Jury of Peers

Jury duty. Foolishly expected that, as usual, I would get in, not get selected, and get back to work. What unfolded instead could be called a comedy of errors, but that would be too charitable a description for the expanse of waste and idiocy (and yes, comedy) that I encountered today.

Update: I’ve added the end-game to this post.

8:30 a.m. – Arrive at Contra Costa County Courthouse in Richmond on bicycle. The only bicycle in a sea of cars. Airport-style screening – must remove belt, coins, phone, etc. each time I enter. X-Ray finds my Leatherman in backpack. “Leave it outside.” “Where?” “Anywhere. If you leave it with us we can’t give it back.” Return outside to stash tool in branches of a cypress.

9:00 a.m. – 48 potential jurors per case, 4 cases being heard, so 152 people. In an assembly room with 100 seats. Magazines for killing time, some are five years old. Intro speeches about civic pride, yadda yadda. Fill out forms. Watch video about the nobility of jury duty (I don’t disagree). Excused for 30 minute “break” (like we need one). One potential juror storms out: “I hate this sh*t!!!” He later turns out to be a retired cop. Another potential is wearing an Ozzy tee shirt, army boots, bald head, and a full beard extending up into sideburns that extend right above the top of his head into twin spires that curl over in waxed twirls 6″ above his scalp. Great look, a model citizen.

10:00 – Return to assembly room and wait, read newspaper.

10:30 – They slip a movie into the VCR – Harry and the Hendersons. What? It rolls for an hour. Try to close my ears, find that I lack the necessary earflaps. Forced to listen.

11:30 – Names are called, initial selectees file out to hall, are lead upstairs by a guide who explains to us that the courtroom we’re using is “partially double booked.” Enter courtroom, wait. Judge enters. White male clearly past retirement age. Has trouble reading all — and I do mean all – non-Anglo names on his printout. All Chinese, Japanese, Hispanic, and African names are read phonetically, repeated incorrectly several times over because he can’t hear the person correcting him. Aside from pronunciation, he has trouble with the printout itself. In one case, the name “Hernandez” was split across two lines. First he calls “Francisco Hernannie.” After that mess is straightened out, he calls “Dez June Smith.” Hernane/Dez, get it? You think I’m making this up.

12:00 – Oops, lunchtime! All rise for recess. 90 minute lunch. Tell you what, judgie poo – how about we make it 30 and get this thing over with? Nope, 90 minutes — and guess what’s within walking distance? Church’s Fried Chicken and 7-11. Saddest lunch I’ve had in a long time.

1:30 – We’re back, how about opening the courtroom? Keep in mind, we haven’t yet begun the juror selection process. Bailiff to jurors: “I can’t find my cell phone. Has anyone seen my cell phone? It’s blue.”

2:00 – Back inside, we see the defendant. 50-yr-old man in untucked tee shirt, hair slicked back, leathery skin, red nose, looks like he’s spent half his life in bars. Juror selection begins. 10 questions for each potential juror in initial pool. Some b.s. about “getting to know you.” I’m not in the initial pool, but will be forced to watch the massacree. Some jurors can’t or won’t speak up. Judge suggests a wireless mic. Stenographer: “Uhhh… we’ll have to… adjust it.” Mic turned on, squelches and cramps voices, groans with feedback, buzzes and howls under the influence of heat. Finally they give up on the wireless, put it away, but they don’t turn off its channel. It continues to feed back for the next five minutes until the bailiff locates the switch.

Several weird statements from potentials on why they shouldn’t serve, including one Christian woman who said that her religion required the utmost in honesty and sincerity, and that she therefore would have trouble rendering a fair verdict. Hey whaaaatttt? Oh, wait, maybe she understands the system better than most. When the D.A. had his chance to ask additional questions, he queried her on this. One of his questions to her: “So you think your religious beliefs could cause you to look at this case with a slanted eye?” The woman in question was Asian. I swear I’m not making this stuff up.

3:00 – Me to bailiff: “Did you find your cell phone?” “Yeah, it was right in the patrol car where I left it.”

3:15 – Back in courthouse. Five potentials eliminated.

3:30 – Judge calls a 30-minute recess. This is insane, a colossal waste of time for 48 hapless individuals. If I could tell you what the case was about, it would seem an even more colossal waste of time.

4:00 – Five seats randomly filled from our pool. I’m not among them. The defense attorney questions the potentials, asking how many of them followed the Michael Jackson trial (puh-leeze!), making sure people understand that there’s a difference between drinking and driving and driving with a blood alcohol level over a certain percent. An 18-year-old potential responds “But drinking is bad for you.” “But you do understand that it’s legal to drink and drive as long as you’re not over the BAL limit?” “That would be dangerous.” He is dismissed.

4:30 – Court adjourned for the day. The jury pool has not been selected, and I am required to return tomorrow, just in case. I understand that jury selection is important. I don’t begrudge that. But since 2/3 of the day was wasted in bureaucracy, pointless waiting, and extended recesses, the selection could have been made by noon if the system was working. If the judge weren’t dottering. If the system were streamlined. If the microphone worked. Etc. etc.

Thursday

9:00 a.m. – Showed up at the courthouse at 9 a.m. sharp, as requested. Sat on the linoleum floor of the hallway, reading for 45 minutes. Finally the court clerk came out and got our attention. “Don’t kill me, but we have to dismiss you until 1:30. Please go shopping or otherwise entertain yourselves until then. Dammit, this is SO disrespectful of our time. Well, I was able to get some work done from home for a while.

1:30 p.m. – Resumed session.

3:30 p.m. – Jury of 12 selected, I was never called. Would have loved to have had the opportunity to talk about how Matthew was killed by a drunk driver who was not in fact in excess of the blood alcohol limit, but never got that chance. Ooops – now it was time to select two alternates. Judge decided to fill all six of the potential seats, go through the whole questioning rigamarole. He could have selected two at a time to streamline this process, but nooooo…

4:00 — Alternates selected, we’re dismissed. So, two full days to select a jury for a very minor case. If I had had a chance to speak, I know very well I would have been summarily dismissed. But the system doesn’t allow for that. Back to work tomorrow, with a bitter taste in my mouth for the criminal justice system.

We are fortunate to have a system of trial by peers. But the blowback can be excruciating.

16 Replies to “Jury of Peers”

  1. Two best ways to get out of jury duty:

    =====

    Used by my friend Tom:

    Female defense attorney asks juror pool, “If I don’t put my client on the stand, would you consider that a bad thing?” Tom says yes. She counters, “You know that it is incumbent upon the state to make a case, and he need not testify, right?” Tom says, “I know that very well, but I would still consider you an incompetent attorney.”

    Boom, he’s gone.

    =====

    “Wait, when you say he’s guilty of a crime, we’re talking about a crime against another white, Christian man, right? Not some nigger, Jew, or mouthy bitch. Right?”

    You’ll be dismissed so fast your head will spin. Just watch your back on the way out.

    =====

    Gunh. Jury duty sucks.

  2. Without the jury bit it sounds just like a day I spent after a week or so in India. Every foreigner has to register with the FRO (Foreigners Registration Office). This is *after* having a visa approved etc etc. It’s basically just extra bureaucracy – Indian style.

    You get to the office as soon as it opens (which is 10:30 usually). Tea time is 11 – so you have 30 minutes to be seen or you have to endure another hour wait (you thought a lunch break was long!). Then after finally making your case and presenting your papers, one is questioned for five minutes.

    Then the official wanders out of the room without any notice and you sit there with a driver who speaks barely any English – smiling vaguely at one another and waiting.

    Time passes.

    Some more time passes.

    It is roughly an hour or so before he wanders back into the room. Then another hour or so before he tells you (via the driver) that you need a copy of some other paper to be signed by someone. Driver apologises profusely for wasting the officer’s time! Asks if we can get back today with the paper. Informed that the office is going to close soon and suggests we return tomorrow.

    Tomorrow is past 14 days of my being in India. That also is a no-no. Apparently (this time I didn’t come) my driver is harangued about getting paperwork done in time and submitted within the 14 days.

    Eventually – I think he was there for a few hours – the papers are stamped and I’m allowed to stay in the country! It was bound to happen – but they show their importance by making you wait… and their irritation at the fact that we refuse (as policy and on moral grounds) to pay any baksheesh bribes etc.

    What an adventure. Welcome to India.

    I still feel for you though. Don’t expect that kind of stuff-around in America.

    At least in India the chai is good while you wait.

  3. Synchronicity: somebody made a post about their experience of California jury duty yesterday on our local Sheffield website: http://www.sheffieldforum.co.uk/showthread.php?postid=451021#post451021

    I feel for you. Like Kristian, I’ve been through varying degrees of the Indian beauraucracy thing, I’ve also been involved in the UK legal system (though not as a juror; or a defendant, before you ask :)) but this sounds like a previously undiscovered level in Dante’s Hell.

  4. As much as your experience sucked, I’m still marvelling at the unique look of the aforementioned “model citizen”. He must have been a wonder to look at…

  5. Here‘s another guaranteed way to get out of jury duty.

    Airport-style screening – must remove belt, coins, phone, etc. each time I enter.

    * “If I walk through your metal detector, will I be waiving any Constitutional rights?” (Yes.)
    * “Can any law require me to waive my Constitutional rights?” [search for “trouble-makers”]

    I understand that jury selection is important.

    Oh yes indeed: selecting juries that will bend over for any and all laws without question or demur is so vitally important to the state government of CA that in 1998 a “snitch” rule was created whereby the magistrate may, in effect, snoop on jury deliberations.

    Last but not least, one option is simply not showing up.

    Watch video about the nobility of jury duty (I don’t disagree).

    I do. (There are ways to restore its nobility, none of which will be implemented as they all amount to politicians voting to limit their own power.)

    We are fortunate to have a system of trial by peers.

    Better say “have had”.

  6. Mark,

    The finding of the court in the document to which you linked expressly says that the bench has ruled that Fourth Amendment rights are not violated or waived.

    In affirming the trial court, we uphold reasonable searches of all individuals entering courthouses where metal detectors are in place. Individuals understand the nature of and consent to searches that will be made. As long as the search is reasonable under the facts of the case, Fourth Amendment rights are not violated.

    While you may disagree, legal precedent (which will have much more weight when adjudicating than will your opinion or mine) says the Fourth Amendment is safe and sound.

  7. Mneptok wrote: The finding of the court in the document to which you linked expressly says that the bench has ruled that Fourth Amendment rights are not violated or waived.

    No — the reason those rights technically aren’t violated is precisely because they are (or, as in this case, are presumed to be) waived; that’s what “consent search” means.

    “3. An individual electing to pass through a security checkpoint upon entering a courthouse has in effect given an implied consent to the search of his or her person and to the items he or she carries into the public building.”

    So the answer to my first question is still Yes.

    While you may disagree,

    s/may/do/

    legal precedent (which will have much more weight when adjudicating than will your opinion or mine) says the Fourth Amendment is safe and sound.

    “Captain, sensors indicate a large reality-distortion field dead ahead; flux-density reading: twelve . . .”
    “Twelve? That’s impossible, the Jobs scale only goes to ten!”
    “. . . closing fast!”
    “Reverse course, full emergency warp speed! Raise shields!”
    “Contact in: 3, 2, 1 . . .”

    (The Kobayashi Maru scenario is not designed to be won; it’s a test of character. ;-)

  8. That was exactly my point. The court ruled that entering a courthouse is implied consent for a full search; not just for weapons, but also for contraband and anything else. If you don’t like it, don’t enter a courthouse. And if you get summoned to jury duty and disobey that summons, then expect reciprocation.

    And there’s nothing “distorting” about saying “the courts care more about each others’ opinions than they do about Mark Odell’s.” Like I said, you may not like it, but it’s the truth.

  9. That was exactly my point. The court ruled that entering a courthouse is implied consent for a full search; not just for weapons, but also for contraband and anything else.

    My specific disagreement with what you originally wrote:
    The finding of the court in the document to which you linked expressly says that the bench has ruled that Fourth Amendment rights are not violated or waived.
    . . . was with the last two words. So since you clarified what you meant, I think we’re not in fact disagreeing on this point. (I do, however, disagree with the government’s expansion of “implied consent” to searches of individuals everywhere and anywhere it chances to desire — especially considering that the referee is in the employ of one team.)

    If you don’t like it, don’t enter a courthouse.

    It depends on what the meaning of the phrase “enter a courthouse” is, and what the language on the summons actually says. Does it say that I must appear at the courthouse (that’s certainly doable without waiving a right guaranteed–not granted, please note–by the 4th Amendment), or does it say that I must appear before the magistrate–which means that I must enter a courtroom, which further means that I must pass through a metal detector? If the latter, then my second question “is there any law” stands as relevant.

    And if you get summoned to jury duty and disobey that summons, then expect reciprocation.

    Reciprocation means that I would expect their response to my leaving them alone to be their leaving me alone. Perhaps you meant to say “retaliation“?

    Do you suppose arresting people and jailing them for disobeying a jury summons will make them less “biased against the government”, or more so? Do you suppose punishment will make people more likely to admit “bias against the government”, or less likely?

    What if I never even receive this alleged summons? Under the current system of not using registered mail (and just to clarify, I have no objection whatsoever to the courts shifting over to using registered mail for their jury summons), how do you or anyone else propose to prove that: a summons was issued; I received it; I had knowledge of it; and I willfully disobeyed it? Am I supposed to bear the burden of polling the local courts at random intervals to see whether or not they just happened to send me a summons that might have got lost in the mails, simply to avoid their arbitrary, disproportionate wrath? If so, then which am I: a free man, or a slave who cowers &/or grovels in fear of his masters’ power? If not, then does not the government still bear the burden of proof?

    “the courts care more about each others’ opinions

    Thank you for (all inadvertently, I’m sure) conceding the point about RDF by putting it in your own words.

    than they do about Mark Odell’s.” Like I said, you may not like it,

    Red herring; this is not about who holds the opinion, or about what I like or dislike; this is about which opinion is correct and why.

    but it’s the truth.

    Only inside that reality-distortion field created by “legal precedent” (see: stare decisis) — which was exactly my point.

    BTW, it’s fascinating to watch how, when I point out this sort of RDF thing, there’s always someone who tries to divert attention from the problem and make it out to be about the objector (Personal Attack fallacy) &/or tries to belittle the objection as being merely “his opinion” (overlapping nicely into Red Herring fallacy) which supposedly is inferior to that of “courts” (segueing smoothly into Appeal to Authority fallacy — #1 fallacy in law IMNSHO). Note well that at no time is a reasoned argument–which proceeds from premise to conclusion using facts and logic–deployed to refute the substance of the objection.

  10. Court opinions are not distorted reality, they ARE reality. Which is why you’re off on a rant in the first place.

    The reality is that the courts interpret law. The distortion is that your opinion matters.

    Welcome to the real world, Neo.

  11. Court opinions are not distorted reality, they ARE reality.

    Proof by repeated assertion now?

    Which is why you’re off on a rant in the first place.

    Personal Attack: nice one.

    The reality is that the courts interpret law.

    Doubtless they do; but that’s not the question. The question is: do those interpretations withstand critical examination by means of facts and logic? And the answer is: either they do or they don’t, and no density of RDF flux can cause them to do when they don’t . . . or vice versa.

    The distortion is that your opinion matters.

    I’m aware of your opinion, which you still haven’t supported with cogent reasoning.

    Welcome to the real world, Neo.

    Speaking of that, you might wish to refresh your memory about the outcome of that conflict.

    Note well that, once again, nothing even remotely resembling a reasoned argument is set forth to refute the objection. But by all means, Mneptok, feel free to deploy one at any time of your choosing.

  12. Fact: The courts interpret law.

    Fact: The courts have interpreted the law to say that searches upon entering a courthouse are constitutional.

    Fact: This opinion has not been overturned. You have an opinion that this is unconstitutional. The courts, thus far, have ruled it is; as a matter of record, and therefore, to this point, fact.

    Fact: If is was, indeed, as clear cut as you say, one might expect the ACLU to at least comment on it. They have not.

    Fact: If you decline to be searched and barge into a courtroom anyway, the opinion of other courts on the constiutionality of the search is going to weigh more heavily than the opinion of Mark Odell. You can scream until you’re blue in the face that the search isn’t valid, you’re still going to jail.

    Fact: You are/were off on a rant. If you take this factual statement as a “personal attack,” so be it.

    Fact: Screaming into a maelstrom is not my cup of tea. I’m done.

  13. Fact: The courts interpret law.

    Fact: The courts have interpreted the law to say that searches upon entering a courthouse are constitutional.

    Fact: This opinion has not been overturned. You have an opinion that this is unconstitutional.

    So far, we agree 100%.

    The courts, thus far, have ruled it is; as a matter of record,

    Eliding the word “ruled” (I don’t grant the premise as regards the judiciary), yes.

    and therefore, to this point, fact.

    If you insist on the word “ruled”, based upon the premise that “might makes right”, then “fact” inside their RDF, yes.

    Fact: If is was, indeed, as clear cut as you say, one might expect the ACLU to at least comment on it.

    Why? (And BTW the above assertion is “logic”, not “fact”.)

    They have not.

    And therefore, what? (The argument from silence is precarious; beware of it.)

    Fact: If you decline to be searched and barge into a courtroom anyway,

    Considering the fact that my two questions pointed in the direction of not entering the courtroom if entering was taken to mean waiver of 4th Amendment rights, and also considering the fact that you never asked me about what they might have implied in order to verify your initial inference, I cannot conceive how you arrived at the conclusion that I have or ever had any such assumed intention, except by “loading the jump program”.

    the opinion of other courts on the constiutionality of the search is going to weigh more heavily than the opinion of Mark Odell.

    That’s what I said: they believe that who holds the opinion weighs more heavily than what the opinion is and why. It just so happens that this belief doesn’t pass an elementary logical-fallacy test. Ergo, their adherence to it is evidence of RDF.

    You can scream until you’re blue in the face that the search isn’t valid, you’re still going to jail.

    Be that as it may, it still doesn’t refute the objection. Might does not make right . . . not even for high values of might. :-)

    Fact: You are/were off on a rant. If you take this factual statement as a “personal attack,” so be it.

    Let’s see: “you are/were off on a rant” doesn’t refute my argument in any way, and so the only way that’s supported by the evidence for me to “take” it is as a personal attack.

    I take it that means you admit this part of your argument is fallacious.

    As I suspect you well know, in law a “factual statement” is one that can be proven either true or false: that is, as distinct from a fact.

    “The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their right names.” — Kong-Fu Zhi (Confucius)

    Fact: Screaming into a maelstrom is not my cup of tea. I’m done.

    Translation: “I can’t support my argument, nor refute yours, with facts and logic. I surrender.” (And I graciously accept.)

    I’m content to suppose that visitors to this blog are intelligent enough to read comments for themselves, and then make up their own minds about which of us has supported his arguments with facts and logic, and which of us was really “off on a rant”. Their opinions–at least, among those of us in the reality-based community–are going to weigh more heavily than the opinion of Mneptok.

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