Pub Rants

Not A Lick Of Work

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STATUS: I’m pretty excited because the Nelson Agency is launching our brand spanking new e-Newsletter starting next week. It’s going to include all kinds of special info that won’t be divulged on the blog. So if you are interested, you might want to sign up so you don’t miss the inaugural issue.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? WAR The Cardigans

Today was a complete wash, work-wise, because I answered my summons for jury duty. Now I’ve been called in the past but I’ve basically sat in a big room for a whole morning without my number being called. I got to leave by noon.

Not today. This morning I was actually selected to sit through the juror selection process. A criminal assault case (third degree) no less (but don’t worry, the judge clearly said there was no gag order and we were welcome to discuss it freely).

Law & Order it’s not.

Twelve prospective jurors sat in the jury box to start the process (10 alternates sat off to the side and observed). The attorney for the prosecution began the questioning with the defense attorney allowed her turn afterwards. Initial question period was 15 minutes each.

I’m not sure what I expected but here were the two questions I personally received:

1. Has anyone ever made me angry enough that I was provoked to violence?

Answer is no by the way.

2. Could I maintain the presumption of innocence even if the defendant chose not to testify or explain his actions in the alleged assault?

I answered yes.

The attorney also questioned whether the race of the defendant (African American) and the race of the person pressing charges (Latino) would be a factor. We all answered NO. It would be interesting to know how that eventually played into who stayed on the jury and who were dismissed. I’m sure our individual races as jury members were factors in the selection.

I was also surprised by how much the defense attorney was allowed to lead the questioning in the jury selection process. She asked whether we could believe in a self-defense argument if the defendant was larger than the complainant.

Gee, I wonder where that question was leading to.

I didn’t get to find out because I was dismissed as well as a white male corporate attorney, a white male airline pilot, an older white woman of Southern origins who described herself as a housewife, a Latina woman whose English, by her own admission was only so-so, a white cocktail waitress who had mentioned the at she had been moved to violence several times, a Puerto Rican man who admitted that he would need the defendant to testify to understand the case, and a retired Latino gentleman who seemed pretty neutral to me.

Those who remained were a white stay-at-home mom, two Latina grandmothers (one retired and the other worked line-assembly for machinery), a Latino 18-year old high school student (no kidding, he was going to have to take off from school to sit on the jury), an older white woman who managed contracts for an oil/petroleum company, and a serious African American gentleman who looked to be in his 30s and who was an alternate to sit on the jury when a young woman asked to be excused because she was dealing with the recent death of her daughter (that startled the jury panel). I can’t remember his profession but it was pretty late in the day by then (and that was another interesting tidbit because we all had to state our name, profession, marital status, and some hobbies).

All in all, the whole day was fascinating. On one hand, I was relieved to be dismissed so I wouldn’t miss another day of work. On the other hand, it could be really educational and interesting to see the trial unfold.

But the end result was the same. Not a lick of work got done today.

28 Responses

  1. Tia N. said:

    Your jury selection experience and the actual crime sounded so much like a criminal assault case I sat on the jury for that it was spooky. In that case, the defendant also did not take the stand. We also fielded questions like, would you believe a cop’s testimony just because it was a cop?

    I did serve and I was astonished how little information the jury was given to work with. It took us three days of deliberation to come up with a guilty sentence of a lesser crime. I would hate to have to sit on a trial of a crime like murder.

  2. Janni said:

    There was an 18-year-old on the (one day, fairly straightforward) DWI trial I was on, too, also taking time off from school. We made her jury foreman, too, when it came time to deliberate. 🙂

  3. Joelle said:

    I sat on a jury where the guy defended himself in an robbery charge. He was sooooo clearly guilty, but he left the scene without any property or money and the the definition of robbery in Oregon said you had to take something that wasn’t yours. He got off on that, but we did convict him of stabbing the guy (not fatally). Laws are so weird sometimes. We all knew he was guilty, but they’d charged him wrong. If it had been attempted robbery, we would’ve convicted him.

  4. Joely Sue Burkhart said:

    The only time I’ve been called for jury duty, I did have to serve. The defendant didn’t have an attorney and looked like an alternate for Deliverance, but in the end, we found him not guilty. The timing of the trial was a pain because I had a huge project in midstream at the EDJ (evil day job), but I would do it again in a heartbeat. Off to sign up for the newsletter….

  5. Richard White said:

    Having been a pre-law student back in the day (What, you think it’s easy getting a Sabre-tooth tiger off on simple manslaughter charges?), your experience doesn’t surprise me at all. The defense has the advantage over the prosecution most of the time in jury selection because they get more preemptory challenges. While they can’t stack the jury, they can certainly influence the make up more than the state can. We were taught as prospective lawyers to profile the juror pool quickly and select specific types to eliminate as quickly as possible. Now, this was back in the 70s/80s, but I doubt it’s changed too much today.

    Oh, and I signed up for the e-newsletter also. *grin*

  6. Anonymous said:

    Wow, a high school student. You’d think that would be an automatic excuse there, but hey, what senioritis-suffering high schooler is going to complain? He’ll probably get extra credit in some class.:)


  7. Anonymous said:

    Wow, a high school student. You’d think that would be an automatic excuse there, but hey, what senioritis-suffering high schooler is going to complain? He’ll probably get extra credit in some class.:)


  8. Anonymous said:

    Wow, a high school student. You’d think that would be an automatic excuse there, but hey, what senioritis-suffering high schooler is going to complain? He’ll probably get extra credit in some class.:)


  9. katiesandwich said:

    The fact that the defense attorney gets to pick the jury really bothers me. My husband does a lot of acting, and when preparing for a role, he asked an attorney how one could defend a rapist on the stand. The guy said that selecting the jury was the most important part. No schoolteachers; and it was always good to pick sweet old ladies because their attitude is, “Oh, he seems like such a nice boy. I don’t think he did that.” There’s a list of other factors, but I can’t remember them. This just seems so wrong.

  10. Anonymous said:

    Jury duty is one of those things that I’m never really sure that I want to do, but once I’m there it’s interesting.

    Losing a day of productivity smarts a bit though.

  11. Anonymous said:

    I just wanted to throw out a few things in response to the comments: first, tia n. is surprised that she got asked whether she would trust a police officer simply because he was a police officer. I would be shocked if there was ever a criminal jury selection where this question wasn’t asked. A very large amount of people will credit a police officer’s word over a normal person’s, when in reality, cops frequently “fudge,” “weasel” and even “blatantly fabricate” their testimony. In general, a police officer is no more reliabile than anyone else, but many people believe they automatically should be considered more reliable. This is a question the judge frequently asked in trials I was on.

    richard white said: as a pre-law student, he learned that defendants get more preemptory challenges. This may vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but it is not true in my state or the federal system.

    Katiesandwich said: “it just seems wrong that defendants can pick juries.” this may be the spawn of richard white’s erroneous post, but in rebuttal, prosecutors have the exact same right to pick juries; there is no imbalance. Often times, there are jurors who are clearly prejudiced against a party, but insist that they can be fair and balanced; without peremptories, they would have to stay. Peremptories prevent biased juries, and the mutuality of peremptories and limitation in number work to prevent any imbalance caused by the peremptories.

    As for why some jurors are picked and others aren’t… I once asked a federal judge I worked with and he said “who the hell knows?”

    -Anon Atty

  12. Anonymous said:

    Kristin, you are too honest. I loathe jury duty, personally, and am never more delighted than when I am speedily released back to the real world.

    When chosen to be in the presence of snivelling lawyers arguing a petty assault case, or even worse a personal injury one, I usually lead off with things like “No one deserves more than their medical bills, money-wise… pain and suffering is legal mumbojumbo” or “If that guy hit that other guy, he probably had a good reason. Besides, he looks pretty shifty to me.”

    Or, to quote Homer (Simpson, that is), “Just tell the judge that you are prejudiced against all races.”

  13. Southern Writer said:

    I served on a jury up in Eagle County, and the woman beside me spent the entire time looking at a People magazine. She’d put it on the floor of the jury box, and turned the pages with her toes. It ticked me off. The defendant wouldn’t be getting a life sentence for the crime, but he still had a lot at stake, so I thought she should pay attention. The other jurors made her the jury foreman. Gah!

  14. Shanna Swendson said:

    How many people when they heard your profession tried to tell you about that book they’re planning to write? I think half the trial lawyers in the world are convinced they’re going to retire on the bestseller they’re going to write about their career.

    I think the judge let me off the last time I was called for jury duty in part because the defense attorney got all wink-wink, nudge-nudge with me about being a novelist, and was I going to write a book about the case, and hey, if I was going to write it as a romance novel, he could be the hero. I informed him that he didn’t qualify. The DA may have pulled something from straining not to laugh.

  15. Anonymous said:

    I always wanted to be on a jury. My Mom keeps getting summoned (she’s an ER nurse so they never make her actually serve), but the one and only time I got one I was hugely pregnant and expecting to go into labor any day, so I had to send in that little card explaining why I couldn’t do it.

    I had a friend who used to get off jury duty by telling the judge enthusiastically how he’d love to be on a jury, he’d be so good at it, because he could tell if someone was guilty just by looking at them.

  16. Carrie said:

    I loved the one time I served on a jury. It was a juvenile case about one kid threatening another and I was suprised how quickly the jury wanted to convict (this was right after Columbine). But the prosecutor hadn’t even proved or brought up one of the elements of the crime that was in the jury instructions. In the end they didn’t convict, but still. What a lesson in how juries work! (which is quite helpful seeing as how I’m now an attorney – I was a college student at the time).

  17. Anonymous said:

    There must be something in the air b/c I just got a jury duty slip in the mail last week. I tried to postpone (I’m at the tail end of a huge project at day job), but no go. So I’m off to take notes on what I expect to be some interesting characters (*everything* is a writing experience!).

  18. Patrick McNamara said:

    In our area, when one is called for jury duty it’s a two to three week duration, depending upon whether one is mailed about it or called in the night before. If one isn’t selected on Monday, one has to come back the next week, and possibly a third, making the likelyhood of serving high.

    The one time I was called in I wasn’t selected for the first trial and the second week I avoided it because my mother happened to work for a federal crown attorney even though it was a region case.

  19. katiesandwich said:

    Um, no, my erroneous comment was not prompted by richard white’s erroneous comment. The point I was making was that this practice has allowed rapists to get off scot free.

  20. anon too said:

    Katie Sandwich,

    Defense attorneys do not pick the jury. Yours was an “erroneous” statement.

    The jury pool is selected randomly (now usually by computers from a data base of voters, people with driver’s licenses, and other identifying data bases).

    From the jury pool, the panel is selected in order–usually numerical (and usually by the court clerk).

    From the panel, the attorneys for BOTH sides get to ask questions.

    The JUDGE decides on challenges for cause.

    EACH side gets to bump off a (small) number of jurors on what are called “peremptory” challenges.

    Who remains on the panel when that process is finished is the jury.

    I’m sorry that some guilty people have been let go. Sometimes there just isn’t enough evidence. Or as pointed out in another comment, the GOVERNMENT has charged the wrong crime.

    And occasionally (but in my more than 25 years experience as an attorney, not very often) the jury just screws up.

    I really hate comments like yours that insinuate that defense attorneys are evil and that the process of having jury trials is what allows rapists to go free. Or anyone.

    Just so you know–there have been a lot of men sentenced to death (and even put to death) who were wrongly convicted by juries. And some sentenced to prison for rape wrongly. Now that we have DNA testing, these mistakes are coming to light. I don’t hear you crying for them.

    Humans make mistakes. It doesn’t mean the system is bad. It’s just human.

    I truly hope that you are never falsely accused of a crime or anything else, but if you find yourself in court (guilty or innocent) I hope you have a good legal representative. And enjoy the best approximation of a fair system we have devised so far.

    (Sorry for the rant and the civics lesson).

    Another lawyer in the crowd.

  21. xiqay said:


    No work done by you. But if you were a writer, too, this would have been a field day.

    Well, maybe it was anyway. Undoubtedly you’ll have a keener eye looking at characterizations and jury scenes in the novels coming your way!

  22. Anonymous said:

    Speaking for the law enforcement side:

    in reality, cops frequently “fudge,” “weasel” and even “blatantly fabricate” their testimony

    There are bad apples in all professions, but using the word “frequently” is a slap to all in law enforcement. That’s like saying “in reality, cops are frequently urged by prosecuting atty’s to fudge, weasel and even blatantly fabricate their testimony.” Believe me, that happens, too.

  23. Anonymous said:

    When I was about seven months pregnant, I sat on a jury for a murder trial. I think I was the only person in that selection room who actually WANTED to sit on the jury: for starters, I was doing nothing at home with my time, and it really was a way for me to make a little spending money, and I’ve always felt it my civic duty to serve on a jury. I could have gotten out of it (I was asked if I felt able to do so… I was VERY pregnant) but I did not.

    It was a fascinating, if gruesome and difficult, trial. It ran about two weeks, and I was very miffed when I had to sit out actual deliberations because I was technically an alternate. Two weeks of taking notes to sit on my ass while the actual decision was made.

    The whole process is very fascinating. And so very not law-TV. They actually asked us if we watched a lot of crime dramas, because TV gives people the expectation of that level of technology and evidence, when it’s just not so. For example, on TV, every weapon they pick up has usable fingerprints; in reality, it’s actually quite hard to get usable prints from a handgun.

  24. Anonymous said:

    You were lucky with the one day. Heck, you’d have been lucky with one week.

    I did 2-1/2 MONTHS of jury duty on a Federal case. I’m done with jury duty for life, if it means I have to develop a strange tick the next time I’m called.

  25. Pennyoz said:

    Tried to sign up but got a message saying error – tried a few times and don’t know if I got in or not. If there are several Penny’s it’s not a coincidence… LOL

    if there isn’t a Penny then it’s the idiot at this end of the computer with an error that she can’t work out.

  26. carynsilver said:

    Hi! Is there a problem with the signup for the newsletter? I tried twice, but it said there was an error with processing my request. Thanks for any help!