Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Jury Journal: Rounds 5, 6, and 7

I'm woefully behind again. Let' catch up.

Round 5 (last Wednesday)

A whole lot of nothing. I never got called up. We were sent home at midday. Points of (comparative) interest:
  • A young woman near me had a pair of tattoos, one on each shoulder: on her left, a pair of hands, clasped in prayer, bound in rosary beads; on her right, the number "69", surrounded by flames (a strange metaphorical tat-embodiment of the recently mentioned shoulder angel and devil). I'm frequently amazed by what normal-looking people will ink on their bodies.
  • The two mid-matron ladies near me continued their conversation that had started the first day and continued each jury-morning, all jury-morning (in total, some serious conversational hours), even though they had clearly never met each other before the start, chatting with a free-ranging extroverted ease I find absolutely inconceivable.
  • The old guy seated next to me in the NBC Sports cap has a remarkable (and convenient) ability to sleep anywhere, anytime.
  • At some point, "Price is Right" was playing loudly on both televisions. Those ding-ding-dings of the big wheel spinning—that used to, a long time ago, sound future-y and novel, but now sound really dated—are near maddening at high-volume.
  • When "Price is Right" was over and a soap came on, a woman loudly grumbled that not everybody wanted to watch "the stories", and one of the TVs was switched to "the judge".
  • Most people want to get sent home absolutely as soon as possible, and after a big group gets called up to court, it's funny to hear a whole room of those who escaped collectively sigh with relief.
As I said, a whole lot of nothing.

Round 6 (Monday)

Mid-morning, I was called up to Section L (the same court as my first day), for an armed robbery case: the young defendant had allegedly robbed three migrant workers at gunpoint. Points of interest:
  • One of my fellow jurors wore a t-shirt that said "Too Blessed to be Stressed".
  • Again, we were asked if we had been the victim of crime or were close to the victim of a crime, and though I'd recently heard a similar enumeration, it was still mildly shocking to hear the frequency and degree of the affirmatives: shot at point blank range (a minister); a murder-suicide of close relatives; etc.
  • Collectively, the jury pool is becoming well schooled, rotely nodding or shaking our heads to the now familiar questions.
  • The defendant looked like a baby.
  • A minister juror (the same one who'd been shot) stated emphatically during questioning that he was for "restoration, not incarceration".
  • As a final catch-all question, the defense attorney asked if anyone felt they would have difficulty trying the case impartially, and one juror responded candidly: he was a transplant from California, and during his time in New Orleans, he had seen too much violence, and in the courts, he'd seen too much dysfunction, and no, he probably couldn't be impartial.
  • I didn't get picked. We got sent back to the jury lounge, then out for an hour lunch. Two minutes after getting back, the counter went to zero, and we were sent home for the day.
  • Though my overall response to being a juror has been rapt fascination, I left that day feeling a tinge of raggedy sadness at the core ugliness of this business.
Round 5 (today)

Mid-morning, I was once again called up to Section L, which has had an unusually heavy trial load this month and was now beginning to feel like a second home for many of us. The defendant was accused of shooting at somebody. Points of interest:
  • In the lounge, a gaggle of older jurors lamented how it didn't used to be like this with all the violence and whatnot. I tend to dismiss such claims as the creaky complaining of curmudgeonly codgers, but there's an important core of truth in the mildly revisionist nostalgia: They grew up in a time before pervasive heavy-duty drugs, their commodification, and the heavy-duty violence that follows. Booze, knives, guns, and poverty have been around a long time; New Orleans has been a violent place for a long time (I recently read an article pointing out that New Orleans has always had stratospheric murder rates, as in like since-way-back-in-the-19th-Century always, that our present predicament is nearly as old as the city); but the recent decades have brought an escalation and scale that causes legitimate regret and sadness in those who remember the time before.
  • All of the defendants have been black men. Three out of four have been young. No matter how you slice and dice the ultimate causes of this disproportionality, it pretty much just sucks.
  • The judge, who now knows us well, corrected the prosecutor's mispronunciation of my last name before I even had a chance to pipe up.
  • The defendant kept on turning and talking to his two young lady supporters in the audience, incurring the wrathful irritation of the sheriff-people and even his own attorney.
  • When we were dismissed after the voir dire—that's what us, y'know, legally sophisticated types call the jury questioning—one of the jurors lamented, "It's like leaving in the middle of a soap opera. You've heard all the stuff, but now you don't know what's going to happen."
  • Back to the jury lounge. More TV. (I hate those CSI shows, especially the Miami one with that creepy red-headed actor.) Sent home at midday.
  • I'm pretty sure the only cases I'll ever actually get to see are on "Judge Mathis" in the jury lounge. It seems like they plug us all into a race/age/gender/hairstyle matrix, and however the formula works, I'm not a match. Plus, I recently learned from a public defender buddy that the prosecutors compare notes, so my seeming-to-be-a-patsy-for-the-defense answers from the first day could conceivably have gotten me struck for the whole month. Plus my white-guy-who's-been-robbed-at-gunpoint (which has been revealed in the voir dire for any case involving violence or the threat of violence, which is most of them) makes me an improbably choice for the defense. So, oh well...
More next week.

4 comments:

  1. mseferris10:44 PM

    Fascinating.

    And I wholeheartedly agree. That red-headed guy from CSI: Miami is totally creepy. eww.

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  2. Alice4:37 PM

    Your great grandmother used to watch "the stories" with Angelina (her maid) everyday.

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  3. Anonymous10:01 AM

    Interesting but sad.

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  4. I think this type of experience, much like being a victim of a crime or having to spend the night in an ICU emergency room, changes ones world view. Just one more curtain pulled back. God that sounds cynical but I believe it's true.

    It blows my mind that those CSI shows are popular. I can watch any Law & Order any time but I can't get through five minutes of a CSI show. What police department has those shiny labs with cutting edge technology? Stop the madness!

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