Saturday, July 04, 2009

Jury Journal:* Round 1

I had my first day of jury duty this past Wednesday. I will serve every Monday and Wednesday in July. I can't say how I'll feel a month from now, but after Round 1, the verdict is: Totally fascinating.

We were told to arrive for 8:30. I parked in the jurors' parking lot across the street by the Falstaff building, Froggered across four lanes of speeding crosstown traffic, and entered the humble jurors' entrance on the side, through the metal detector, through the basement parking garage, and checked in at the jurors' lounge which was already packed, cheek by jowl,** with something on the order of a couple hundred-ish other newbie jurors. I found a spare seat and started my first little spell of waiting in what will undoubtedly be a cornucopia of waiting in the coming weeks.

A brief survey of the activities of my fellow jurors:
  • watching TV ("Fresh Prince of Bel Air", "Charmed", etc.)
  • reading ("Star" magazine, "Correct Your French Blunders", something in Braille, *** etc.)
  • drifting off to sleep
  • grumbling mildly
  • grumbling mildly while drifting off to sleep
  • fiddling with cellphones
  • making awkward whispered phone calls, the main subject of which seemed to be the poor cellphone reception
  • discreetly glancing around at one's cheek-by-jowl neighbors
  • et cetera, et cetera
Some time later, we received a brief orientation. We were welcomed, thanked profusely (almost sycophantically), and given the rundown:
  1. There were a bunch of courts: A through L. (If my alphanumeric skills don't fail me, that makes twelve.)
  2. Each morning, in no particular order, the judges call down for a pool of prospective jurors. The request might come first thing in the morning. It might come much later, after the judge has worked through his or her docket. (I'm still a little fuzzy on exactly what it means to "work through" a "docket", but I'm sure it's a good thing.) As our juror's pamphlet reminds us, "The wheels of justice turn slowly."
  3. Jurors are randomly selected by "the computer" to fill a given request.
  4. When a juror is selected for a given court, they are assigned a number that is used in the subsequent court proceedings.
  5. After being called, jurors are escorted to the requesting court in numerical order.
  6. In the courtroom, jurors will be asked a variety of questions, after which, they either will or will not be selected to actually serve on the jury for that particular trial.
  7. If not selected for a trial, the juror returns to the lounge. If courts are still calling jurors, he or she might be called again.
  8. A big red digital counter on the wall counts down from twelve as the courts make their calls. When the counter hits zero, we're done for the day.
We waited some more. The first call came around 9:30—Court L needed fifty jurors. They read the names and I was number eight. We were shuttled upstairs in the elevator, ten by ten, reassembled in numeric order, led into the courtroom, and seated in the audience chairs, again in exact numeric order. (As we were waiting to enter the courtroom, I was reminded what a small town our city is: I recognized about half of the lawyer-folk ambling up and down the hall in their crisp suits.)

The judge welcomed us, briefly explained how he intended to run the show and the nature of the case—possession of marijuana with intent to distribute—and introduced the various parties:
The DAs: Young professional women. The lead prosecutor was a Ms. Cannizzaro. (Leon's daughter, perhaps?)

The defense attorney: Older than the prosecutorial whippersnappers, slender, and birdish.

The defendant: Dressed in brand new clothes, looking nervous.
Our pool of fifty jurors was further subdivided. The judge called up an initial subset of twenty to the jurors box for the first round of selection, one by one in numerical order: one through seven, then skipping me, then nine through twenty. As the first three rows of jurors filed to the box and I was left sitting by my lonesome, I got decidedly paranoid: Why aren't they choosing me? Have I somehow already been blackballed before the proceedings even started? When the judge reached the end of the list, he looked up and got momentarily flustered, "...only nineteen. I'm missing..." He scanned the room, spotted me, confirmed that I had been inadvertently skipped, and then I too was called to the box (forcing jurors nine through twenty to all scoot down a seat).

The questioning was a strange mix of public and personal, conducted in a room full of sixty-ish people, but the prosecutor and defense attorney each made a point of singling out jurors by name ("Mr. _______", "Ms. _______"), discreetly glancing at their seating chart cheat-sheets:
  • "Ms. _______, if I place my pen on the table am I in actual or constructive possession of it?" (Following a brief tutorial on the distinction between the two.)
  • "I'm not a mind reader, am I? How can I establish intent to distribute? Mr. _______, what do you think?" (Followed by a lengthy analogy: At a Saints game, how can one tell that the beer vendor intends to sell the beer in his possession and not merely drink it all himself?)
  • "Why would he have twenty beers all for himself? I mean, for one thing, they're gonna get warm, right? Why not just buy them one at a time? I'm not aware of any beer drought, are you?" (This got a laugh.)
  • How do you decide if testimony is credible?
  • "Does anyone here believe marijuana should be legalized?"
  • "If someone finds cocaine in my bag, and I say that 'That's just fish bait, 'cause you know, the fish really love that stuff,' is that credible testimony?" (This analogy got a little jumbled with the questioner finding herself in a cocaine-qua-recreational-drug vs. cocaine-qua-fish-bait tangle that I don't think she'd really intended.)
  • Is it possible for a police officer to lie?
  • If a defendant doesn't testify, is that a sign of guilt?
  • If the defendant does testify, is that a sign of innocence?
  • If a defendant acts nervous, is that a sign of guilt?
  • How do you rule if you think the defendant is guilty but you kind of aren't quite sure?
  • et cetera, et cetera
During the questioning, the other thirty jurors sat in the audience, still in order, watching the proceedings with expressions of mild curiosity/boredom. The sherriff's deputies milled around the room with looks of total boredom. We answered diligently. When the questioning was over, the various parties retreated into various corners and backrooms, broke and regrouped, conferred, whispered, huddled intently over their lists, making notes.

And then finally, after a good long while, the court reconvened. The judge took his seat, announced that six jurors had been selected, read off the names, of which I was not one, and sent the rest of us on our way. (I'm pretty sure my answers got me pegged early on as a patsy for the defense**** and earned a big strikethrough on the prosecutorial list.)

Back to the jurors lounge. The big red counter read zero. Our civic duty had been served for the day. And off we went, into the sweltering early-afternoon heat, back to our respective lives.

Monday: Round 2.

* Say that twelve times (and one alternate time) fast.

** I love that expression.

*** How does that work? What sort of arrangements are made for a blind juror if there is visual evidence?

**** Not that I actually am a patsy for the defense, but I would be inclined to make the prosecutor do some work for a guilty verdict (which, as I understand the law, is more or less as it should be).


  1. thanks for this

    I just got a summons today, and now I know what to look forward to.

  2. teresa10:56 AM

    I also secretly enjoyed New Orleans jury duty. My favorite people watching was when they gave us numbers and had us line up which took, what, an hour?