I just had my first one a couple weeks ago. What a hoot! If I could, I’d do it again (but I have to wait at least two years in Minnesota to be eligible).
The first day was teeeeeeeeeeeeeeeedious. About 240 people in one large room as the jury pool. No one talked to one another. We had regular updates and as the lottery goes, we were all put into smaller pools of 24 people by our notices and some groups were called up, others were sent home, our group just stayed in that room until well after lunch. Around 3pm, we get our group called up to the courtroom. 18 names are called up to go sit in the jury box (12 in the regular box, 6 in these fold out built-in seats in the front part). I’m still in the peanut gallery. It turns out that this is a domestic abuse case that was precipitated by alcohol. The standard questions are read by the judge about ability to serve, some personal history etc. About a half an hour of questioning goes through and a couple people are excused and after the 3rd one, I’m called to go sit in the front part. I go through a quick summary of all the questions asked and then the attorney and prosecutor start asking us personal questions. It’s about 4:15 and it’s the first question I’m asked. For some reason, probably the fact that I had been quiet for so long, I answered the question and kept talking. The question was about domestic abuse laws but I found myself rambling on about consensual crime laws, tort reform, and a couple other things. The only thing that stopped me was I noticed out of the corner of my eye that the poor court reporter was recording all of my words. <blush>. I got quiet then.
After all of the questioning, another two people are given the boot because of personal issues, the DA and atty shuffle a piece of paper back and forth between them to choose the jurors. I get picked for the case which starts the next day.
The second day. We arrive and are given badges that say juror on them so we won’t be approached by either side for conversation. We go into the court room, and take our assigned seats in the box.
The quick story behind this case goes like this. This couple has been together for 13 years. They live together and have had past bouts with the law with domestic abuse. The day the incident happened was Easter, 2005. The defendant and family had dinner and around 3pm, they drive over to Wisconsin (about 20 miles) to buy a 12 pack of beer. (Can’t buy that in Minnesota on Sunday). They get home and the man drinks a couple and has some friends over who have a couple of beers too. Around 10pm, a female neighbor friend calls up the defendant. The defendant’s live-in girlfriend gets jealous and they get into a fight. She dumps out two of his beers and smacks him on the head a couple times. He slaps her and leaves a mark. They continue to bicker and he decides to call 911 to de-escalate the situation. About 10 minutes later the police arrive. Two officers get out of the car and see the defendant running out the back door. One of the officers yells “stop, police” and chases him and eventually catches him. They see the redness on her face and take him off to jail.
The first witness we get is the 911 operator. We now know his whole educational background for some reason. We then hear the 911 call played on audio cassette and he vouches that he was the operator. The call was pretty much just Cheryl screaming expletives and warning the defendant never to lay a hand on her again. . We’re all given a transcript of the call to read along with the tape but after the tape has been played, they’re taken away from us.
The attorneys have a little confab with the judge and we’re excused to go to the jury room for no given reason for about 30 minutes
Back to the trial, the next witness called is Cheryl. She’s the live-in girlfriend who got slapped. She’s a hostile witness and isn’t afraid to say that. In fact, she does. It’s a bit amusing if it weren’t so damn sad. Cheryl’s chorus is “I don’t remember”. She doesn’t want to testify against him knowing that he’ll go to jail.
Next up, the two police officers. The first one went into the house while the other followed the defendant. She explained her life history up til now and then showed us the pictures she took of the reddish mark on Cheryl’s cheek. The other officer tells about chasing after the defendant. How she had to jump over two fences and lost the defendant down an alley. As she rounded the corner, she saw him in a dumpster with his head peeking out as he slowly lowered the lid. (Hee!!!).
The third day, we hear more testimony regarding the previous incidents. One of which is a man 65 years old. He smells a bit funky and looks borderline homeless. He moved down from Canada when he was 20 and “retired about 40 years ago”. So, he pretty much “retired” at 25. I wish more questions would have been asked about that.
The fourth day we hear from the defendant. Who readily admits to slapping his girl-friend. He has pled innocent and I sit there wondering why you’d admit to something and plead innocent at the same time for slapping someone. I excitedly think ahead for a second about how his attorney is going to get out of that one. He admits to running away from the cops because he knows that he will be the one to go to jail because she’s the one with the mark.
The fifth day and closing arguments. Ahh, what I’ve been waiting for the whole time, the defense’s rationale for pleading innocent. Drum roll please…… It turns out that since Cheryl was a hostile witness, we can’t believe anything she said. Therefore, we have to insist that there’s reasonable doubt that she was hit. Ahh….what??? Ya know, if the defendant ADMITTED to it, where’s the doubt that it happened? Ugh.
The trial is over and it’s deliberation time. But wait. There apparently are 13 of us and only 12 need to serve as jurors. The person sitting next to me is declared the alternate and without fanfare, he is thanked by the judge and immediately booted out of the courtroom. Poor guy. Poor, poor guy. He had to sit through the whole trial and take notes, pay attention, and right before he can finally talk about it, they take the carrot away. Poor guy.
So, now we’re sent to the jury room and finally we can talk about the case. Now, mind you, every time prior to being sent to the room, no one talked. We can’t talk about the case we’re sitting on until deliberation anyways. Everything comes pouring out. In the first two minutes we all pretty much agree that this is an open and shut case but we decide for no other reason than we need to talk about it a little bit to wait before voting. We talk, chat, and then just start out and out joking about the case. We’re laughing and having a good ol’ time. There are some small pieces that needed to be figured out (like did he really dial 911 because it’s only her voice we hear on the phone).
Then comes a “problem”.
As we’re going through the list of things that need to be proven to render a guilty verdict, one juror mentions the word “intent”. We have to show that there was intent in the defendant’s actions to find him guilty. A couple jurors now express concern about what the definition of the word “intent” is. I explain it a couple times and give examples of what would be considered an accident and what is actually intentional. The foreman that was picked decides that we need to ask the judge what “intent” means. To do this, we have to write our question “what does intent mean in legal terms” on a piece of paper. Knock on our locked door, hand it to the bailiff who then locks the door again. The bailiff brings it to the judge who then discusses it with the attorneys. About 20 minutes later the bailiff knocks on our door. We follow him back to the courtroom where we all go to take our seats. The judge tells us we can all sit down. We sit. The judge then says that we were given paper that had the law on it and that’s all we’re going to get. We’re then immediately dismissed back to the jury room. It was quite embarrassing.
A little convincing later, we cast our vote for guilty, the foreman signs the paper and gives it to the bailiff. 20 minutes pass as we’re chatting in the room and it’s back to the courtroom. The judge reads the guilty verdict into record and now is the first time that the defendant looks at the jury box. One by one, the judge goes down the list of jurors, announcing their full names and asking if they indeed voted guilty. The defendant’s eyes looking at each and every person as they replied “yes”.
It’s over. He’s going to prison and I’m going home. It turns out that Minnesota has a domestic violence law that has 3 strikes. We had wondered why a small slap was considered a felony but were never told in court about that part of the law.
A couple weeks later I get my checks in the mail. The county I live in paid me $20 a day plus mileage from the furthest part of my home zip code to the courthouse. This is about 5 blocks that I walked everyday that I got paid $1.67 a day for automatically.