling expenses.

Lunch and parking are on you, the juror.

I realize I got off lucky on my first time as a juror. I was on a short trial of five days. It did not offer graphic blood and gore. I would do it again. The process is quite fascinating. Why the defense attorney objects, why  it is sustained or overruled. Why the prosecutor keeps his witnesses on a tight leash. Why important people who are mentioned in the trial are not called as witnesses. And finally, the deliberation process. Realizing that nearly every  juror was at or near the same page of the verdict and discussing the case without acrimony. Reaching that chilling 100% guilty verdict was interesting in the reactions.
 I went from a 98 % reasonable doubt, believing in the testimony of the girl, to being extremely angry at this pedophile grooming her.
Finding that little tidbit on the taped interview: when we deciphered it, several jurors commented on being chilled.
Being a judge is not easy. Knowingly sending someone to spend time in jail without being 100% sure is beyond difficult. That little 'unintelligible' tidbit helped.

No comments:

Post a Comment

I love comments. My heart goes pitter-patter every time there is a new one.