February 9, 2012
This past Monday, instead of awakening at a somewhat reasonable hour and heading to work as usual, I got up at crazy o’clock so I could get to downtown Detroit and find parking and report to the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice at the time indicated on my summons for jury duty. Clearing security to get into the building was somewhat more pleasant than getting past TSA at the airport, mostly because the list of prohibited items was so long that no one had much stuff with them, plus we got to keep our shoes on. I’d taken pretty much everything out of my purse just to be safe, since the list of forbidden articles I was given on the phone recording when I called to be sure I had to show up was different than the one on the website (which was different than the one posted outside the building). Once I was inside, I got checked in and settled down with my book (cellphones, headphones, and hand held video games were all forbidden) in the huge holding room, which wasn’t quite large enough, as every chair was filled by the time the last group of potential jurors reported, and some people ended up sitting in the side room with the two vending machines. I spent the next three hours reading, listening to announcements, watching groups of jurors leave (and a few come back), and using the restroom of the main room (in which I could still listen to the announcements). I also found myself wishing I had a more distinctive first name, as every time a Karen got called, I wondered for a few seconds if perhaps it was my turn to go.
Around 10:30, it was my turn, and I lined up with the rest of my group to turn in our juror id cards and be directed upstairs to wait outside our assigned courtroom. Before we even got to go in, an officer advised us we were in recess until 11:30 and we could leave the building until then. After that break, we spent an hour in the courtroom, first getting sworn in as a group, then waiting while names were drawn. I was the 14th person called up, filling the last slot in the jury box. The judge asked us some questions as a group, then those with yes answers had to provide more details. After about an hour, we broke for an hour and a half lunch. In the afternoon, we completed the jury selection process to get the final group of 14. Between the people the judge allowed to leave because of hardship and the ones the two lawyers got rid of with their challenges, we went through all but one person in the group that had been called up to the courtroom. Only 12 of us were going to get to do the final deliberations if it came to that, but they didn’t identify which 12 at this point (probably so we’d all pay attention to the proceedings rather than zone out thinking “I’m only an alternate”). By the time we got through with that, it was time to go home for the day.
The next two days involved a lot of waiting around—in the hallway before we got led in each morning and afternoon and plenty of time locked in the jury room while the judge and lawyers did who knows what in the courtroom that we weren’t allowed to see (and it was usually not explained later, either). I ended up reading almost two whole books during the down time, though it was hard to get too deep into the stories since at any moment we might have to go back into the courtoom. The first day, we got in trouble for being too loud in the jury room—we couldn’t talk about the case, but we did talk and joke about other stuff and I guess we got a little too rowdy. The next time we were in the room, there was a knock at the door and the officer told one of the guys to gather his stuff and come with him. We never saw that juror again and wondered if somehow they’d known he was the rowdiest of us all and pulled him for that reason. During the lunch breaks, I’d spend some time in my car communing with the internet via my phone and some time wandering around taking pictures.
In between all the waiting and wandering, there was the actual criminal trial. As trials go, I gather this was not a big one. There were opening statements, two witnesses, then closing statements. It was very frustrating to not be able to ask any questions—there were plenty of things I would have liked to know that didn’t get covered in the testimony or exhibits. Just after lunch the last day, the clerk drew the name of the person who didn’t get to (or have to, depending on your perspective) deliberate—why that couldn’t be done just before lunch so that person could get on with their life, I have no idea. Then we got our instructions and it was back to the jury room to finally get to talk about the case. We quickly decided on our foreperson and requested and got the photos that had been submitted into evidence. There were four charges we had to decide on. Three of them were firearms related, and those we agreed upon almost as soon as we started our deliberations: not guilty, because none of us felt the prosecution had proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant had a gun during the incident in question. The last charge was related to assault and battery, and that was harder. There were several elements that the jury instructions told us had to be met for this charge, and we talked about those one by one, going over what evidence we’d seen and heard that either supported or didn’t support that element. The consensus that emerged was that we didn’t doubt that there had been an altercation, and that the victim had been hurt and the defendant had been involved, but we weren’t sure beyond a reasonable doubt that he wasn’t acting in defense of himself or his property. There was just too little credible evidence and too much doubt about what had happened. Answers to a few key questions we had might have swung that the other way; I can only assume if the prosecutor felt those answers would have helped her case, she would have covered them. After we’d looked at this last charge from as many angles as we could think of, we took a vote and it too was unanimous: not guilty. I felt it was rather unfortunate, since we were convinced that the defendant did do something to the victim and the verdict might send a message that what he did was okay and that the annoying tactics of the defense lawyer worked but really it was just that the prosecutor didn’t prove the case to us.
Once we’d decided on all the counts, we did one last poll around the room to make sure everyone was in agreement, then the foreman knocked on the door and when it was opened, passed the note that said we’d reached a verdict. We filed back in, the verdict was read, we swore to it, then we were led back into the jury room one last time. After a few minutes, the judge came in and talked to us and handed out certificates and letters for our service and then we were free to go. It was educational, but I’m not in a hurry to do it again soon.