The recent headlines have made me recall when I was chosen for a jury. I've only gotten a notice for jury duty twice, once for municipal court, the other for superior court. The first lasted only a day; I was chosen for a 6-person jury in a drunk driving case, the trial and deliberation lasted half a day. One person on the jury stated at the start of deliberation she 'hated cops', and was going to vote to acquit no matter what the evidence was. The case was dismissed, the judge seemed bored when the other members of the jury complained about her.
The other was a different story, and I don't know if it's typical, rare, an anomaly, or what. What I do know is it took over a month, around 6 weeks as I recall. I was unable to get to my office or clinic until 5pm most days. I realize jury duty is a necessary part of every citizen's role, but at that time I was a busy diagnostician, and resented the time required. Not a good excuse, I know.
The case had major coverage in the press; it was a teen girl found murdered in a old school bus that had been converted to a sort of 'crash pad' for street kids, sitting near a Seattle park. The accused was a man in his 20's, apparently well-known in the 'street' for carrying around a large staff. Large, blonde, not pleasing to look at, not that that should have any bearing, but we are none without our personal prejudices.
I thought from the start I would not be chosen; around 100 of us showed up at superior court and were herded into a large room. Someone explained to us we would be given a form/questionnaire, to fill it out and return the next morning. I don't remember exactly what was on the form, but it was mostly to find out if we had any connection with the case through friends or relatives. I had neither, or so I thought at the time.
I should say I had no desire to be on the jury, the case was disturbing, I had a daughter around the murdered girl's age and wanted no part of the details.
The next day we all showed up, were given numbers, and filed into the courtroom, taking seats in the audience. I was in the last 20 of the potential jurors, and thought I'd be back at my office by the afternoon.
12 jurors were to be chosen, and two alternates. The voir dire started, questions by the prosecution and the defense, some about if we would find seeing graphic evidence of a girl's murder disturbing, other questions about science, and DNA. The attorney's could excuse a juror for cause, or a certain number without cause. I listened to the questioning, and after a while decided I could discern no pattern to the jurors rejected by either the defense or prosecution.
It took 3 days just to work through the potential jurors to get to me. I was amazed and somewhat dismayed. I never thought it'd go this far, but there was one to go when they called me up to sit alone in the jury box for questioning. Both the prosecution and the defense had a go at me: "Do you have children?" "Yep". "Do you find this case disturbing?" "Sure do", "Will seeing the evidence bother you?" "Yes, I don't want to see any pictures of a murdered girl.", "Are you knowledgeable about science?" "I use scientific methods every day in my work." "Do you know what DNA is?" ......after a couple minutes hearing me lecture about deoxyribonucleic molecules they cut me off. The prosecution said "No objections, your honor", the defense lawyers said the same. I was shocked.
The trial started soon thereafter, and I'll try to condense the over a month long spectacle. The average day saw us get there at 8ish, led into the court around 9. The defense or prosecution would start, after about 15 minutes one side would say "Objection, your honor." The jury would be taken out for from 15 minutes to an hour, then led back in. Then it would happen again, out we would file, then back in. Some days we were in the courtroom less than an hour. Day after day after day.
Well, the jury started getting somewhat unruly, and after a few weeks flatly ignoring the judges admonition to not discuss the process until deliberations. "Did you hear that shit?" one would say as we were leaving the courtroom after another objection. We started talking about it in the jury room over lunch. The poor bailiff would shake her head and once covered her ears, saying "I can't hear this."
The DNA evidence was overwhelming, the accused's DNA was found on, in and around the body. Witnesses placed him with the girl before the murder. The defense offered no alternative (that we were allowed to hear), and would allude to us that they were not being allowed to, causing yet another jury exit from the room by the judge. Unpleasant photo's were passed around, graphic testimony heard, etc.
Finally it was over. I would guess that the jury spent less than 3 full days in the courtroom in all that time before we were sent to deliberate around 9am on the last day. We were supposed to elect a foreman. We were going to start that process when someone asked "Does anyone think he's not guilty?" All shook our heads. "Well, it wouldn't look good if we went back out there after 5 minutes." We agreed to stay in the room until after lunch. A bit later the bailiff came in to find us playing cards, reading and chatting. She shook her head and left quickly.
After lunch we went back in, announced the guilty verdict, and were quickly excused back to the jury room. The judge came in and looked at us in silence for a minute, then said something to the effect of "You are going to have attorneys, people and the press want to talk to you. I'm going to suggest to you that you not do that, for a long time to come." and left.
During the trial, my daughter had told me that she knew some of the witness, and knew of the defendant. Also, that what the defense wanted us to know was that after the girl had been murdered, her body was in the bus for a couple of days before police found it. During that time, it had been 'viewed' by many people, street people mostly. It had been on display, so to speak. I imagine the defense wanted to use this as evidence there was no way of knowing when the defendant's DNA had gotten in and on her.
So, did we convict the right person? Probably, but I can't be sure. Was there a 'reasonable doubt'? Again, I don't know.
A couple years later I ran into the lead prosecutor in the elevator in my office building. He recognized me, we talked a bit. "Yeah, we really wanted you on the jury." he said.