Friday, April 6, 2012

Jury Duty—My experience

*Disclaimer--I have finished serving jury duty and have been discharged by the judge. I am now legally allowed to share information regarding the case if I desire.*

Last week I had to go for a jury summons. You know-- that civic duty anyone registered to vote is required to perform. Many of you probably have never even received a jury summons. Lucky bastards. I have received FOUR jury summons. Thankfully I never actually had to go until this last one. The first two were while I was in school and I was excused (both Orange County, FL). The third I think I was eligible to be excused but I must have procrastinated and/or forgotten about it until right before and I had to call to see if I was called. To get excused or have your jury duty postponed you MUST submit your form at least 10 days before the day you are required to come for selection. They may or may not excuse you. There is a list of mandatory and optional reasons that would enable you to not have to serve but you can also try to be excused if you are facing hardship. So on the third jury summons I had to call the night before and see if my number was called, it was not! Woo, score three for Orange County. 

Well now I'm living in Seminole County, FL and at the end of February I received my fourth summons. Dammit! I informed my job and sent in my form to be excused stating that taking time off work would put a financial hardship on me and the $15 per day compensation would not be sufficient to cover bills. (Yeeeah so in FL they pay you $15 per day for the first 3 days and then $30 per day for each thereafter...lame!) I also stated that my job would be short handed if I wasn't there. The clerks office called my job to speak with me and told me they were not able to excuse me for my listed reasons but when I came in for selection I could try to discuss it with the judge and see if she excuses me. Not a good sign I thought. Apparently seminole county isn't as laid back as orange. 

We were required to report to the Seminole County courthouse at 8am on Monday. After some instructions by the clerk the judge came out to hear who needed to be excused and why. I figured out veerrrry quickly that my reasons were not going to fly with this judge. As other people who seemed to have much more legitimate reasons than I were denied to leave, I realized that there was a really good chance I would be selected based on the age demographic in the room: AKA not that many under 35 people. I'm 26 soon to be 27 but I know some 30somethings that I wouldn't have guessed there were over 30. 

Being trapped in a room with other people who dislike being there just as much as you really helps to build camaraderie. A small group of us quickly formed as we were the goofy, cynical, and oddly enough the only ones with electronic devices other than cell phones. (Nerds always unite!) We had a good time joking around for about 3 hours. Unfortunately the clerks were actually kind of rude to us. I accidentally left my phone in my car and we weren't allowed to leave the room at one point. Finally I got so annoyed that I just told them I was going to get my phone from my car--and I went. It wasn't until after lunch that I was called for selection. It was around 1:30pm. Thankfully when you call the number that night you are supposed to report for the summons the message tells you to prepare to be there all day and bring books, games, laptops, etc. I brought the second book of the Hunger Games series, Catching Fire and my laptop. 

When we went upstairs we had to sit inside a courtroom with the judge, lawyers, and defendant. The whole thing made me nervous for some reason, but the judge and lawyers were SOOO nice and SO much nicer than the courthouse staff we were with downstairs. (Oh the deputies were very nice as well) The three of them thanked us for coming in and told us how much they appreciated our time. The judge told us the case was a criminal charge of battery and we were asked if we knew any parties involved. The judge read off a list of people including a few police officers. We were asked to say our name, occupation, marital status, if we had children, if we had ever served as a juror before, if we had any court experience, and if we knew anyone who was a victim or charged with battery or had any experience with the charge of battery. They asked us if any of that experience would alter our ability to have an unbiased opinion on the case. We were not given any other details except that it was a criminal charge of battery, the name of the defendant, and the witnesses involved.

Then the state attorney and the defense attorney asked us questions about when it is and is not appropriate to hit someone; what our feelings were regarding seeing someone in the police car and if that would make us assume immediately that they were guilty. They asked us if we were peaceful or more likely to react if someone got in our face. They also asked us on a scale of one to ten, how much each of us wanted to be there. After they finished with their questions we were asked to sit outside the courtroom while the attorneys decided which jurors they wanted. I had this feeling from the very beginning that I was going to get picked. And I was. The judge informed us that we were under court order not to discuss the case or trial with anyone and not to research it. I knew I would honor this no problem. 

The trial was Friday. We had to go to the courthouse at 9am. I was late...of course. And of course they were waiting for me!! (omg! so embarassing!) We were given some instructions and then we were led into the courtroom. We had to leave our belongings (even my phone, booo!) in the jury room which was locked while we weren't in there. We listened to all the testimony and the lawyers questioning. 

Basically the story was: A group of parents and kids were waiting on the sidewalk at a school bus stop. The defendant was driving along the road at what appeared to be too fast for one parent who stepped out partially into the road to wave and shout "slow down." The driver gave the parent the finger. Allegedly the driver fake swerved at the parent and the parent slapped or possibly punched the car trunk or hood. The driver stopped almost immediately, checked his car (which was a rental), and confronted the parent. Both exchanged heated words. Allegedly the driver swung at the parent. The driver decided to go back to his car. He handed his passenger his phone because he saw another parent come up and was supposedly unsure what would happen next. (Both parents were fathers as was the driver) At that point they exchanged more curses and insults. Allegedly the driver then pushed the parent but in court and on his written testimony he stated he never touched him and left after they exchanged more words. The witnesses written testimonies except for the man who was supposedly pushed all differed from their responses in court). After deliberating (when we did this the deputy took our phones!! AHH!) which took about 30 minutes we decided on not guilty due to reasonable doubt. You are not allowed to find a verdict of guilty if there is reasonable doubt. We were there from 9am to 4:15pm. We each will earn $30, which will come by some point.

So, once it was all over, I appreciated the experience. It was interesting to see how our court system works from the inside, by actually being a part of it. I still don't ever WANT to do it again, but if I HAVE to I won't be as pissed off =^.^=

It wasn't so bad I guess, other than being stuck and "wasting" two days. If you get summoned make sure to bring stuff to do!!! If you go to trial you will be busy most of the time listening to testimonies, but bring snacks if you are allowed.

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