Jury Duty

It completely baffles me that people complain about jury duty.

Granted, it wasn’t too fun to wait all morning in the central jury room with hundreds of completely miserable, complaining, and impatient people. You’d have thought we were about to be shipped off to jail judging by the looks of despair on everyone’s faces. However, once put on a case, I absolutely loved it.

photo 4

I was working the night shift before jury duty morning, so I had to dash out of the hospital early to make it to the court house and through security in time. Suffice to say I was looking a tad disheveled, as evidenced by the bathroom “selfie” below. (Because, among other non-productive activities, that’s how someone running on no sleep passes the hours. And, yes, I shamelessly clipped my ID badge to my sweatshirt in hope of getting special treatment. No one cared.)

photo selfue

Of course, one can take only so many “selfies,” so I had ample reading material—mostly Johnny Cash’s love letters to his first wife. photo 2

And because I had last eaten at 4 a.m., I treated myself to the vending machine. Plus, I had Yelp-ed the courthouse beforehand and after reading this rave review I had to indulge:

“The guy who stocks and organizes the vending machines? HE CARES. A LOT. He is an artist. I spent about 45 minutes watching him hang out with all the vending machines in the lounge, and, wow, that guy has an eye for color grouping. He made some really dynamic arrangements in the chip rows. I almost hoped no one would buy anything – but his artistry was SO EFFECTIVE that people immediately bought chips. Good job sir.”

Of course a bored Brooklynite would write a Yelp review for the courthouse vending machine.

photo foood

When my sleep-deprived brain took five minutes to debate between the black & white cookie and the granola bar, I started to doubt that I was cut out for the more important decisions required of a juror.

Nevertheless, here’s my official title for the week: Juror. (Juror #11 to be precise.) It made me feel pretty dang important. Yep, I’m a Juror … just ensuring justice over here, doing my civic duty, keeping the peace …

photo 3

Anyways, after an inspirational introductory video about jury duty they started calling names up.  It may have been by random selection, but you can’t help but feel self-important and special when you’re among the chosen ones.

After filing into another white-walled room, we were shuttled into an elevator and brought to yet another waiting room on the twentieth floor. However, the views were so amazing I didn’t mind one bit. 
photobrudfgeManhattan Bridge and Empire State Building above. Williamsburg Bridge below. 
photo 4

Once in the court room we met the defendant, lawyers and judge and found out it was a sexual assault case. Then began the process of weeding about fifty potential jurors to twelve jurors and two alternates. About ten people immediately dropped out because they either knew the defendant or had a history of sexual abuse and didn’t want to be involved.

From there they brought 20 people to the juror chairs and asked 1) where do you live? 2) relationship status? 3) kids? 4) veteran? 5) occupation? 6) are you close to anyone involved in the justice system? 7) will you be a fair juror? and, my personal favorite  8) what do you do in your spare time?   Way too many people claimed to have no spare time, which is ridiculous because everyone has spare time, just admit that you spend it watching mindless TV.  I answered that I like to read and walk around New York City. I wanted to say “walking over the Williamsburg Bridge,” but feared it’d come off as sounding strange and unstable.

Lots of people were obviously trying to get dismissed by responding “I’ll try to be a fair juror.” And one woman made it clear that she’d always vote against a man  because she is “protective of women.”

When the defendant’s lawyer was questioning the potential jurors he opened with “Now, no one actually woke up excited to come to Jury Duty today, did they?”

To everyone’s surprise, I raised my hand. I explained that I wanted to be involved in our justice system because we are privileged to live in a society where we are presumed innocent until proven guilty and get to be judged by twelve peers. Not only that, but it was fascinating to watch the whole behind-the-scenes of a court room (How does the court reporter type so fast?? Can she still move her fingers at the end of the day??) Plus, I wanted to hear both sides of the story and see how the drama played out.

Though I was worried they wouldn’t pick someone who was too interested in serving (like the Jehovah Witness minister), sure enough my name was called!
photo 5We must have had the best juror deliberation room in the country. The Statue of Liberty stood in the distance, beautiful buildings rose around us, and the judge had decorated the walls with posters of every place he has scuba dived. Note: He looked about eighty and is going on another scuba diving expedition later this month. He was just the coolest. 
photo 3 Not only was the judge quite a character, but my fellow jurors were a fun, diverse group of people. There was the bartender, the IHOP cook, the school teacher, the nurse, the home health aide, the tech guy, the accountant, the HR lady, the unemployed girl, and the interior designer. {The unemployed girl managed to be an hour late three days in a row, but she brought in donuts and coffee on the third day to win us over.}

It was a pretty interesting context in which to meet people. And best of all we never had to fight amongst ourselves on a verdict because on the fourth day the case was dismissed.

photo 2

After being released at 10 a.m. Friday morning I had plenty of time for a stroll across the Williamsburg Bridge. At the top, I realized that looking back at downtown Brooklyn, I could see the court house rising up among the buildings. Imagining myself sitting in there all week among my fellow jurors, listening to one of the countless New York City disputes, I felt just a little more a part of the city. Jury duty does have a way of making you feel like a real New Yorker.
                                                        + + + + + + + + + + +
During trial we were not allowed to talk about it among ourselves or at home, but now all bets are off. The judge said we could write a book on it if we so pleased.
So for those interested in the details of the case:
Her story: A woman in her forties with a masters degree had been unemployed for two years and couldn’t pay her rent. In order to get government assistance she had to go to a back-to-work program. She accused the teacher of sexually assaulting her and sued the city for five million dollars. When she testified, her story sounded pretty unlikely, given that she was a mature, educated woman. For one thing she ended up not calling the police until the next day because she claimed to not know that sexual assault would be considered an issue to take up with the police. Also, there were security guards just outside the classroom.
The next witness, who was very interesting, was the medical examiner who tested and identified the stain on her suit jacket as the defendant’s sperm. Clearly a “sexual encounter” had occurred, but we hadn’t heard his side of the story.
His story:  A married man with three kids was facing three years in jail. However, he said she had began flirting with him, commenting on his body and shoe size. She then closed the door and things escalated. Afterwards he reviewed her resume and asked if she wanted to do a mock interview. She agreed, and to simulate a real interview, she left the classroom, knocked, and walked back in. Why would an adult, given the chance to escape her “attacker” after a sexual assault, willingly return to the room?
This was caught on the security cameras and was shown to us in court. Apparently her lawyers were shocked as well and confronted their client, who had no explanation. The next day the judge said, though this was very rare, the case was being dismissed.
This entry was published on March 16, 2014 at 11:33 am. It’s filed under Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

4 thoughts on “Jury Duty

  1. john t. williams on said:

    What reaction did you see in the accuser? Shame, disappointment, anger? And in the accused? Was there a racial or other socially significant distinguishing characteristic between the two?

    • ha well the accused always had a blank face. the accuser was crying and such. she was pretty good considering she was making it all up.
      they were both the same race and both educated.

  2. Mary Beth on said:

    Did either the defendent or accuser have any family or friends in the audience? Neither stirs my sympathy so wonder if their own families feel similarly.

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