Blog Ipsa Loquitur

Published on under A Day in the Life

When we last left off (because I was tired and I’m on vacation), I had finished an orientation video which began by observing, essentially, that “no one likes jury duty, but it’s better than trial by boiling oil.” I found that kind of logic unassailable, if cold comfort. Although it’s worth noting that the jury in Ye Olde Boiling Oil Trials didn’t actually have to dip their hands in boiling oil, and probably didn’t even have to pay attention. From their perspective, jury duty might seem positively onerous.

After sitting around for a couple hours, a large group of us were herded off to a small room where we were seated briefly before being herded up twenty floors to the courtroom. The trial sounded pretty high-stakes: the indictment was for attempted murder and a whole bunch of assault charges.

sidebar: For any one act, you can be indicted on a number of crimes. Say, for instance, that a jury doesn’t find you intentionally ran over the judge’s dog, and intent is an element of Riding Dirty in the First Degree. They decide you weren’t paying attention; they say you were negligent (an element of Riding Dirty in the Second Degree) in your driving. If the D.A. didn’t charge you with the Second Degree crime, but decided he could get a conviction of the First Degree crime, you would be free even though the jury decided you had committed a crime. You can’t be convicted of crimes you were never indicted for. The D.A. is just hedging his bets.

The case sounded interesting enough (I’m afraid I was kind of morbid even before law school), and I was eager to serve on the jury. However, there were nearly sixty of us jurors, and only twelve seats in that jury box. The process by which you whittle the many down to the few is called “voir dire” - essentially, the judge and the attorneys take turns asking the jurors questions. The judge wants to make sure the jurors are impartial, and the attorneys want to make sure the jurors are partial. Sadly, after two rounds of voir dire, a full jury (and a couple of alternates) had been selected. I was not on said jury.

In fact, I never even got asked questions. But I did get to sit any listen to a lot of people explain that they were unfit for jury duty. Some people admitted to being unabashedly racist. Some people admitted to being convinced that the police are all a bunch of crooks. A couple of people confessed that they didn’t feel comfortable convicting a person based on the testimony of a single witness.

One particularly plucky young juror claimed that she would not be able to listen to the judge’s instruction on the law if she didn’t personally agree with the law. It was a pretty good ploy, apparently. For one reason or another, she was dismissed.

Another juror was dismissed, I think, in part because he was unbelievably chatty during the voir dire process. The interview between judge and juror consists of mostly biographical information: age, hometown, family, and any brushes with the law. This juror gave long, rambling replies that initially answered the question, but veered off into unrelated, irrelevant, or downright personal territory. He was the subject of hushed snickers from the rest of the jurors (during the interview process, all sixty of us were in the room, even though only twelve were being interviewed), because most of us assumed he was batty.

He was, however, batty like a fox. While the judge and attorneys conferred about which jurors they wanted to dismiss, the jurors were removed from the courtroom. While we waited in the hallway, Chatty Juror confessed that he gets himself out of all kinds of jobs by pretending to be so desperate for human contact that he rambles on to no end. It was by far the most sinister ploy I saw all day.

If not sinister, at least it was more inventive than “yes, your honor. I am definitely prejudiced against whatever ethnicity that defendant over there is.”

Anyway, after being dismissed from that trial, the remaining jurors and I returned to the jury waiting room, where we were informed that there were no more trials requiring jurors, and that we were free to go. Rumor was that the truck full of hot oil had finally arrived.