quidni pro quo

Random musings at random intervals. Erudition not guaranteed.

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Location: El Paso area, Texas, United States

I'm a 40-something Christian, conservative, pro-life, Constitutionalist, motorcycle-riding, pick-up truck driving, wife, mother, state employee, ham radio operator and part-time college student, enlisted in the Texas State Guard. Everything else is subject to revision without notice.

Friday, February 02, 2007

The Angel of Jurisprudence

passed over me this week, and I’m not sure yet whether I’m relieved or disappointed.

Yes, getting called to report for jury duty can be deucedly inconvenient. At the least, it’s half a day or more gone out of your schedule if you don’t get selected; if you do get selected it can be a day, a week, or even more out of your time that can’t always be afforded. And the emotional drain can't be discounted, either. I sat on the jury for a murder trial some years ago, and while the trial itself was only a week long, the nightmares lasted for some months.

This time, there were three panels (30 people each) summoned for 9:30 Wednesday morning. We sat there for over a half hour, with the bailiff coming in every few minutes to apologize for the delay. Finally, another bailiff came in and said, “I’ve got some good news and some bad news. The good news is, the cases you were summoned for have been resolved without trial; the defendents all decided they’d rather not face a jury and pled guilty. The bad news is, there are several other cases that the judges want to get out of the way, since there’s now an available pool of jurors!” One of the panels was sent up immediately, and the rest of us were left to cool our heels for almost another hour before the other judge was ready.

Our case was a criminal assault charge, involving a couple of inmates from a local correctional facility.

We were halfway through the voir dire when the judge asked whether anyone needed to break for lunch (seems like the lawyers were being drowned out by growling stomachs). The prosecuting attorneys finished their say, & we got to break for an hour. The defense attorneys had their say after lunch, and then we got to sit and wait again, while they spoke with several of the panelists in private. It was already 3:00 by the time the jury was selected and seated.

As the clerk started calling out the 12 names, and waiting for each to walk over to the jury box to be seated, you could feel the tension building up. There were grumbles from a few of the folks that were chosen, and sighs of relief from many of those who weren’t.

There’s a local radio station that occasionally broadcasts the “Top 10 Things To Say To Get Out Of Jury Duty” as part of their talk program. The judge mentioned the program with a smile, during the voir dire, and asked that folks refrain from using any of those particular statements. “It may just increase your chance of getting chosen!” Very few people really want to serve on a jury; I've heard discussions on various ways of answering questions in the courtroom in the hopes that the attorneys will find that viewpoint unattractive in a potential juror. For example, seems like just about every time I’ve been called, whether for criminal or civil cases, someone will stand up and state, “I’m against the death penalty and won’t vote ‘guilty’ if that will be the result.” (“Thank you, but this is a libel lawsuit and that really doesn’t signify here...”)

I did my best to answer every question truthfully, and part of me was relieved that I wasn’t chosen. I’d already lost one day from work (and paperwork piles up and doesn’t do itself), I had a headache, and I wasn’t sure if I really wanted to hear the details of the alleged assault. On the other hand, part of me was disappointed as well. I don’t mind serving if it isn’t a civil “fluff” case (like the real estate lawyer, claiming her employer “promised” to give her a property that he gave to his family instead, but she didn't have anything in writing, so they were suing and counter-suing each other..... lawdy, I felt like I was in the middle of a kindergarten fight, and I wasn't even chosen for that one.)

Part of being a good citizen is recognizing the right that another citizen has to a speedy trial, and a jury of his or her peers. That right is fulfilled by citizens being willing to sit on jury panels for each other. I try to not grumble about it, and put myself in the other person’s place for a minute, because of a question my husband asked me many years ago -

If I were the one on trial, would I want someone like me on my jury?

I want to be able to answer “yes” to that question.

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