Almost a Juror

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.

  1. 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.
  2. Repeat: this time eliminating any who knew the judge or the attorneys. A few more were excused.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

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15 Responses to Almost a Juror

  1. Mara says:

    Thank you for explaining all that. We don’t have jury duty in the Netherlands, so it’s fascinating to hear how a jury gets picked.

  2. Ruth says:

    I have been called up once, but a letter from my employer was sufficient to remove my name from the list of potential jurors. Health care trumps judicial process, thank goodness!

  3. Diana says:

    This is very interesting AC. We had a similar problem when Jake was called to jury duty. He was barely excused. Had he not been, we would have lost everything as he is our only real income. As you know he is only home four days a month. This would have devastated us financially. Although they excused him, they didn’t seem to care!
    I am so glad that it worked out for you. I’m sure Cuppa was relieved as well!
    Love Di ♥

  4. Oh my…thank goodness! I was once called in for duty on a child abuse case. He was Guilty and the trial was a huge waste of public funds…I was asked, by his lawyer, how I “felt” about the defendant….What a stupid question! I looked squarely at the guy and responded, ” If he truly is innocent then you’ll be able to get him off…If he’s Not, hang him High!”
    The judge grunted…the lawyer looked sick…and I was dismissed.

    • AC says:

      I thought we’d be asked if we could be impartial, but I think they took care of that with their other criteria. I forgot to mention that if we had heard/read much in the media was another reason for which we could be excused.

  5. Philip says:

    It is your duty to serve and not to try to get out of it. In that way jury duty is like taxes.

    I was called once and I served on a jury in a sexual assault case. In the end, the fellow was acquitted not because we didn’t think he did it but because we would not say “beyond a reasonable doubt”. I felt sorry for the woman for not proving her case for it takes courage to go to court over such an event.

    It is hard when the judge tells you to ignore something. He told us to ignore the sex toys by the woman’s bed in a photo of the crime scene. Of course, you then think of them all the time. I just hope seeing them didn’t prejudice us against the woman for the fellow was a scoundrel.

    • AC says:

      Respectfully, Philip, and I may not have made myself clear, I think there’s a difference between trying to get out of something and wishing to get out of it. I believe just as it’s our duty to serve, it is also our duty to alert His Honour of any issues that might hinder our fitness for the task. It’s ultimately his decision to make.

  6. Ginnie says:

    This was well written and gave a lot of information, AC. I went through the same thing years ago and it was pretty much as you described it. I DID get to sit in a jury but it was a very boring imbezzlement case.

  7. Col says:

    This is truly very interesting stuff… and I have often been curious on how it was done. Glad to hear you did not have to stay. Have to wonder how I would feel if called.

  8. I have only served on jury duty once and can’t even recall the specifics of the case, other than it was something to do with a personal injury suit. I was called up again several years ago, but disqualified and can’t recall the reason or even if any was given as I do believe attorneys for either side can eliminate a potential juror without giving the specific reason. Since moving here to the VA eastern shore neither Grenville or myself has even been called for jury duty.

  9. Lorna says:

    AC, this called up memories for me too. I was part of the chosen for a case of welfare fraud. I was so obviously empathetic with the couple charged, I think, that I was excused before I was even asked a question. I have to admit I was relieved—not because I didn’t want to serve but because I think the welfare requirements aren’t humane or realistic and I could see hours of agonizing conflict ahead for any jury I would have been a part of.

  10. Kila says:

    Bummer–I would have loved hearing about your experiences, and you would have done a great job.

  11. Hilary says:

    I’m glad for you that you were excused. I sat on a jury for a three week period and though the jury seats were comfy enough (there wasn’t a single juror who didn’t doze off at one point or another.. ) the seats in the waiting room are not. We spent many hours waiting to be called back into the court room after being sent out of earshot of discussions with the judge. That room is just a narrow, longish room.. with a table for twelve and much less comfy chairs. Your back would not be happy.

  12. D3 says:

    You have no idea how much I wanted to be picked for jury duty!!! I even dressed up for the day! But alas, my number wasn’t even called. It was for some terrorist explosive case and I think it would have been interesting. Plus I have always wanted to participate in our justice system and get a different perspective as to how decisions are made and how “justice” is actually pursued.

    One of the interesting things I noticed during the jury selection process was the “religiosity” of the court room. When the lawyers rose for the judge and referred to him as “my Lord”, I almost choked on my gum. I wondered how I would have navigated the religious undertones in court room etiquette…I had enough of a hard time as it was kneeling before the chancellor during my graduation.

  13. KGMom says:

    So, here’s my take. The Canadian process is very like that used in at least this part of the U.S.
    I have been called about 6 times! And I never try to get off. Not saying someone wouldn’t have a reason–but I always figure: it’s a jury of one’s peers. And who would I rather have on my jury (should I need one) than me. 😉

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