Friday, May 20, 2011
The Jury I Never Got to Serve on
I’ve been on a jury this week, and that’s all the judge allows us to say for the moment. I’m not complaining, though. After what happened the last time I was called to jury duty, I was more than due.
It was a number of years ago. We all gathered in the waiting room, then were taken to a courtroom, where the judge announced that we would be hearing a case of a man charged with drunk driving and resisting arrest.
Twelve jurors and six alternates were drawn from the list and seated. The judge asked them a series of questions, including whether they were related to anyone in law enforcement or knew anyone who had been arrested for drunk driving.
One of the twelve jurors was a man in his sixties who looked like he was dressing to be dismissed. He had a five-day growth of beard and was wearing a frayed pair of khaki trousers liberally doused with paint stains and an untucked plaid flannel shirt that looked to be about two decades old. When the judge finished asking the questions, this juror suddenly piped up:
“You forgot something, your honor.”
The judge was clearly taken aback, but in an attempt to be people-friendly, he said, “Oh. And what did I forget?”
The juror replied, “You forgot to ask if any of us have ever been charged with drunk driving and resisting arrest. Because I have.”
Laughter erupted in the courtroom, and even the judge smiled. He thanked the juror for his honesty and continued. After the attorneys asked a few questions, they began dismissing jurors. Six of the original twelve were excused and replaced by alternates, and six more alternate jurors were chosen. I was number six.
We were run through the questions, and then the attorneys again began dismissing jurors. The five alternate jurors ahead of me were placed on the jury, and the guy with the paint-stained pants and drunk driving arrest was still on. At that point I was resigned to serving.
It was the defense attorney’s turn to exercise a challenge, and he stood up and said, “The defense is satisfied with the jury, your honor.”
Then the prosecutor stood up and said, “The people are satisfied with the jury, your honor.”
And I thought, “You ------- idiot! I mean, thank you for letting me off the hook, but what were you thinking when you decided to leave that guy on the jury?”
Because the trial was expected to last only a couple of days, they decided they didn’t need alternate jurors, so I was excused along with the others who hadn’t yet been called, and my service was done. The next few times I got a jury summons, I never had to go in.
I did wonder about how the case turned out, and since I worked for the newspaper at the time, it was easy to find out. The following week, I asked the reporter who covered the courts if he could look it up. A few hours later, he called back.
“Interesting you asked me about that one,” he said. “The whole courthouse is talking about it. Apparently it was as open-and-shut a case of drunk driving and resisting arrest as you could ask for, but there was one guy who, for some reason, wouldn’t vote to convict. They ended up with a hung jury.”