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IdaBriggs

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Gender: Female
Hometown: South East Michigan
Home country: United States
Member since: Tue Jul 27, 2004, 12:19 PM
Number of posts: 10,559

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Justice was Served - I was excused from Jury Duty for Cause.

Ever had an "in your face, put your money where your mouth is" karma moment? I had one on Thursday.

I was summoned for Jury Duty at my local Circuit Court.

I am not a stranger to the building -- we were Plaintiffs in a civil case against our bank not that long ago -- but this was the first time I had been there as a potential juror.

Truthfully, I was summoned in December, but I was able to defer until March. Things have been crazy-busy at work, and I ended up canceling seven different meetings to go; because you are supposed to "call after five" I wasn't even sure I would need to report, in which case I planned to go to work (no work = no pay) and actually "get stuff done" with the meetings canceled. Other than losing a day's wages, I felt good about the situation - civic duty, you know. Proud to be an American, etc. Besides, what were the odds I would be selected? Maybe I would be released early, but too late to go to work; my fantasy of a guilt free, kids in school/husband at work couple of hours involved maybe getting a "mani-pedi" and possibly lunch with my mom.

I was "Juror #003" and our pool had about a hundred people or so. Orientation was good, and warned that if we were "called but not selected" we were to return to the jury room because we might be offered for another case. The women running the show were polite, courteous, and sincere - "just being here sometimes encourages settlement in cases, so rest assured you are really helping!" Within five minutes of orientation being complete, approximately 40 numbers were called and since my number wasn't one of them, I jokingly cheered "Go, Team Justice!" as they traipsed from the room before sitting down with a nice book - woo hoo! time to Read Without Interruption! -- because seriously, what were the odds the rest of us would be needed?

In hindsight, this attitude probably summoned the fates of "Oh, Really - is THAT what you think?"

Five minutes later, "all remaining jurors" were called to check-out. We were going to "Courtroom 2B" and the judge's clerk recommended we use the restroom beforehand, because we would spend the rest of the morning there. Fortunately, I listened to this advice, as did most of the women, which meant we waited for a bit in the hallway.

I was in a good mood. I don't "do bored" well, and this was looking like it would be interesting. The clerk noticed, and we did a small social chit-chat: "You seem happy." "I am - civic duty!" "It's good to have a happy juror." She was dressed in heels, with an awesome skirt/long blouse combo, and frankly, she looked amazing. I wondered if anyone would notice my "black-and-white" theme: black pants, white shirt, black jacket. It was supposed to be a "subtle" statement about my views on law-and-order stuff. We made the walk to the courtroom and I joked that it was like being in line at a well known amusement park.

These are the mundane details of the morning. I share them to explain my mood. It was good - I was going to "help" in the cause of justice, which I believe in, and since I only had to be there for one day unless I was seated, at which point it was going to be two-to-four days, honestly, it was inconvenient (lots of work waiting, and losing a day's wages) but still something I was proud to be participating in - I Believe In Justice.

My mood lasted until the Judge read the charges.

The case involved a 14-year old girl who had been sexually assaulted at knife point during a home invasion.

Boom. This was real. Instant mood change. Instant somber.

The details of the charge, which were NOT the evidence, were painful to hear. I found myself thinking, "I can't do this!" and wishing for a nice murder trial instead, which seemed ridiculous and absurd. I lectured myself on holding it together, and listening. Could I be excused because I knew any of the witnesses? Drat - no. But one of us raised her hand, and said she thought the name of one of the Witnesses (for the Defense, I think) was someone she went to high school with; the judge asked if they were close, and she replied no, so she ended up staying. Fourteen of us were called to sit, and I breathed a prayer of relief because my number wasn't one of them.

The Judge asked them questions, and instructed the rest of us to pay attention to save time later. Had we ever served on a jury before? What type of case? What was the outcome? The attorneys later added "were you the foreman?" but the most important question was, "will that experience impact your ability to be fair and impartial here?" The second round had to do with "being a member of or related to law enforcement or judiciary" with the same "will this affect your ability to be fair and impartial?" The judge's final question was "is there anything else that might impact your ability to be fair and impartial" and wish washy was unacceptable. Could you put things aside, presume innocence, and evaluate evidence? Being charged, she repeated, was NOT evidence.

No one wanted to be there. Everyone answered with scrupulous honesty. We could see the defendant, and this was NOT a television show. It was real. Oh, God. It. Was. Real.

The juror in Chair #11 was the first to crack. When the judge asked the "any reason" question, she raised her hand, and in a shaking voice explained that her niece had been the a victim of molestation, and she wasn't sure she could be impartial. The judge pushed the issue - "you realize this isn't the same situation, don't you?" - but didn't release her. Later I understood that it was because, unless it was blatant, the judge waited for the attorneys to challenge jurors, and was probably keeping some kind of mental score about it. "Cause" was unlimited, but "peremptories" were not.

Then the lawyers started questioning - the Prosecutor always started with, "Tell us a little bit about yourself." The follow ups were about your marital status, whether you had children, what you did for a living. Then he asked tough questions: would you be able to listen to the testimony of a fourteen year old, who probably wouldn't be polished and perfect, who would be uncomfortable speaking in public, especially about a terrible situation such as this, and believe her? Could we wrap our heads around the fact there wasn't likely to be any witnesses, or video tapes, or anything to corroborate her story, except her testimony?

The Defense attorney apologized for moving slow - he had put himself in the middle of a dog fight the night before, and I instantly kind of liked him for that. He focused on "being accused does not make one guilty," and asked if we could put our natural sympathy for the victim aside to evaluate the evidence. He also brought up the subject of pornography - we were going to be shown graphic sexual images; did everyone understand that viewing pornography did not mean someone was automatically a criminal? Truthfully, he was a little funny with the question, and being rational adults, there were chuckles, which broke some of the tension.

The Defense attorney also told us he wasn't going to argue over whether the victim had been assaulted; the defense was that it wasn't his client who did it. This seemed a reasonable position, and I think some of us breathed easier because of it - at least I did.

The challenges started: the woman with the molested niece was excused. Anybody with a relative in law enforcement was excused. Anybody who worked with law enforcement was excused. A social worker, a surgeon a pregnant woman, and a woman who had just taken the bar exam were excused. As soon as a chair was emptied, the clerk called a number, and the process started over again.

The man who had shared the table with me during orientation flat out stated he could not be impartial because both his wife and daughter had been raped on separate occasions. Another woman started crying because she herself was a rape victim, and the perpetrator had never been caught. One man told how he had awoken to discover his thirteen year old sister being molested, and knew he couldn't do it. A new citizen whose English wasn't great was excused because he was having trouble following the proceedings. Two college students were released - one had exams over the next two days, while the other had non-refundable plane tickets to the Bahamas for Spring Break, which started on Monday for her. Living in Michigan, we all chuckled - it has been a long cold winter, and the thought of warm weather and sunny beaches made us smile.

As the jury pool got smaller, the judge became harder, especially for cause. The man who worked with a Catholic priest who was "relocated" in 2002 was an issue for her. The Jehovah's Witness who told her he didn't believe he could be fair about the issue of pornography due to his religious beliefs was a fight, and the man who told her he didn't feel as a Christian he could judge another man at this level without violating his religious beliefs had to be "peremptoried" because she wasn't budging: he had said "I don't think so" which wasn't a definite no.

One man was excused because his father had been a murder victim during a home invasion, and he flat out told the judge he couldn't be fair or impartial in the matter. The new citizen from Nigeria, where such things aren't talked about even though they happen, was excused on a peremptory.

There were two "funny" ones - the first was the woman who thought she might know one of the witnesses. She ended up battling the judge over the situation, and was excused when it came out that the reason they weren't friends was because they hated each other's guts due to the fact they both had the same "baby daddy" which had happened while they were both in high school. The other woman was a psychologist, specializing in sexual assault victims (1/3 of her practice) who had appeared in previous cases as an expert witness for the Prosecutor's office; bonus boot - her sister is a US District Attorney.

Our numbers got smaller and smaller; there were only three of us left in the pool when my number came up. I took over seat #5.

I remembered the questions. I had previously served on a jury for a drunk driver. I wasn't the foreman, and we found her guilty. I did not believe this would impact my ability to be fair and impartial.

My father, now deceased, had worked in law enforcement for thirty years focused mainly on property theft. I did not believe this would impact my ability to be fair and impartial.

My third "yes" to the judge was on the question of pornography. No one else had parsed it, but I had had a lot of time to think about it. If they showed me "regular pornography", I would not have a problem, but if they showed me child or rape pornography, especially in this type of case, I was going to find him guilty of anything they put in front of me so he could go to jail as a menace to society.

I said this in a very calm tone, and there was a moment I can only describe as slightly stunned silence. "You do realize those are not the charges?" asked the judge. "Yes," I replied. "But I don't know what kind of pornography you are going to show us, and if it is child or rape pornography, I will be voting guilty."

"Okay then," she replied, and turned me over to the attorneys for questioning.

"Please tell us about yourself," the Prosecutor said in a very nice way. He still managed to sound sincere despite the fact I was probably the 58th person he had said that too.

I had debated whether or not to lie. I decided against it. The man was entitled to know who the people on his jury were, and I would respect the process.

"I am married. I have two young children. I work in IT at one of the automotive companies, and I spent multiple years in therapy dealing with effects of being a survivor of child sexual assault. The person was never prosecuted."

I had to repeat it. Maybe my voice had shaken too much when I said it? Maybe the together looking middle aged woman speaking calmly about being an IT professional was hard to picture as a victim of such a thing. He apologized...

"I'm sorry, but who was the victim? Was it you?"

"Yes," I answered. (Oh, God, this is on the record, and I am saying it out loud in front of a room full of strangers.) "I have also been counting them up while I have been waiting, and I am personally acquainted with between twenty and twenty-five women who are also survivors of child sexual assault, but only two of the have had the perpetrators prosecuted, so I am curious as to what will constitute sufficient evidence. Nevertheless, I believe I am well versed in identifying the affect of victims. I have been thinking about whether or not I can be fair about this, as the Defense Attorney has asked, and I believe I can be fair and impartial since he will not be arguing whether or not she was assaulted. However, I need to specify that when it comes to evaluating the evidence, if she points and says HE DID IT, that will be good enough for me and I will be voting guilty."

If you read the title of this post, you know how the story almost ends. Not surprisingly, the Prosecutor didn't mind my staying, but the Defense had me released for cause. I was thanked for my service, and left the courtroom. Before I did, I looked briefly at my fellow jurors - people who could be trusted to fairly judge a situation that truthfully I could not, and whispered, "sorry" and "good luck" to them.

It was over...but not quite.

On the left hand side of the courtroom through this process had been sitting several people who appeared to be family members. We had no idea if they were there for the victim or the defendant. About an hour before my turn in seat #5 an older gentleman who appeared to be in his late sixties had left the courtroom for what I presume was a bathroom break; when he returned, he was instructed that he had to wait outside. He was standing by the window by the door when I came out, and he asked me if I was "the last" juror. "I was the last one excused," I told him. (I think he could hear what was going on, but I don't know for sure.) "There were two alternates left."

"That man," he said. "He's my son, and he just turned 41 years old the other day. 41 years old, and he's facing life in prison because this is his third strike."

"I'm sorry," I said to him, because what else could I say?

"His third strike," the man repeated. "He's my oldest boy. I have nine children, and he just turned 41 the other day. He went to prison for six years, and then for eight years, and I told him to stay away from trouble, but..."

He was obviously grief stricken. "Has he been making...bad life choices?" I asked gently.

He looked relieved at the euphemism. "Yes," he said.

"I'm sorry," I repeated, and gave him a hug. He hugged back.

I went back to the jury room. They released me. It was 1:00 p.m. and I will receive a check for $25 for my services. I did not return to work. I went to lunch by myself and then I got a haircut.

There is a section on the jury questionnaire that asks if you have ever been involved in a criminal or civil court case. I had diligently checked "plaintiff" in the civil section. I think, if it had been a murder trial, or a drug trial, or even a simple assault case, I would have been a good juror - fair, impartial, open minded. I wonder if I should have lied, or been "less forthcoming" about my past. Was my stance on pornography enough to get me removed? Did I "taint" the pool by specifying that child or rape porn was "different" than "regular" porn? Would I have trusted the "other woman" if she provided a clichéd defense that the defendant was with her when the victim said he was assaulting her? Would they have told us he was up on his "third strike"?

I don't know. I simply have to trust the fourteen people who could judge fairly when I could not, and hope the nightmare thought of a 14-year old girl waking up to a stranger in her room with a knife at her throat goes away soon.

Go, Team Justice.
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