Doing My Civic Duty

Once I start writing posts about jury duty I know I’ve lost focus. It was kind of an interesting process though. About fifty of us randomly-selected residents of Boulder County watched the video about why we were there and how through the process of voir dire we might or might not be selected to sit on a jury. Afterward a clipboard-toting functionary entered our holding tank and read off the names of half of the people in the room, who followed her into the corridor. The rest of us waited another half hour or so before we too were escorted out of the waiting area and into one of the courtrooms.

We filed into the three rows reserved for those who watch the trial. The judge sat directly opposite and facing us. Facing the judge and to our right was a table at which were seated the defense attorney and the defendant; to our left sat the D.A. and someone who was never explicitly identified — presumably it was the complainant in the case. The judge informed us that this would be a misdemeanor criminal case in which the defendant was charged with “reckless endangerment,” allegedly having driving his pickup truck (with attached snowplow blade) aggressively at the complainant. We were also informed that this was a domestic dispute between the reckless driver (man) and his target (woman).

After the preliminary explanation the judge read off twelve names, mine among them. We were instructed to fill the seats in the jurors’ box, situated on the far left side of the room. Cordially the judge asked us about our brushes with the law, both as victims and as alleged perpetrators. It seemed she was interested primarily in whether we felt the system had treated us fairly, or whether our experiences had left us with persistent biases. The young guys on either side of me claimed that, as a result of their prior encounters, they felt themselves predisposed to doubt the credibility of the police. Both of these potential jurors were removed for cause and replaced with two of the remaining selectees still seated in the audience section of the courtroom. One woman had been involved in a domestic disturbance; another had been raped; both felt biased against the male defendant and for that cause were replaced. The judge went out of her way to assure the dismissed jurors that the dismissal wasn’t their fault, that maybe this just wasn’t the right trial for them, that maybe they’d have better luck next time — perhaps an overly optimistic assessment of people’s motives.

Next each of us answered a series of questions about ourselves posted on the wall next to the jurors’ box. As I recall the questions were: age, how long we’d lived in the county, education and academic degrees, job, spouse’s and children’s jobs, parents’ jobs, whether we had friends or relatives who work in criminal justice, hobbies, what we read, what we listen to on the radio, what we watch on television. Afterward the two attorneys asked some of us to elaborate on some of our answers. Of particular interest was the extent of our familiarity with the justice system. One of the candidate jurors has a son who is a D.A. in Pennsylvania; the D.A. in this case wanted to know whether this man would hold him to a higher standard because of his understanding of the job requirements. Because I had a doctorate in psychology, the defense attorney wanted to know if I’d ever counseled people (yes) and whether my clients had ever been involved in domestic violence situations (they had).

At the end of the voir dire process each attorney is obliged to dismiss three potential jurors. The two attorneys consulted first with their clients, then with each other, compiling the list of six dismissals. My name was the first one called. The judge assured us rejects that we had done nothing wrong, better luck next time, and we were free to go.

I did feel disappointed to have been rejected. I’ve never sat on a jury before, and probably because of my tainted background in psychology I never will get that opportunity in the future.

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