Saturday, August 28, 2021

Jury Duty

I was surprised that so many of you hated the thought of jury duty.  I have only had jury duty one time before, but I actually found it very interesting. 

It was a federal case, and required me to drive an hour and a half to get there. I could have been put up in a hotel, There was a lot of discussion about sequestering us, but in the end, they decided that it wasn't necessary. I like my own comfortable bed and my own husband in it, so I made the drive to and from each day. 

You can read about the case here

The most interesting thing about the case was that Buwlis was serving as his own lawyer. During the opening statements, he said, speaking of himself in the third person, "You must decide if Mr. Mohammad is guilty of a crime, or if he is guilty of civil disobedience." 

My eyes bugged a little when he said that, because he was wrong. Our decision was to decide if he was guilty, and he had just said that he was before the trial even started. (Abraham Lincoln made the statement that a man who represented himself in court had a fool for a client. His point was valid.)

Mr. Mohammad seemed to think that he was a very clever man, but he wasn't. His cross examinations lacked direction and sometimes even a point. The witness would make a statement and he would stop and turn to the jury triumphantly. 12 of us, and 2 alternates looked back and tried to understand what he felt had been proven by his questioning. 

Probably the most difficult thing for me was that at lunch time, I went out for a walk. That first day, one of the other jurors walked with me. There was some sort of festival going on. The woman I was with began to rant about how things like this drew black people to her beautiful town and she hated that. She didn't stop. She went on a great length about her feelings about black people. 

Our man on trial was black. 

I cut my part of the walk short and headed back to the jury room. She went to have a cigarette. 

On the way up to the jury room, I thought about our conversation. My biggest fear was that this was a big trial in our neck of the woods, and there were lots of reporters there. If a reporter had heard any part of this conversation, it could have turned into a criticism that the judgement was biased due to prejudiced jurors. I was also very nervous about the fact that I had been so dumbstruck and said nothing at all. I was afraid my silence would be interpreted as agreement. 

"Listen," I said, and I told the two other jurors about my walk with the little Italian woman. One juror said, "We were asked specifically whether we had any prejudices that would preclude a fair judgement. She should have said she did. She would have been excused." The other juror said, "Keep your mouth shut. We all know that he is guilty. It doesn't matter." 

The case continued after lunch, and I couldn't stop worrying about the possibility that our discussion had been overheard. I drove home that night fretting about it. I discussed it with Tim who helpfully said, "You know what needs to be done." 

So the next day, I left a half hour early. I got to the court house and spoke the man who seemed to be in charge of the jurors and the jury room, and getting our lunches and the like. I waited to see what he would say. Immediately, he said, "The judge will need to speak with you. This is the basis for a mistrial." 

I waited miserably to speak with the judge. He was very kind, and he said, "Well, you were right to report this. I'll need to speak with the prosecuting attorney and Mr. Mohammad . If he wants a mistrial declared, he's got the grounds to do it." 

I waited in the jury room with the other jurors, not saying a word. In the end, the court official came in and called two names, the name of the lady I had been walking with, and the name of the woman who had advised me to keep my mouth shut. They did not return. 

The court official came back in and announced that the two alternates were now official jurors, and the case went on. I don't know why Mr. Mohammad did not request a mistrial. Maybe by that point, he knew that it didn't matter. The trial went on into the second day. The evidence was really pretty conclusive. The prosecutor had his ducks in a row. He rested his case late that afternoon. Much to our surprise, Mr Mohammad stood up and told the judge that the defense rested as well. 

The following morning, we returned for closing arguments and Mr. Mohammad's closing argument was just as rambling as his opening statement. The jury received some careful instructions, and we recessed with lunch to deliberate. 

I had wondered if anyone else had caught the 'guilty of a crime or guilty of civil disobedience' remark in the opening statement. The answer to that was 'yes'. Everyone had. There was very little debate about the charges. The evidence was very well presented, and left few questions in our minds. The fact that it was so clear cut meant that my conscience was not troubled I stood to say, "Guilty, your honor". 

So...no, I don't mind that I got called for jury duty again. It is not a federal case, but I expect that it will still be interesting to see our legal system at work. 

17 comments:

  1. Fascinating Debby. It is good to see justice in action. Only once have I been called to jury service and sat around for hours waiting to be called but it never transpired which was all fairly boring.

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  2. What an interesting story. The accused was doubly disadvantaged, black and a Muslim by the sound of it. You clearly took the right and honourable course. No matter what personal opinions and prejudices are, people should know better than to mouth off with them. What a stupid person she must be. How did she know that your husband wasn't black? Ha, he may well be.

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  3. The judge came in to talk to us after the verdict, and to thank us for our work. The defendant was a black man. He had become a muslim and he had changed his name at that point. I believe that his last name was Cooper, originally. He was tall and imposing looking, and his wife came to court each day dressed in head coverings and brightly colored clothing. His problem seemed to be that he could not control his temper. His outbursts kept him in and out of prison for his entire life. We knew none of this during the trial. We shouldn't have. We were not there to judge his life. He had just been released from prison and the traffic violations were, in his mind, a racist society trying to keep a good black man in his place. A real cognitive dissonance, as J.D. Vance would put it, and the reasoning behind why he felt, in his mind, that his behavior was social disobedience.

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  4. I don't mind it in principle, but when I was called, it would not have been a good situation and wouldn't now, either.

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  5. I have been called several times but alas unable to serve in any - as a single mother on a casual wage and then as the sole wage earner again working casual, I could not afford to be a cog in justice's wheels, unfortunately.

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  6. Good for you for speaking up.
    Brava!

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  7. We need people like you serving. Thoughtful and honest! Thanks for speaking up when you knew you should.

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  8. Ahh, there's another Bob in your Comments thread! Be sure you know the difference! :-)
    I also am a fan of jury duty. I have been called three times in my life, and got placed on two different juries. Both of those were when I lived in Arkansas. I got summoned to serve here in Tennessee about ten years ago, but never made it on a jury. I am a lawyer, and was actively practicing when I was called for jury duty in Arkansas. On one of the juries I served on, a civil federal case, I knew the lawyers on both sides. One of them was in my law school class. I guess they thought enough of my legal education and experience that they believed I would be fair and impartial -- which I was. I enjoyed the experience and would love to serve again.

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  9. After several occasions of being excused from jury duty due to work (not any substitute teachers in my discipline), I was called up during my retirement. Like you, I found it a fascinating experience, and learned a lot. I was put on a jury where the defendant served as his own counsel also. It was painful. The judge and prosecutor were so very kind, but it was difficult not to cringe because he didn't have a clue what he was doing.

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  10. Hmm... I'm thinking I've been notified three times. Twice I never got beyond registering online. The other time I went through the orientation session (for which we were paid), but never called back for a trial.

    My husband has sat on a jury twice and enjoyed both experiences, but ultimately felt a bit disillusioned by the legal process.

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  11. I would be interested to know more about why, Kelly.

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  12. I was on jury service twenty years ago. In those two weeks I was on two juries and very much enjoyed the experience. Like you, I am puzzled as to why people sometimes moan about being called up for jury service. It is a civic duty and a reminder that we live in democracies.

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  13. What an interesting experience you had! You were right to report those jurors. (As you know!) I also found jury duty fascinating, though mine was a local case in New York City. We wound up deliberating for days on a fairly minor charge because there was a lot of complexity and disagreement. I enjoyed the debates, and ultimately we acquitted the defendant.

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  14. After nearly half a century, I finally got a notice of jury duty... starting the very day I was planning on leaving for a long planned vacation with my family over spring vacation. Fortunately it didn't progress and I was free to go on vacation. But I'm bummed that I may never get another opportunity and I would love to be involved in a jury trial.

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  15. I did go in for jury duty once in Chicago and once in Hawaii, but wasn’t chosen. It really was quite interesting. Both times, the person being prosecuted did a plea deal.

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