Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Jury Duty

One of the privileges, (or burdens) of American citizenship, is jury duty.  We're discussing jury duty and nullification at this forum, and as a long serving cop, I have my own particular jaundiced view on most juries, that track mostly with the experiences of Mark Twain.  As a young officer I looked askance at the jury selection process and decided that Louisiana's laws were altogether too liberal in many parts regarding the criteria for excusal, and remember one attorney wag remarking that he'd "never trust the freedom of a client to twelve people too stupid to get out of jury duty".

Louisiana later revised its law to make it much harder to be excused from jury duty, and to spread the burden around more fully, although in my experience the Courts do not want anyone who can read, understand basic human nature, or reach his own conclusions to sit on a jury.  Only the dull and illiterate need apply.

Yet, as a police officer, I had many dealings with juries and have to admit that against all odds, they often reach the proper conclusions.  One facet of jury duty, in heinous cases is something called sequestration, which means that the jury will be locked up for the duration of the trial.  Unable to watch TV or read newspapers, they'll be locked into a local motel for the duration, all the more to focus their energy on the task at hand.  It leads to some interesting anecdotes.

One case in particular comes to mind.  A local family had been murdered.  The victims were "salt of the earth" folks, active in the church, hardworking types, who happened to run afoul of a wanted criminal.  The criminal wanted the family car and killed the family to help in his escape.  Truly a vicious, wanton crime.  The criminal was soon caught, jailed, and indicted, and in the normal course of things, a jury pool was selected.

One hundred twenty souls reported to the Courthouse for the jury pool, and on the first day of voir dire, the judge told them that if selected, they'd be sequestered.  He instructed them to bring a suitcase to court the next day, capable of holding a week's clothing.  If selected, they'd be lodged incognito at a local hotel.  Over the next several days, a jury was impaneled, and the trial commenced.

On the fourth or fifth day of the trial, I needed the Judge to sign a court order.  I called the Courthouse and talked with his secretary who informed me that if I were at the Courthouse at 3:00 the judge normally took a recess and I could catch him as he went into his chambers.  So, I grabbed my order and trotted down to the Courthouse where I sat in the judge's waiting room.  In due course, the judge entered, waved me into his office, and asked about my business.  Just about that time, his secretary told him that he "had a call on line one".  The judge held up a finger to me and picked up the phone.

Judging from the conversation, the caller's wife was on the jury.  I could hear the judge telling him that she was fine and that he would pass a message that everyone at home was fine, that they understood how important her service was and that they'd be waiting to rejoice with her when she was released.  The judge took a pen, and asked her name (so that he could pass the message), then looked up at me with surprise on his face.

"Uh, sir, your wife is not on our jury."

"No, sir, she was examined and released on Wednesday.  She is not serving, and was not sequestered."

"I suspect that she is somewhere, watching the news, and will return home as soon as the trial is over."

"No, sir, I cannot recommend an attorney.  We have may fine divorce lawyers in this area. I'd suggest that you look in the Yellow Pages."

"Yes, sir, you have a good day."

I never did find out who the woman was.  I bet that she had some explaining to do when she came home at the end of the trial.

No comments: