Today I was asked to report for jury service. The trial I got called for involved the murders of three people by two others who were members of a Mexican Mafia gang called the Suerños. The trial was projected to take most of the month of May. That would have been a problem for my new consulting venture (no income for May) so I was released from serving.
In the time that I have lived in the Sacramento area I have been called for Jury Duty three times. But to date I have never served on a jury. The most harrowing was one about a decade ago which was a similar case (complicated and violent) but which I ended up getting excused from as an alternate because I was going to be the final alternate and the one person ahead of me was able to serve. My impression(s) about jury service - or at least getting called for it - have not changed much - but here they are based on this visit -
#1 - It is a remarkably diverse group but that is a bit deceptive. While there are all sorts of people in the jury room, that does not mean they all serve. One guy caught my attention. He was an aging hippie who reeked of alcohol and tobacco. (I know because he sat next to me while waiting for a hardship request and grumped that by this time in the day he had normally already had a couple of beers - from his appearance I am not sure what "a couple" means in this instance.) He was eventually excused and then grumped about having to get the bus to take light rail back to his "place." Compared to the last time I was there a lot fewer suits (I was not wearing one.) And some people dressed like they were at Walmart. (No offense to Walmart - but shorts and flip flops does not seem like something one would wear to a court room.)
#2 - My fellow citizens have a lot of reasons to claim a hardship from serving. The process which the judge used to find people with hardships. Was to have each of us fill out a questionnaire. We were then individually interviewed - or so it seemed. Of the 120+ veniremen about half raised their hands when the hardship request was raised. We were then sent out of the courtroom and asked to wait for an interview with the judge. The interview process for the first 15 or 20 took about 5-7 minutes a piece. If a person came out of the courtroom with a questionnaire (which is a 21 page document filled out to help lawyers choose the jury) their request had been denied. Of the first group only two came out without the questionnaire. That started chatter in the remaining group about how impossible the odds were for getting a hardship request approved. But then the bailiff came out with a sheaf of the remaining requests and called each person's name and we were excused - evidently the judge wanted to interview the marginal claims.
#3 - The process is a bit bureaucratic. You are told when to report, then given a little information (very little), then if you are chosen you are asked to go to a courtroom and told to turn off all your electronic goodies (no iPads in the courtroom). They then run you through introductions including information about the nature of the crime or proceeding. But the whole process could be simplified. I suspect part of this comes from the need to be fair to the parties involved but in doing that it may not be fair to the citizens called to serve. One other impression - the schedule is not intense but not lax either - Monday through Thursday - 9-4:30 - no session on Friday - I suspect that the judge and the lawyers need that time to get all the things done they miss during the trial.
#4 - California is a diverse state. There were two translators in the room and four people had headphones (Both defendants had headphones) and the judge specifically said that two languages were necessary here. I could hear one of the translators in Spanish - but I wonder what the other language was.
#5 - My impressions of both the defense lawyers and prosecutors reinforced my decision long ago not to be a lawyer. There are two defense attorneys in the case. One took an extra step to introduce himself and his client to the group (as introductions were going around). He seemed a lot more on top of his game than the other defense guy. The prosecutor made little impression although she was young.
#6 - I was confronted with my own moral beliefs - As the judge introduced the case she explained that the defendants were accused of killing three people who were on bicycles from a car. She then said that the death penalty was not on the table. It would have probably been inappropriate to explain why but I wondered. Over the last decade my views on the death penalty have changed and I wondered before the judge said it was not an option whether I would be willing to impose the death penalty.