Wednesday, August 10, 2011

"The Ninth Day of the Month..."

Happy Ninth Day of the Month!

Well, Happy Tenth Day of the Month, really. As I had said in an earlier post, today, the tenth of August marks the end of The Squealing Nerd's week-long hiatus while we officially make Austin our new base of operations. I would like to thank everyone for their continued patience and rest assured that today is a day of blogging!

As promised, I have a full account of the Ninth Day of the Month, and although I'm sure everyone else was ten times more productive than I was, I am still proud of how I spent my day serving my country's judicial system. Yep, I had jury duty, which ultimately prevented me from posting this yesterday.

I know I have several international readers, so I should probably be more clear. For those of you who know what jury duty is and have had it before, sorry, but this has been a pleasant learning experience and I think can continue to be for others. Bear with me.

I am not sure, nor will I presume to know, what the system for picking jurors for court cases in other countries who also follow the democratic system are or if there is even a stature in place for that. The judicial system has what San Antonio district court number four Judge Sarrah E. Garrahan-Moulder calls a "buffer" between the government and the people. That buffer is the jury selected to serve in each level of court from civil to municipal, to criminal, to federal. The jury selection process is very important because the United States requires (under the protection of the Constitution) that all of those who are on trial for a crime have the right to a fair and impartial judgement by a jury of their peers. Jury selection, therefore, involves a process of weeding out the people for each individual case who cannot or willfully chose not to be fair and impartial in the deliberations of a person's guilt or innocence.

People are not punished by receiving jury duty (even if it feels that way sometimes). You are automatically cast into the lottery to receive jury duty by registering to vote and getting your driver's license. And despite living status, the address on your driver's license indicates in what county you will be serving your jury duty. I received my summons to jury duty in Bexar County even though I technically don't live there anymore. I even asked the judge my that was. Until I change my driver's license to reflect my residence in Travis County, I could technically still be chosen to serve on a federal or municipal jury in San Antonio. Which means driving.

According to the judge, and through my own personal experience, jury duty involves a lot of sitting, standing, sitting, and clock-watching. The potential jurors are called down to the court house early in the morning. I was summoned to the Bexar County courthouse on Dolorosa Street at 8:00 am.

                                                                But not this court house.

This court house, which is right next door to the other one. Apparently the place I got my marriage license is not the place where you serve your jury duty. Also this place has a sushi bar.

I went in, gave my jury summons slip and questionair to the nice bailiff (and the bailiff is always nice) and sat down in a sea of people. I didn't even really get to pick my own seat for an hour.

The judge came in and gave us the cliched spill about how important jury duty is, and for those of us whose first time it is, the whole standing, sitting, getting called, getting canceled on and the like. The likelihood, she said, of getting picked to a jury panel, and then possibly a jury, is high. Actually having to serve on the jury is another matter. Any number of things can cause a court to cancel, the most common of which is the defendant suddenly deciding to settle out of court (in a civil case) or plead out (which usually means a criminal case of any degree in which a guilty plea may procure a reduced sentence). The last time my husband was on a jury panel, the councilors had not even chosen their jurors before the defendant got wind of it and crapped himself, promptly taking a plea bargain. Some of the more cocky defendants, especially in criminal cases, are actually intimidated by the prospect of facing a jury, knowing that a jury is capable of being convinced of his or her guilt. Suddenly, that reduced sentence or fine starts to sound really tempting when faced with extended jail time. However, since the judge had to have been keenly aware that, given the nature of shows like Law and Order and the recent media coverage of Casey Anthony, she felt compelled to remind us that dramatic nineteen part criminal cases are few and far between, and that we would not likely be handling any case that could not be deliberated more than a few days. I am not sure, but a better part of the jury pool was relieved.

In my service, they did not even start picking panels until well after ten a.m. The bailiffs and clerks have to wait until they get the go-ahead from the councilors and judge before they decide whether or not trail, and a jury, will be necessary. That means we sit and wait until they call each panel. Before eleven o'clock I managed to escape three chopping blocks, a panel of 40, 60 and 65 respectively.

We took lunch at 11:30 and came back two hours later. Rather than risk my life at the court house sushi bar, I ran to Sushi Zushi around the corner, where I exercised by scanty Japanese language skills and ate a Bento lunch special. On the way, I stopped to marvel at some of the less familiar scenery of downtown San Antonio around the court house. I had rarely been there, and since I was not likely to visit there again, I felt compelled to take a journalistic approach to some of San Antonio's historic nostalgia.

El Jalisco on Market Street. There are apartments for rent above it.

The Market Street entrance to the court house. The fountain and hotel
are particularly pretty. The motel also has apartments for rent. 
Is that not a fair prospect of San Fernando's Cathedral?
We re-convened after lunch. It took them another hour to figure out that three courts had cancelled for the day, but that an equal number still required rather large panels. As the last of them were winding down, and as my name still remained un-called, I started to believe that I might have been in the clear. At three o'clock, as we were getting ready to go home, the final court called my name as number eight on its panel. I sighed and followed the bailiff up to the second floor. We were seated before our district judge and were given the run-down. I was to sit on the panel of potential jurors for a criminal DWI case.

Great. So much for a learning experience.

I was actually rather excited. In my short stint as a contract editor for Bill Clanton, attorney at law, I had edited his DWI defense manuscript. Which meant I was uncannily familiar with DWI law (defensive driving helped). The Defense and the State asked us questions about our comfort with the subject matter and our ability to follow the law. Essentially, all defendants are innocent until proven guilty (and a Freudian slip by the judge almost rendered that age-old law obsolete--scared the doo-doo out of the defendant too). The burden of evidence falls on the State, not the defendant. It is the State's job, not the defendant's, to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, a term which is entirely relative (like fair-use). Again we were reminded that we were not on TV and that a plethora of different DNA and witness testimony was not necessary for our case, and that we could not force the defendant to give his side of the story (which is covered under the fifth amendment of the Bill of Rights).

Unfortunately, just like the time before, the Defense pegged me as the Hermione Granger of the bunch. Its pretty sad when the average juror can define where it states in the law that it is not illegal to drink and drive, but that it is illegal to drive while intoxicated, then define "intoxicated" off the top of her head. Both the State and the Defense immediately marked me in their heads as a scratch-off. I could see it in the State attorney's eye. She knows too much. The State, nor the Defense, want anyone on the jury that already knows the law and will not be easily swayed. Such a juror may draw their own conclusion from the evidence presented and ignore comments from council. I thought the key to getting on the jury was exhibiting good common sense and a solid education in our rights as citizens. I thought they were looking for the Spocks among the Kirks. Logic and reason would make a fair and impartial juror. Boy was I wrong. Though I might be able to make more educated decisions and draw conclusions, I was unwanted because they were looking for neither Spock nor Kirk. What they wanted were the guys in the red shirts that die at the end of the episode. Such jurors are less sound in their own convictions and are more likely to take councilor comments seriously. It also does not help that I was able to pinpoint no fewer than three different devices used in the average rhetorical argument by both the Defense and the State. The two they used the most were the anecdote and the appeal to pathos, or emotion, to weed out those who feel resentment or anger towards cops or people who drink and drive. 

So one might be able to imagine my chagrin and disappointment that I was not chosen for the jury. I was irritated beyond expression. How could someone as educated and logical as I be "unqualified" to decide the guilt or innocence of a man based only on the evidence provided by the State, not on the way it is spun by the councilors? Simply put, I'm a risky juror. I know too much. I can decide for myself. I am logical. Unfortunately, the judicial system has no place for me. I was incensed enough that I contemplated filing a complaint and forcing the State to add me to a jury. However, that is hardly worth anyone's time. And though it might sound arrogant of me, I feel sorry for the defendant, who I feel got screwed out of a good juror. Also, I feel bad for the State, for now that they made sure no one on the jury is well-versed in the law, they screw themselves on a criminal case, which despite being a misdemeanor, still might have involved a truly guilty defendant who might be a danger to himself or others later on in the future. Of course, I know for next time to keep my stupid mouth shut. Since I did not make it to trial, I will never know how it turned out. I know one thing for sure, and that is that I might have done some good.

I also would have made $80 in two days, and I'm unemployed.

And so my Ninth Day of the Month was spent freezing my ass off at the court house only to be disqualified as a juror based on the councilors' bias towards intelligence. Could have been worse. Could have been at work. Haha! So my readers, I hope you had a great Ninth Day. See you next month!

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