Skrip - tyur' - i - ent: adj. Possessing the violent desire to write.


#064 In which our hero does jury duty (pt. II).

Voir dire

We shuffled up to the third floor, where the courtrooms are. Now, my law experience is drawn entirely from TV courtroom dramas, which I love. The courtrooms on TV and in the movies are always these huge oak and marble constructions that inspire awe and hushed tones. Not this one. The room was small, and the woodwork seemed cheap and slap-dash.

But the judge... he was a different story. I don't even remember his name, but he certainly left his mark on me. Tall, stern, deep-voiced, I was sure that if I so much as looked away he'd throw me in jail for inattention. I looked at him and thought, hangin' judge.

The first part of a trial is voir dire, when the actual jurors are selected. You rarely see this on TV. What stuck me most about this part is how nice everyone was to us. Up to this point, we dealt with your typical surly civil servants: sit down, go here, listen for your name, don't talk, etc. But now, everyone loved us. We were thanked repeatedly for sacrificing our time to help make the judicial system work. The judge spoke kindly to us, explaining every step of the process that we were about to enter in to. When the actual lawyers got to us, they said many of the same things.

That's something else that surprised me, how much time everyone was willing to spend with us. You always read about how the court system is jammed with too many cases, you'd think judges and lawyers would try to ram things through as quickly as possible. But no... things went forward at a very relaxed pace.

So basically for this phase of the trial, both lawyers are trying to ferret out anyone that might have pre-existing prejudice one way or the other by asking pointed questions. They can't come right out and tell us what the case was about, but you get the gist of it by the ways in which the questions were phrased.

And, it was clear to me by listening to the questions, that this trial involved the death of a child.

If I sat on that jury now, I would have a horrible time. The child who died (or was possibly murdered) was the age that my daughter is right now. I don't know how well I could have dealt. Not that it matters, because if the defense discovered I had a small child, I'm sure I would have been rejected for this particular jury. But then, even my twenty-nine year old, unmarried, childless self wasn't looking forward to it.

Hmm... that's a bit of a lie. During the questioning, the defense attorney asked the same question to all of the potential jurors: "Is there any kind of court case that you wouldn't be comfortable sitting through?" Most of us, myself included, said no. A few mentioned cases of rape. After we had all given our answer, the defender made an interesting comment. He said, "Typically, when I ask that question many people answer that they would be uncomfortable sitting through a case involving the death of a child."

I have no doubt that this is true. The thing is, we had all figured out by this point that the case was about the death of a child. And I bet that, like me, all the potential jurors where thinking about how horrible that was... but we still wanted to see the trial. Maybe it was just morbid curiosity, maybe the prospect of sitting in the jury room for another week was too much to face... but we all wanted to be on this jury, horrible or not.

The jury was selected, a pretty even mix of men and women, different ages and races. I was picked as first alternate. That is, if any of the jurors got sick or whatnot, I would be included in the deliberations. I would sit in the jury box and hear all the testimony.

Continued in Part III.


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