I thought this somewhat lengthy account of my recent morning in a courtroom might be of interest to some, especially Canadians who have not yet been called to jury duty. On Monday I was called in no uncertain terms to the jury pool in a town about 40k from here.
With Cuppa and I sharing the childcare duties by each supervising for half of the day, it would have made it very awkward and tiring for Cuppa to have to carry the whole load should my presence have been required for any length of time. So, I went with misgivings, which weren’t exactly put to rest when the judge revealed that it would most likely be a two week trial for a sexual assault case.
But the courtroom was packed with about 120 potential jurors, so I had a chance of escaping. Right?
Perhaps not! For the pool quickly shrunk in size as the judge took us through various criteria which eliminated a lot of candidates. This is how I remember them although I might miss some or place them in the wrong order.
- The first culling: “If you know the defendant or his family or friends or the family or friends for any witnesses (the names on the list were read), raise your hands and step to the front.” Each person then was asked to explain the relationship, and most of the group was thanked and excused.
- Repeat: this time eliminating any who knew the judge or the attorneys. A few more were excused.
- Next, the judge asked if anyone was experiencing difficulty hearing the proceedings. I stepped forward to explain that I was getting the broad strokes but also missing some of what was being said. I was told that they would keep me in the pool for now.
- I was soon up again when the judge asked for any with physical problems that might hinder people from doing the job. By that time, I was very uncomfortable from sitting in a church-like pew for an hour. To the front left, I saw pews where I thought the jury might sit, and I thought, “I can’t handle that, especially not for two weeks.” However, when I got to the front to explain my predicament, I saw much nicer, padded seats to the right and upon inquiring was told that was where the jury would sit. I conceded that they would possibly work for me.
- Quite a few people were then excused for other “serious” reasons. For example: one man worked in a construction job with only two other workers, and they would all have to stop if he couldn’t make it.
- The jury pool was becoming shallower and shallower but the biggest drop was yet to come when people were excused for having some sort of connection with sexual assault experiences. The numbers were a little shocking to me.
- Finally, even more were let off the hook because they knew someone connected with law enforcement. For example: one lady’s ex-husband’s bother was a police officer, and she was excused.
As I looked around, I realized that my chances of being selected were now pretty good – or pretty bad from my point of view.
But there was hope. Of those who remained, the first twelve potential jurors were called at random (names pulled out of a drum). I thought that maybe I would get lucky because I am normally quite unlucky in raffles and such. I have in the past been in many weekly raffles, and my name was never pulled as often as it should have been, given the odds. Relief: I wasn’t called in the first twelve.
The first dozen candidates went to the front. In turn, each was instructed to look at the defendant, and the defendant was instructed to look at the juror. Based on this, each attorney, got to say either “Content” or “Challenge.” That was it: no questions at all. It was just based on how the juror looked or looked at the defendant and how the lawyers perceived the suitability of each prospective juror.
Uh oh. Many were excused. Too many. The next twelve were called. Drat. I was number 11. Double drat: few in front of me were accepted. From both rounds, a total of twenty-two people, only seven had been chosen when it became my turn to make eye contact with the witness. I just knew I was in for it.
I’m fairly sure they would have been “Content” with me, but, thankfully, everyone remembered my previous excursions to the front. His Honour asked whether I had been able to hear, and I replied something like, “Pretty well.” But the prosecuting attorney also remembered about my back issue, so the judge asked me to explain the situation. As soon as I said, “bulging disk,” his mouth formed an O. I said that I thought I could manage in the jury seats but wouldn’t have been able to if they had been pews. However, his honour (bless his heart) decided that it might be best to excuse me rather than chance my back not being able to bear up for two weeks of sitting.
Phew! The guy after me was not selected either, so only seven jurors had been selected from the first twenty-four candidates. There weren’t too many more than twelve people left to be called. I imagine that when they get towards the end, they have to accept whomever remains. But I don’t know because I was out of there … and home before the trial began that same afternoon.
Cuppa was much relieved. Me too.
The process was interesting, and under better circumstances – no childcare commitments and no health concerns, I wouldn’t too much mind doing my duty, but it was really for the best for me to be excused this time around.