Jury Selection. Again.

In 2011, I was part of a host of people considered to sit on a jury. Considering that the trial for the killing Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman has just ended in a Not Guilty verdict, I thought I would share how the process appears to work in Lake County, California.

Jury duty in Lake County, the “City” of Clearlake branch. Before entering the building’s main room, I have to put my stuff through a x-ray machine. This screening requirement is fairly recent.

One woman says, “I’ve never seen a superior court run like this. I’ve lived in rural places all over they country. I’ve never seen anything like this before.” I overhear a discussion between the bailiff and a deputy sheriff, I’m part of the second slug of people being voir dired for a trial that’s expected to take nine weeks to complete. About 100 of us file through the double doors into a courtroom approximately 20′ by 40′. We quickly outgrow the audience seats and overflow into the jury box, and finally into the defendant and prosecution desk areas. We would sit in Judge Hedstrom’s seat if there weren’t a barrier.

Despite the large number of people in the courtroom, when the clerk calls the roll it seems that more than two-thirds of us didn’t show up.

From the discussions around me it’s easy to learn that none of us thinks jury duty is worth the inconvenience of the process. There are thousands, if not millions, of people yearning to have this opportunity to exercise a freedom that is unique to democracy: the ability to face your accuser, the right to trial by a jury of your peers. That doesn’t mean it’s not an inconvenience and a royal pain in the ass. So, the jury of your peers does not come to the proceedings wanting to listen to any bullshit; knowing they are going to listen to bullshit

To demonstrate that our day hasn’t been bureaucratically wasted, they waste more of our time showing us a video on why jury duty doesn’t bureaucratically waste our time. The video says this is about ‘justice.’ Justice? Really? No, not really. It’s about who tells the best story. “We trust in the community to make the right decision,” intones the narrator. The video gives us groundrules of how our State’s judicial system works:

  • Jurors cannot ask questions during the presenting of the case by either the defense or the prosecution.
  • Jurors cannot research facts around the case.
  • Jurors are vessels into which the defense and prosecution pour their crap and their opinions.
  • “Sit down, shut up, stay awake, listen to the bullshit stories these people tell you” seems to be the purpose of a juror.
  • Then finally when the important time that questions could be presented is over, you deliberate as a jury and discuss the crap that each side presented. Would told the most compelling lies?

Toward the end of the video the narrator intones, “The jury has reached a verdict. Justice has been served.” Really? They reached a decision, that’s all they did, they made their best guess from the stories each side tries to tell, nothing more.

After a fifteen minute recess, we file back in and Judge Hedstrom swears us in and begins the void dire process. JH lays down the ground rules. He admonishes us not to discuss this case with anyone. This is a criminal trial. Another group of prospective jurors will show up between 2 and 2:30. JH may dismiss some of us to go to a trial set to begin in Lakeport at 1:15. This drill is expected to take six days (eg WTF – two weeks).

JH now starts the “Queen for a Day” hardship excuses. Sole providers living paycheck to paycheck, vacations, caregivers, job requirements, medical procedures, doctor’s appointments, I’m no doctor but I’m pretty sure one fellow who may be mentally challenged has curly white hair and a ten-day growth of salt & pepper beard, says he’d not be a good juror ‘the guy’s guilty.’ JH tells him that this isn’t the time for that part of the voir dire proceedings (though JH doesn’t use “voir dire”). When JH finishes asking about hardships, he calls names of the people who have claimed hardship, has them stand, and dismisses them. “You are free to go.”

JH dismisses some 20 people. They file out and the courtroom thins considerably.

The judge reads accusations against the accused: rape, lewd and lascivious acts, threats on a girl under 14 years of age which took place on 21 Sept 2005., 1 Nov 2007, 20 Dec 2008. 289pc. Statutory rape? 288.b1PC. Lewd and lascivious act with a minor. 269A1 PC – Rape of a minor 261A2 – Rape. 269A5 PC – Rape. 667 PC

After reading the twelve (by my count) felony charges, JH starts questioning those of us empaneled as to whether we can be impartial. Those that say they can’t be impartial are asked, “Do you know the facts of this case, do you know the defendant, do you know the defense attorney, do you know the prosecuting attorney, what is the nature of the case that causes you believe that you could not be fair and impartial? Those who might be prejudiced in this case are told to report to the jury commissioner at 1:15.

Our mentally challenged fellow says, “The guy sounds like a pervert.” The audience groans.

A slight woman with short-cropped gray hair says she’s a retired nurse is on chapter of Women Against Rape. She brings her story to the court but would like to think she could be fair.

Others carry angst of not knowing, hoping they can be, fair and impartial and raise the point for the court to consider. Sexual traumas run deep in the psyche. Four women had been abused. One man with a gray beard and salt and pepper hair says he had a good friend wrongly accused that nearly destroyed his friend’s reputation and life.

At the beginning of The Brass Verdict, Michael Connelly‘s fictional character Mickey Haller sums up trials:

Everybody lies.

Cops lie. Lawyers lie. Witnesses lie. The victims lie.

A trial is a contest of lies. And everybody in the courtroom knows this….


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