Tuesday, February 24, 2009

I spent the last 4 days on jury duty. Before I was a citizen, I could blow off jury duty since I wasn't eligible to serve. Since I've become a citizen, I've only received one other jury duty notice, and I didn't have to go down and actually report.

This time, I did have to report. After all the prospective jurors gathered, we were split into seperate groups and sent off to court rooms. I was part of a group of 76 that was told we were prospective jurors for a criminal case involving a burglary of a house under construction. 12 people were selected to be the first set of jurors, and then the questioning started.

During the initial questioning, a few jurors were released "with cause", mainly for not having good enough English skills. This took most of the first afternoon. The second morning, we continued with the questioning and had a number of people released with "hardship" excuses. Then we moved onto the "peremptory" challenges, where the DA and defense can release jurors for any reason. By the end of the process, all but four of the original 12 jurors had been released, and the waiting prospective jurors were reduced by more than half. I was the last person selected for the actual jury.

As all the jurors figured out from the pre-trial questions, the trial mainly centered around the testimony of one witness, who claimed to see two people inside the house he was working on. His testimony turned out to be very detailed and convincing. One of the other witnesses was an accomplice who had already pled guilty to being one of the two perpetrators, and his testimony was much less compelling as he seemed to contradict himself a number of times. The rest of the witnesses were police officers whose testimony was used to establish various people's identities and various timelines of events. Ultimately, we came back with a verdict of "guilty" based on the evidence we saw.

Overall, it was a very interesting experience. The jury questioning was interesting for the first 15-20 people questioned. After that, it just felt repetitive and tiring for everyone involved. The trial itself, and the legal rules that were part of it, was very engaging. It was nice to see how the system works and I now have a better understanding of the various roles people play in a trial, and a better feel for some of the strengths and weaknesses of the American legal system.

No comments: