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Monday, July 6

Jury Duty: One spin through the system - Part 1

So I was recently called upon to do my civic duty and report to jury duty. When I got the letter I did what most people do, which is to put it on the calendar and do my best not to think about it. Eventually though, I ended up being forced to. What follows is a multi-post entry that describes my experience as a juror in the Dallas County Criminal Court.


When the day finally arrived, I told the lovely wifey that I was just going to go in there, be honest, be respectful, and let the chips fall where they may. I did my best not to really pull for selection or rejection, though I really couldn't deny my curiosity into the system since I have such defined political views and so little practical experience with the system. I also have a job that I love and I don't really like missing out on anything interesting that goes there either.

I followed the directions on the jury duty letter to the court building downtown, but the parking lot with the huge "Jurors park here" sign on it also had a hefty parking fee listed on the entrance where you have to pull a ticket to gain entry. I decided against that, and swung around to the parking lot in front. That one only cost $3/day, which I was far more comfortable with. Once inside I joined the unwashed masses in a big auditorium style room that held around a thousand people.

As I was walking around, I got the distinct impression that I was exactly in the middle of the type of facility that my right-leaning friends refer to when they talk about their disdain for anything "government-run." The place was packed full of people. The chairs were functional stadium style fold-downs mounted on rails in uncomfortable proximity to one-another. The walls were bland and there were signs on them asking for people to turn cells phones to silent. Everything about everything was both barely functional and entirely uninspiring. We were repeatedly reminded to fill out our jury summons and hand the top half in to the appropriate personnel or else we wouldn't be given credit for having attended. Dallas is a pretty fat city (
landing 14th in the latest Men's Health survey), and jury duty sure is a testament to that. Most of the seats did not fit the asses. The variety of people was remarkable. Everyone from women in power-suits to homies with their pants dragging filed in around me. I felt both in and out of place at the same time. Someone and also no one.

About an hour after finding my seat a judge came and addressed us. He thanked us for remembering to show up, commented on how he believed that jury duty is a rewarding and important endeavor, reminded us to turn in our jury summons or we would not receive credit, and handed the podium over to someone he did not introduce. She was obviously the resident juror-herder and she politely reminded us to turn our cell-phones off for the video. She also noted that we would have to be sure to turn in our jury summons or we wouldn't get credit, and pointed out the machine that could validate our parking garage stubs for a jurist discount that would lower the fee to $3. Damn. A screen descended in front of us, and a blue screen was projected onto it. We heard the video start, but didn't see it. Then we heard it stop, start again, and stop again. The lady walked back out with a remote and a stern look on her face. She started the video again. Still no picture. Finally she started it again and walked back into her room to leave us to listen to but not watch the video. I resisted the urge to play games on my phone, but only barely.

After the video had ended the woman came back out and asked us to take note of the jurist number on the part of the summons that we had retained. My number was 922. She then started calling numbers and assigning the various courts that we were to attend. She called numbers in ranges, so the first batch was numbers 1 through 50 something, and everyone grabbed a jurist badge from a big box as they were exiting. My number was part of the third or fourth batch, and as I walked by the lady I picked up my badge and asked her to reiterate the court that she had assigned us to so that I could be sure to go to the correct place. She handed me a stack of about a hundred pages bound in a big rubber band and said "District Court 102, seventh floor. Take this to the bailiff." Alrighty then.

I grabbed the papers (which conveniently had "Dallas County Court District 102 Judge Don Adams" written in big letters on the top page) and walked out to the elevators. The elevators were like everything else in the building - minimally functional. I packed into a group of 10 or 12 people in the next available car and we rode up. Later on I looked for and never found the stairs. I did find the emergency stairs exit, but that door had an "alarm will sound" warning on it, so I opted out.

As a side note, the interesting thing about this building was the degree to which things were and were not labeled. There were no maps of the building posted, so you couldn't just go "I am here" and navigate your way to where you wanted to be. There were signs up signifying what was inside the various rooms and hallways, but never really anything pointing you
toanything. Outside of the parking garage this way and cafeteria that way signs, you really had to have insider info to figure out where you were and where you were going. The building was pretty simple to navigate after having run through it for a few days, but on a first pass through one never could figure out where things were without being told. I'm not sure if that's by design or not.

Once we all found our way to the correct door and I had handed the papers over to the bailiff, we were left to loiter about for around an hour. Eventually an attendant appeared and produced a large batch of clipboards, pens, and questionnaires. We were called individually by name and each handed a numbered questionnaire. Mine was number 42. The questions within were revealing, and I had to strain to separate Law and Order from my actual personal experiences.

In general, what is your view of the criminal just system?
____Too Lenient _____To Harsh __x__About right
This question is way to broad. Good arguments can be made for both sides, so I'm defaulting to neither.
What is your view of policemen?
No real dealings with them, but generally they have been helpful to me.
Please number the reasons for incarceration with 1 being the most important reason and 3 being the least important.

____3___Rehabilitation ____1___Punishment ____2____Deterrence

(I considered going with rehab number one initially, but honestly I don't really believe that prisons are good places for that)

What is your view of prosecutors?
Out to win.
What is your view of defense attorneys?
Out to win.
Have you or any family member been a victim of a crime? Explain.
No. (I thought on this question for quite a while, and was surprised with the answer. I mean my truck was vandalized once, but I never really pursued it.)
Have you or any family member been a victim of child abuse? Explain.

There were others, but they were less interesting.

We handed in the questionnaires and broke for lunch by way of packed elevators. There was a big sign in front of the nondescript cafeteria entrance that said "Cash Only!" and of course I don't ever really carry much cash on me. I asked a cop where the ATM was, and she said she thought there was one on the second floor. Great. A whole building that doesn't operate in modern currency, and the only ATM is on a different floor from the primary place where people would need it. I went out, went up, got cash, and came back down.

The cafeteria reminded me of the one from middle school. There were some fry cooks there making burgers, some premade meals, a pizza station and a beverage station. Everything was spectacularly plain though you couldn't tell when you paid. Like everything else, the cafeteria was packed with people and I took the only open table I could find. I plugged into my iPhone, turned on a podcast
, and ate my nine-dollar grilled fish and mashed potatoes.

After lunch I headed back up to the seventh floor in a packed elevator and continued to hurry up and wait outside the courtroom doors. Eventually we were able to enter the court, though we had to do so in numerical order. I was in the fourth row of five rows, and the overflow people filled into the jury box.

The courtroom was just like the rest of the building. Wooden pews, dropped ceiling, fluorescent lights, some modest AV equipment. It felt a lot like an office and only a little like a place of raw American justice. There were four people standing at attention behind the attorney desks as we entered the room. Two Hispanic men on the left, one wearing headphones with medium length slicked back hair, and two women on the right, one white and the other black. The white one reminded me of
Marcy from Married with Children.

Judge Adams was in the far left corner perched up in his box and a small wooden divide separated the gallery from the attorneys. Judge Adams greeted us, thanked us, and read the charge. Sexual assault of a minor as defined by the penetration of the victim by an object, his penis. Penetration is defined as any amount of entry, even partial. The punishment allowed by law is to be set by the jury as incarceration in a penitentiary for an amount no less than two and no more than twenty years, and the jury can recommend a sentence of probation.

Marcy started in as the others sat down.

She was very impressive. She explained the concept of reasonable doubt, and then started asking broad generic questions to the group. "Do you need physical evidence to convict someone of child molestation?" "If you had physical evidence, what would you most like to see?" (We all responded "DNA!" as a group to that one) "Who here knows someone close, either yourself, a family member, or a friend who has been a victim of child abuse?" At this point individual hands started getting raised. She began calling people by name and asking them to continue. It was amazing to watch her work as she was able to flawlessly identify every person in the room by name in a random order and had clearly taken the questionnaires into account as she probed into the individual's responses. All the while all of the other attorneys were busy taking notes and making marks on their various papers. She asked if people felt that just because the man in headphones in front of us had been arrested and brought before us that he was already guilty. More people than I would have expected answered affirmatively. She asked if we expected a child abuse case to be reported right away. She asked if we expected to see much physical evidence in an abuse case that had not been immediately reported. After about 30 minutes of question and answer with the group the judge informed her that she had 10 minutes left. She then went row by row and asked us to raise our hand if we felt we could not convict someone based on the testimoy of just one individual. The woman next to me meekly raised her hand and the female attorney sitting down scratched her paper.

When Marcy had finished she had never called on me and I had never raised my hand. I did participate in the row by row questions, though that was entirely by affirming that I could follow the law.

The Hispanic man on the far left stood up and began a different form of Q and A. This man decidedly
didn't know everyone's name by heart, and referred to a sheet of paper that he carried with him to address people's names. He talked briefly about reasonable doubt, and asked questions pertaining to that. He talked with individuals about their experiences with police, and any conflicts that they may have had with the law. A lady gave an anecdote about a time she was given a speeding ticket even though many other people were speeding around her. He asked her how she could have proven that she wasn't speeding to the court, and at this point I raised my hand. He looked me up on his sheet and called my name. "It doesn't matter if she can or not. In a case like this the burden of proof isn't on the defendant. It's on the prosecution." "Exactly! That's the perfect answer" There were some people that were remarkably vocal with their prejudices. One man pointed and said "I know he did it. I know." Another guy would speak up. "I'm a social worker, and I just love the children. I don't think twenty years is enough." The attorney continued on, and eventually was given a time warning by the judge as well. This attorney went row by row as the previous one did, but with a different question - "The minimum punishment for this crime is probation. If you found someone guilty of this crime, and you believed that probation was the appropriate punishment, could you issue probation as the actual punishment?" When he came to me I raised my hand. "I have to say that I'd have a difficult time jumping through the mental hoop of convicting someone of that and then coming to the conclusion that probation is the best punishment, but if I did I could come back with that as the sentence." "Are you saying that you could or couldn't convict someone and give them probation?" "I could. I'm just saying that it would be quite the trick." "Great. Thank you"

When the defense attorney was done the judge thanked us again, and sent us back out into the hall. I plugged back into my phone and watched some more TV. My battery was already running low, and it was barely three in the afternoon, so after a while I decided to stop. I went out to the vending machine which miraculously managed to refuse both credit cards
and cold hard cash. You had to deposit exact change or it wouldn't drop anything. Oh, and it didn't take pennies. Want a candy bar? Ninety cents in exact change please. No you can't just put a dollar in there and let it keep the extra dime. Instead you have to beg your neighbor for the extra fifteen cents to match the loose change in your pocket. Awesome.

Eventually we were called back in and told that we could sit wherever we liked. The three attorneys and the man I now knew was the defendant wearing headphones were standing as they had been before. I picked a chair with some padding on it instead of the hard wooden pew. Everyone sat and the judge started reading names. I was one of the first ones called. Everyone else was dismissed, and the judge gave us our orders. Don't discuss the case with anyone while litigation is ongoing. Don't discuss the case with each other until after all argument have been made. Be here at nine am tomorrow, and call me if you're going to be late. The case should wrap around Thursday. We all rose, and the bailiff led us out the back door and into the jury room. He told us we could bring our lunches, showed us the fridge and the microwave, and sent us on our way.

I called work and wife to inform that I'm on the jury.

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