Wednesday, June 10

Murder, He Wrote…about

3 gunshots + 2 victims + 1 car = 4 criminal counts. How judging a Gang Killing in Phoenix turned my life upside down! Pretty dramatic, huh.

Recently I had the interesting experience, one might almost say the honor, of serving on a jury for a criminal trial. The trial lasted from the end of April until the beginning of June. At the time I was unable to talk about what was happening, but now that it is completed, I thought it might be interesting to share some of the observations that I had and perhaps give a glimpse into the court system that many people may not have had the chance to see.

For most people, jury duty begins with the summons in the mail. I had already requested a deferment previously, so this time I had to attend. In essence, it is a giant cattle call. You wait in a big room at the courthouse for your name to be called for a jury pool. And for some reason, this process turns perfectly intelligent, rational adults into second graders. (If you’ve been called, you know what I’m talking about.) In my case, the first sorting that was done was to find 50 people that could sit on a trial that would last for approximately three weeks. I didn’t have anything interesting going on in my life at the time, so I responded yes. That put me in the pool. All in all, not terribly difficult. Although the worst part was having to sit in that room while they played the DVD for Marley & Me. Should have gotten extra compensation for that.

So we go up to the court room to begin the jury selection process. No names are used, everyone is a number. I was number 30. Lots of basic, routine questions. Do you know anyone involved in the case, any of the lawyers, any potential witnesses, etc. It takes a few hours to go through all of that. Out of the original 50, they needed 15 – 12 jurors plus 3 alternates. I figured being number 30 I had probably less than a 50% chance of being selected. I figured they would just count off from the beginning until they had enough. But I think the actual selection was more involved. They selected a group of 15 out of the entire batch, skipping over several at a time. And I was one of the lucky 15. Now I am officially known as number 11. I traded up. I am guessing there were much more sophisticated criteria at work by the two sides, because the resulting jury was well represented demographically. Age ranged from 20s to 60s, there were several different nationalities and several different genders. No, I’m kidding. There were only two.

Court is not like Perry Mason, or even Law & Order. Less entertaining and much less dramatic. The courtrooms today are high tech, with microphones, overhead projectors, and computers everywhere. The judge even has a white noise machine that he can turn on above the jury box to block out discussions the lawyers have at the bench. So now I’m regretting skipping that lip reading class in college. Our jury seats were reasonably comfortable leather chairs. Better than the one I have in my office. You get to bring in drinks with you, as long as you aren’t messy. No food though. What did you think, this is a cafeteria? Naturally, there is the admonition against phones and pagers. But wouldn’t you know it, there is always that one person who forgets. Of course, since it was the judge whose phone rang during the trial, we just let it go with a laugh. The attorneys and defendant dress up but no one else does. Jury members, witnesses – jeans, shorts and flip flops. I resisted the urge and wore business casual each day.

Trials in Arizona are somewhat unique. During the witness testimony, jury members are allowed to take notes of the proceedings and may even ask their own questions of the witnesses. After both sides are finished with direct and cross examinations, the questions are submitted in writing to the judge, who must approve them and who reads them aloud to the witness. I know what you are thinking. Of course I submitted questions. I was the first one, although not the only one. The notes that you take must be left in the courtroom and after the deliberations are finished and the verdict reached, they are destroyed. That means all of what I am telling you is from memory. And no, I’m not making stuff up.

Coming next: THE CASE

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