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Thursday, July 18, 2002

So yesterday I had jury duty. It's the first time in my life that I've actually had to show up down at the courthouse, so I was actually really curious about the process.

I arrived at the Hall of Justice at 8:15, waited through the check in line, then found a seat in the lounge. I pulled out my Roman Art textbook and started catching up on my reading. Around 9:10, they made an announcement with all the basic info over the speakers. It was actually a pretty thorough announcement and even acknowledged that much of the time we were there would be spent waiting, and said that many cases settle either during the jury selection process or during the case.

About 9:40, my group was called to Department 26, Judge Zecher. Judge Zecher was a jovial woman who started things off by telling us that for better or worse, this wasn’t T.V. and most of today was going to be excruciatingly boring. Then she announced the charges: assault and child sexual assault. I looked at the accused, a young Hispanic kid who couldn’t be more than 20. It was frightening to think of him as a sexual predator. He was just so young. They called up 12 jurors, and began by carefully asking juror #1 a set of questions that would be asked of everyone who came up as a potential juror. After the first time through, she asked the same questions in the shortest possible way. The basic list was:

Are you employed?
What kind of work do you do?
Are you married? What kind of work does your spouse do?
Do you have children? What are their ages? What are their occupations?
Does anyone else live in your home with you? What are their occupations?
How long have you lived in Santa Clara?
Where were you born?
What is your current city of residence?
What is your educational background?
Do you know any peace officers?
Would anything about your association with them make you unable to be impartial in this case?
Would you be embarrassed or uncomfortable to tell them the results of this case?
Do you know any attorneys?
Would anything about your association with them make you unable to be impartial in this case?
Would you be embarrassed or uncomfortable to tell them the results of this case?
Have you or anyone close to you been accused, convicted, or a victim of the sort of crime we’ll be trying in this case?
Have you ever been accused, convicted or a victim of any crime?
Including traffic tickets?
How did you dispense with your citation?
Do you believe everyone has a right to go to court to challenge traffic violations?
Have you ever sued or been sued?
Have you ever served on a jury before?
Is there any other reason why you could not be fair and impartial in this case?

After the judge handled this list of questions with each of the jurors, the individual attorneys had an opportunity to ask the jurors questions. The defense attorney asked if each juror could uphold the law even if the defendant decided not to testify on his own behalf. The prosecuting attorney asked the jurors how they felt about the testimony of a child as compared to that of an adult.

By 11, they’d gotten this far with folks, and then they started kicking people off for cause or just because they didn’t feel they were suitable. Then, one by one they replaced them from the remaining pool of contestants… er, I mean, jurors. At 3:00, they got the panel of 12. They took from then until 4:30 to pick the 3 alternate jurors. My name was never called. And so, this ended my first jury service.

I spent my entire day thinking over my answers to their questions. There was a part of me that really wanted to see the trial process through, but another part of me that was quite relieved not to have to try to fit this into my life between work, Tigger, and getting ready for the road trip. One of the more fascinating trends in the courtroom was of people who claimed they should be exempt because they didn’t understand English, but who seemed to understand every question put to them and to be able to answer it in English, albeit with an accent. It was interesting how it was being used as a crutch or an excuse by people who had necessarily applied for citizenship (since none of them were born here) and knew that jury service was part of the deal when you become an American. Also interesting was how everyone had at least one traffic ticket, and how easily 80% of the jurors called up had had their homes burgled at some point in their lives. This was the most frequent crime reported as having happened to them.

All in all, I didn’t mind it. It was boring and tedious, but it’s always interesting to hear what different people say when asked the same questions. I spent half the time reading and half the time just listening to everyone’s responses. Hopefully the next time I’m called I’ll be able to maintain my level of interest, because the judge was right. It was really terribly boring.

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