by Rose Klix
I had recently moved from another state back to my parents’ house. They had sold my childhood home to Mom’s sister and her husband. My aunt brought mail addressed to me. The letter called me for jury duty.
I wasn’t working and needed spending money. “Mom, do I still qualify?” She served on several juries over the years and worked at the polling place during elections. I trusted her answer.
“Mainly, you need to be a citizen of the area. You are from here.”
We agreed I sort of qualified. I stifled my own guilt and decided I would be a good juror.
The letter instructed the jurors to call in each day of the month long term. We would be told whether or not to report to the courthouse. If told not to report, we didn’t get paid. If told to report the courthouse was crowded with potential jurors. We were divided into teams of twenty people, Even if I wasn’t selected as a juror, I could be selected as an alternate and still required to sit in on the trial.
The accusation was murder. The court predicted the trial to last three weeks. A murder trial sounded really interesting. I enjoy court TV drama. I didn’t know the details of why the white female was accused. I hadn’t heard anything about the case on the news since I’d been out of state. I sat with several others on my team in the jury box during voir dire to determine if we had any prejudices.
“Have you ever been around crazy people?” The defense attorney asked the jurors.
I said, “Yes, I’ve worked at the Veterans Administration.” He didn’t ask for further clarification. What I meant was that we often knew exactly when the moon was full because of the behavior of the veterans who applied for benefits that day. I also occasionally needed to deliver records to a locked ward.
An attorney’s standard question asked, “Have you had any unsatisfactory run-ins with police?”
One middle aged white lady juror said, “Yes. I was jogging and a man flashed me. The police didn’t do anything, because I couldn’t identify his face.” Everyone in the courtroom laughed. The judge banged his gavel.
Another standard question asked “Is there any reason you cannot serve on the jury?” A white construction worker said, “This is our busy time. I’ve already asked to be excused from jury duty.” He wasn’t excused, but also wasn’t selected.
For the murder case the accused pled temporary insanity. I suspect I wasn’t selected, because of my answer about my experience around crazy people.
The next opportunity was for an illegal drug case. I again heard the female juror telling her flasher story. It was still a little bit funny. Everyone in the courtroom who hadn’t heard about the incident before laughed. The same construction worker again asked to be excused. Again neither of them was selected that day.
The defense attorney asked each of us, “Do you understand entrapment?” I thought I did.
The accused red-headed young man had been involved in drug sales some time before the incident in question. I’ll call him Red. A previous acquaintance of Red’s asked him for the product. I’ll call him Shifty. Red explained to Shifty that he currently had a wife and family and was no longer in the drug business. Shifty pressured until Red gave him a contact’s phone number. Shifty wasn’t satisfied. Then Red got him the product. The police arrested Red for selling illegal drugs. During the trial we learned Shifty had been arrested for “paper hanging” (check fraud). The police detective had made a deal with Shifty to find a drug dealer in exchange for dropping the check fraud charges.
When our jury deliberated, I didn’t really see that entrapment applied. To paraphrase an old detective show, “He did the crime; he should do the time.”
I voted guilty. This held up the decision several times. I listened to all the other jurors over and over again say it was entrapment.
I said, “But Red sold Shifty the drugs. Red is guilty.”
The other jurors demonized the “paper hanger.” One man said, “Shifty was guilty of check fraud. He had to pull down someone else in order to save himself.”
I wasn’t sympathetic to Shifty’s plight. In fact I hoped he would also serve his time.
The other jurors glorified Red and his new family. I wasn’t moved by Red’s wife and baby sitting in the gallery behind him. One lady said, “The kid got his act together before Shifty pulled him back into crime. Red wouldn’t have dealt again otherwise.”
I agreed Shifty was guilty of check fraud. I didn’t think it was right to let Shifty off and punish Red. Shifty also should be the one being punished. But Shifty wasn’t on trial.
Then, I repeated the prosecution’s final remarks, “Red still had the phone number of the contact. If he wasn’t going to be dealing again, why keep the number?”
The other jurors just shook their heads.
I know it didn’t matter that I didn’t like the defense attorney’s cocky attitude throughout the trial.
I told my fellow jurors, “Red chose to do the crime.”
Everyone else was convinced Red was entrapped to do a crime he otherwise would not have done. One man said, “That’s the definition of entrapment in case you weren’t listening, little lady.”
The head juror asked the bailiff for a dinner break. The bailiff gave us the judge’s instructions to not talk about the trial outside the jury room. The bailiff escorted us to a private section of the cafeteria and gave us vouchers for food. I sat with two ladies of the jury. We visited with small talk, but mostly sat quietly. I felt stabbing stares from the other jurors.
I contemplated about being in the minority. I doubted his innocence. I knew we weren’t to say he was innocent. The question was whether he was “guilty” or “not guilty by reason of entrapment.” The answer wasn’t black and white.
That week I learned about the seriousness of jury duty. We affected lives: his life and his family’s lives. Judging others’ actions is not easy. We walked back to the jury room.
I felt worn down. I voted “not guilty by reason of entrapment.” When the head juror read the verdict, I watched Red, his wife and baby smile and hug. The defense attorney had a gloating smile when he shook the prosecutor’s hand.
I’m still not sure we were right. Hopefully, the young man learned his lesson and knows not to allow anyone to influence him to break the law again.
Later I received a letter from the defense attorney thanking the jury for the verdict. He wanted to know specifics of the deliberations. I threw the letter away. That was privileged information. I just wanted to put it behind me. If other jurors told him I held up the vote, then so be it.
Next was a Sioux Indian woman accused of driving under the influence (DUI). Plus she didn’t have a driver’s license.
Again the same two jurors’ stories came up. I really wearied of them, especially the jogging woman and the flasher. I failed to see the humor and why that was pertinent to the question of having an unsatisfactory run-in with police. I felt sorry for the construction worker, but thought he should have given up asking to be excused. That request obviously wasn’t working, unless his plan was to not be seated. Not being chosen for a trial got him excused for the rest of the day.
The accused’s defense was that she was not driving even though she was in the driver’s seat. The trial got rather boring with the drawn out lab results showing her alcohol levels above the legal limit and the custody of the specimen. The witnesses saw her in the driver’s seat with keys in the ignition. Her defense attorney brought in witnesses who had been with her in the car. They testified she was not the driver. The original driver didn’t want another DUI, so he climbed over her and pushed her into the driver’s seat before the policeman stopped them The policeman stated he saw the car shimmying before he approached the window. She hadn’t brought her driver’s license or didn’t have one.
The prosecutor showed that she was in a position in the car to be driving, was intoxicated, and didn’t have a license. All of the car’s occupants were intoxicated. If the police hadn’t arrested her, she or one of them would have driven. The car was not impounded. No one addressed how the others exited the scene. The jury voted guilty immediately and she was scheduled for sentencing. Perhaps she will chose her friends more wisely in the future.
Another drunken driving incident was brought to court. I wanted to choke the lady juror who told her jogging story once again. I also was really tired of the construction man’s whining about not going to work.
I realized between this trial and the last one that the lab work testimony was really boring, but necessary. He demonstrated who handled the specimen, where it went, and all to show the blood definitely belonged to the accused.
It was such a slam dunk of a trial that I wondered why they even bothered to bring it to court. What a waste of everyone’s time – including the construction worker. I don’t even remember the details of the defense. The first vote pronounced him guilty.
During that time I witnessed a court system in action. These trials were not nearly as glamorous as court TV. I suspect they probably represent ninety-five percent of trials.
Thankfully, my jury duty month ended. Much later I met a circuit court judge who suffered from narcolepsy. I certainly understand how hard it could be to stay awake during many trials. Perhaps I should have told the court I technically was not a resident.