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fun with juries! [Jul. 12th, 2006|12:28 pm]
Greg
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So I was called for jury duty on Monday for the first time, so I was pretty excited about it.
A diagram of the courtroom

My notice said to be there at 8:30, so I left home around 7:45 just to be on the safe side (since it was downtown, which I never go to in the morning). After sitting around outside the courtroom for a little while, they let us in around 8:15. At that point there were around 25 of us sitting in the observer's area (surely there's another name for this, but I can't think of what it is...). There was a guy with gray hair sitting between the witness stand and the judge's bench for a while fiddilng with things - at first I thought he was the judge, but it was not to be. More potential jurors started trickling in, and we saw the woman who was later revealed to be the bailiff setting out styrofoam cups for people, distributing papers and whatnot. She seemed pretty on top of things.

We also saw the attorneys come in and out a little. (I thought the defense table was always closer to the jury, but I was wrong wrong wrong) Around 8:35 the guy with gray hair (who was the court reporter) came up to us and sat us in order. There were 60 people total (although 2 arrived after this). I was seated at the end of the second row, #24. I figured the odds were against my getting on the jury, but it wasn't entirely out of the question. While we were being seated, the attorneys showed up and so did the defendant (who entered by the door right next to the defense table). He was an older guy, maybe in his 50s, and looked fairly composed, talking with his two attorneys some.

Then the judge entered. He talked to us for quite a while (20 minutes or so), and he was a bit...quirky (he said he had been a judge for 30 years and was going to retire soon). He showed us the indictment and asked us why it was pink. Of course, nobody knew, and he said he didn't know either, and they're different colors different places in Texas. Whee! He also extolled the virtues of the jury room, which he said had a microwave and refrigerator, a nice view of downtown and the Capitol building, and a big TV with cable and all the premium channels. He told us not to talk to anyone involved in the case ("casual greetings" were OK), and told us what the charge was: a convicted felon possessing a firearm less than 5 years after the end of the felony sentence (jail, probation, or parole). It didn't seem like a terribly complicated case, and he said it should wrap up on Tuesday or Wednesday at the latest. At this point I reaaally wanted to be chosen - it sounded neat and it would only be a few days anyway :-)

After this the prosecution began their jury selection questioning. The attorney seemed pleasant enough, and she talked a lot about the law and the general process and whatnot. Her style was to basically say something about the law, then call on one or two people by name and ask if they agree. Some things she asked:

  • In Texas there is a "one-witness" law, which says that you don't necessarily need more than one witness to a crime to find the defendant guilty. Do you agree?

  • Some people have moral or religious objections to passing judgment on someone, so much so that it would make them incapable of finding someone guilty. Does anyone feel that way?

  • Who has a close family member or friend who has a felony conviction?

  • Does anyone disagree with this law (no firearms until 5 years after a felony sentence)? (a few people did)

  • In Texas it isn't necessary for the actual firearm to be presented as evidence. Do you agree?

  • There are two phases to a trial - the guilt/innocence part and the sentencing phase. In Texas the defendant has the right to decide before the trial has started whether he/she wants a jury to determine the sentence, or a judge. This defendant has chosen to have the judge determine the sentence if he is found guilty. Would you have a problem with returning a guilty verdict knowing you would not be able to determine a sentence?


Those are the ones I remember, anyway. During this the judge was looking at a computer screen - dunno if it was court-related business or not, but I would have expected him to pay closer attention since (I assume) he can strike jurors like the prosecution and defense can.

After she was done (about an hour), it was 10:00 and we got a 15 minute recess.

Then it was the defense's turn. When I had seen the main defense lawyer before, for some reason I idly wondered whether he was court-appointed. If he was, I would be extremely impressed, as he was exceedingly thorough. He talked for a little at first, then talked to people in the jury. He seemed to have information on who were lawyers, who had served on juries before, and who had relatives in the police department, and he asked all of these people specifically about these. ("So, Mr. Smith, your brother-in-law is a police officer?") After that he asked the first 40 people some of the following questions:

  • How do innocent people get convicted?

  • Which is worse: an innocent person going to jail or a guilty one going free?

  • Right now, is the defendent guilty or innocent?

  • What does "reasonable doubt" mean?

  • How do you determine the credibility of a witness?


I'm not even sure he cared too much about the answers - the effect of hearing these questions over and over for an hour and a half was enough to make me doubt anything :-)

After he was finally finished, the attorneys left out the entrance nearest the jury box and the judge talked to us for a while about parking and parking tickets and how he could probably get our parking ticket dismissed if we parked somewhere illegally today (or didn't feed the parking meter). Also, if we didn't want our money for serving we had to fill out a form saying where to direct the money. And when we get our check, cash it quickly so the county doesn't run out of money (!).

Anyway, the attorneys came back in and the moment of truth was at hand! They started calling names, and I saw the picked the first three people, which didn't look good for me. But then they skipped a few, and then skipped some more, but the last person they ended up with was #22. Sooo close!


Whew!
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: destroyerj
2006-07-12 11:05 pm (UTC)
Regarding the defense lawyer being very thorough; I would imagine/guess that even when (especially when?) you are court-appointed for a trial, you would want to do your best to win it, to up your percentages, so to speak. Like surgeons in the medical world, I can imagine that if people can get their hands on their percentages, they're very likely to judge based on that, without looking at all into the circumstances of the lawyer's past.

But that's all speculation.

Anyhoo, sounds neat!
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[User Picture]From: gregstoll
2006-07-12 11:09 pm (UTC)
Ooh, that's a good point. I'd be impressed if that was the case (the system is working!)

It was awesome. Best non-holiday Monday morning I've had in a while!
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: djedi
2006-07-13 03:40 am (UTC)
Court appointed wise, at least in Texas, people "don't care". Typically, it's not given high priority and the representation is not very good. It's a commonly bemoaned problem.
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[User Picture]From: onefishclappin
2006-07-13 02:40 pm (UTC)
The court appointed lawyers in our case have all been pretty good to really good. Matthew's "ad liem" lawyer is amazing - she's doing it out of the goodness of her own heart (she has a private practice as well) and really cares and tries really hard. Kristen's first court appointed lawyer seemed ok, but moved on soon after, so she had to start over with a new one. The new one seems pretty good as well; but David has only encountered her once. We'll see after mediation today.

But basically, the horrors of unexperienced, not caring, court appointed lawyers hasn't seemed to be the case. Yeah for the legal system occationally keeping their heads out of their butts!
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From: abstractseaweed
2006-07-13 12:33 am (UTC)
Cool! I've been called twice, and I think it would be an interesting experience, although I have yet to actually be available (the first was during Rice and the second was in Travis county while I was living in Harris county.) The legal system is oddly fascinating, with all of its rules and traditions and pink paper.
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