“We have a criminal jury system which is superior to any in the world; and its efficiency is only marred by the difficulty of finding twelve men every day who don’t know anything and can’t read.” -Mark Twain
You have the right to remain…in the jury room all week. What a great job! It’s the only place most people ever report for duty where the truth is of any value whatsoever! What a rare and wonderful experience! But, there are some drawbacks.
By and large, they wanted us to look at evidence without any prejudice or presuppositions of any kind. The amount of ignorance that is required to serve is almost impossible to accomplish in one adult lifetime. Witnesses and jurors are asked to deal with only truthful things, and on occasion, some of them do.
But such a requirement is apparently not always extended to the prosecuting and defense attorneys. Since their motive is less about truth, and more about getting an opinion that favors their argument. In fact, they get to dance all around the truth cautiously as if it might bite them, and in some cases, it will. The truth is allowed to take a chair in the back of the room or go outside and smoke, since it’s services will not be required by the barristers. This practice is similar to the workings of the U. S. Congress, which is comprised largely of lawyers who couldn’t make an honest living in the private sector.
While they themselves are not bound to speak truthfully, it is expected of all who would testify before them. Lawyers and congressmen are allowed to get angry and act indignant if any of this truth might offend their sponsors, but the jurors who are not allowed to have sponsors, are supposed to behave, and not yell insults at the witnesses. Jurors are to act impartial. Imagine having to sit in the bleachers forced to watch a ballgame with no emotional interest in who wins, and not allowed to cheer or boo should you take sides.
Witnesses and jurors are not supposed to take money for any reason that might alter their opinion, and neither can the judge. But the lawyers on both sides can, and do. In fact, it is expected of them. It’s a part of their training in case they ever wind up in the Senate. Since these attorneys are in charge of a great deal of the entertainment, it is really up to the rest of us to dig out and identify a truth if one happens to show up. But whether a truth shows up or not, all jurors instructed to appear in person had better do so.
Reporting to the jury room is mandatory, and has a deadline, though nothing happens right away. The wait will vary from one jurisdiction to another, but it could last from forty-five minutes to an hour and a half. During this time, breaks of any kind are not allowed. After a while, roll is taken.
Then, for those who are not familiar with the sixth amendment to The Constitution of The United States (there are always some who seem to have never heard of the constitution or any of its amendments), an explanation of trial by jury is given. We are told how glad we would be to have such a system should we ever be accused falsely of a crime, and would have a group of our peers hear the evidence against us, and render a verdict.
Now the seeds for the idea that the law exists due to the prospects of false accusations have been sewn. That, and along with the large number of people asked to report for duty, could cause some to believe it is a serious and regular occurrence. Defense attorneys hope the belief is widespread, and the prosecutors hope no one was paying attention.
While listening to these instructions and explanations, do not look around the room for your peers, because they are not there. Furthermore, they are not on their way, either. Looking around hoping to find a single soul that will have any empathy with you whatsoever will just make you feel bad. It is a cattle call.
The jury room is where all the citizens that live in a certain county have to report periodically unless they are already in jail. Folks in jail are excused, but very few others, except your peers. Most of the people summoned are pleasant enough, and act neighborly. But a few seem committed to letting everybody else know they are being inconvenienced, and consider jury duty okay for the rest of us peons, but that they have things to do!
Most people behave and dress properly for this occasion, but I wish to point out a few things I’ve noticed that do not tend to impress the Clerk of Court in a favorable manner:
* Naming all the people in your neighborhood that you hope are on trial this week;
* Bringing a piece of rope with you regardless of the knot,
* Dressing up like Wonder Woman, or any other comic book character,
* Turning to get an opinion from your imaginary friend each time you are asked a question,
* Playing the theme from Clint Eastwood’s “Hang ‘Em High” on the kazoo,
* Wearing a “Pick Me” T-shirt from “The Price Is Right”,
* Using Bourbon or Tequila as a cologne or after shave (which is not to be confused with taking the fifth),
* Making noises like one of The Three Stooges whenever you name is called,
* Canvassing the room attempting to score anything,
* Volunteering to serve as Bailiff whenever any officer of the court walks into the room,
* Wearing undergarments on the outside of your other clothes,
* Raising your hand, and saying “May I be excused”, and then laughing every five or ten minutes.
One girl was a bit peeved when she discovered there would be no free lunch, and she would not be reimbursed for mileage. She announced so all could hear that she suffered from a mental illness, and needed to be excused to keep an appointment with her therapist. She said she was full of prejudice; hated everybody, and felt that should be sufficient to have her dismissed. Additionally, she was dressed like a circus clown.
Of course they called her name for a selection lineup. As she headed off to the courtroom, said she should be able to bring suit as the pay they offered jurors was below minimum wage, and that this meant she probably wouldn’t be able to get married in the morning. She was picked for a jury, but did not return after the lunch break to serve, nor did she come back the next day, either. For this, she will probably be elected to serve on the school board.
When the first group goes off to do battle with the infidels, the rest of us remain behind doing absolutely nothing for thirty minutes to an hour, then are told to take a fifteen minute break. At the end of the break, we wait for another hour or so until we break for lunch. Lunch breaks are long, and allow time for the attorneys and judges to get in a round of golf. After lunch, whether you are picked for jury selection or not, no breaks will be allowed for at least an hour. During that time you must just stay in the jury room and wait until they decide to either call you for a jury, or tell you to take another fifteen minute break.
The lineup is a body of about three times as many folks as you’d need for a jury, and these folks are paraded to two other staging areas before going into a courtroom. There is a reason for having so many more than will be seated in the jury box. You see, most people are not remotely qualified for jury duty.
To qualify, you have to believe the battery of poorly phrased, and often incredibly stupid screening questions they ask you are reasonable, and make sense. Yet the result of this inquisition tends to generate some of the stupidest remarks ever uttered by humankind, though most folks in the room including the attorneys, act like they don’t notice it.
In a courtroom in West Virginia, a chaplain was asked his opinion of the death penalty, and he replied:
“West Virginia doesn’t even have the death penalty, so I don’t have to answer that question.”
The lawyer was indignant, and insisted the chaplain answer, but the judge said the chaplain was right: since the state didn’t have such a law, the question had no bearing on anything to which they would have to render a verdict. That chaplain happens to be a friend of mine, and upon hearing of this, I asked him:
“So, they don’t have the death penalty in West Virginia?”
“Well we do have one, but it’s not legal.”
As the questioning begins for jury selection, each lawyer tries to make as good an impression on the prospective jurors as possible. To appear amiable enough, both prosecutor and defender begin with asking each person:
“And how are you feeling today?”, to which everybody answers “Fine” whether they are, or not. After about the seventh person in a row had been asked this important question at least twice, the judge felt quite moved, and called upon to speak out:
“Excuse me. Everybody is fine.” Then, looking at us: “Is everybody feeling fine? Are we all fine today?”, and we all nodded “yes”. Then the judge continued:
“Okay, now that that burning question has been answered, let’s move along just in case you two fine scholars might uncover something of interest to the court that would have some bearing on our proceedings here.”
I guess they feel this attempt to get some personal warmth with the jurors is needed in lieu of persuasive evidence. Such evidence as that is often only available on television drama programs where ballistic and forensic laboratories have unlimited budgets for exotic evidence processing equipment that has not yet been invented.
Here are some (but not all) of the questions that have been directed at me, and a few of my responses:
ATTY: “Do you have a relative or close friend who is in law enforcement?”
ATTY: “Who would that be?”
ME: “My cousin.”
ATTY: “Would that be a friend, or a relative?” (judge looks at attorney, and shakes head)
ME: “My cousin? Both.”
ATTY: “What would you say are your cousin’s regular duties as a police officer?”
ME: “He is the Captain of the homicide division.”
ATTY: “Does he have arrest authority?” (judge still shaking head, and staring at attorney)
ME: “I think if you commit a murder in his state he can at least write you a ticket for it.” (judge covers mouth with hand to hide smile)
ATTY: “You indicated you have been a victim of a crime. Was it a homicide?”
ME: “No, the burglary took place when I was not at home, so they did not have to kill me.” (judge stares in disbelief at both me and the attorney)
ATTY: “You held up your hand that you have been in an at-fault accident while driving a motor vehicle. Could you tell us about it?”
ME: “I hit a tree.”
ATTY: “What were the circumstances?”
ME: “Due to a hurricane, tree limbs were twisted, and some were hanging over the road. I swerved to dodge one on the left, but clipped another branch overhanging on the right with the top of the truck I was driving.”
ATTY: “Was the other driver charged?”
ME: “What other driver? It was a tree. The tree did not pull out in front of me, or anything like that. The tree was standing perfectly still. It was not the tree’s fault, so no, the tree was not charged.” (judge rolls eyes)
ATTY: “Have you ever seen someone you felt was too drunk to drive even though they displayed no behavior that might indicate they were drunk?”
ME: “Just looking at somebody that was in no way acting intoxicated? No tell-tale behavior? Without any noticeable behavior, what would I have to go on? A hunch? Do you think I have some kind of telepathic intuitive blood-alcohol detection system built into my eyes? Maybe there is an app for that available on cell phones?” (judge rolls eyes, and rattles papers)
ATTY: “So, you have children that attended college. What would you say is the main thing they intend to do with their education?”
Me: “Understand things, and be able to solve problems.”
ATTY: “Did any of them aspire to a particular career or job?”
ME: “I think the oldest one thought at one time he might want to become President of The United States.” (judge covers face with hands)
ATTY: “Was your child successful with attaining that goal?” (audible groan from judge)
ME: “If he did, he never mentioned it.”
ATTY: (Responding to the statement that I’m still married to my first wife,) “Have you ever been married before?”
ME: “Probably not that anyone would notice.” (judge now making a stream of grunting noises)
ATTY: “Do you have any personal beliefs that would prohibit you from sitting in judgement of your fellow man?”
ME: “Wow! They want me to be the judge? I thought they just wanted me for jury duty!” (judge clears throat; eyes doing loops)
Some days are easier than others for jury duty. For example, “Talk Like a Pirate” day is fine as long as everybody is doing it, but I hate “Talk Like Elmer Fudd” day when I’m the only one who honors it. While walking into the courtroom single file, we were instructed to keep silent until called upon. My turning to the others to say: “Be vewy, vewy quiet!” was not necessary, nor was it appreciated by anyone other than a deputy sheriff in the hallway who probably just didn’t see it coming.
Please take note that the only advice in this entire letter is about things you should not do. Ignoring this, or attempting to repeat things I may have said could result in your being charged with “Contempt of Court”, which will not look good on your resume. If you do not think you can control such impulses, do not speak at all. Your right to free speech (and almost all other personal freedoms) could be put in jeopardy, and you may find someone telling you that: “You have a right to remain silent…”