Friday, April 11, 2008

Jury Duty in Martinez

My summons was for Wednesday.

My first chance of getting out of jury duty was when I called in Tuesday night... "You lose," said the recording (or words to that effect), "be here at 8:30 tomorrow".

So I decided to make the most of it and ride my bike the 12 miles to the court house. I decided to take Jed because I was unsure of the bike security. I gave myself 80 minutes and it took 70. There are some pretty steep little climbs on Pine St... great fun. They have some security measures there at the court house but they didn't get excited about my helmet or anything. I changed clothes in the handicapped stall of the restroom.

My second chance of getting out of jury duty vaporized by 10 o'clock; they called me and 70 other people to Judge Sugiyama's court room. An "attempted murder and aggravated mayhem" case. Turns out they went through 70 other prospective jurors (PJ's) the day before... told us it'd probably be a two-week trial.

They questioned the PJ's 10 at a time for the rest of the day, and got rid of a few and told the rest of us to be back at 9 o'clock on Thursday. On the ride home I got to see Diablo from some interesting, new perspectives.

Thursday I decided to take Eddy - seemed like my tree was reasonably secure despite being next to the county jail. Fifteen minutes faster than Jed. They questioned more PJ's, 10 at a time, took all day, didn't get to me, told us to be back again at 9 o'clock today.

Today I decided to drive. The jury was all selected except for the 2 alternates and they hadn't gotten to me yet and there were still about 20 other PJ's yet to call, so I figured I'd likely be out of there by lunch time and could go to work (hoo-rah). Finally I get into one of the ten hot seats, and this was pretty intersting.

The lawyers and the judge had been concerned with PJ buy-in into the whole "presumed innocent" and "beyond a reasonable doubt" concepts. But one other thing they touched on (especially the prosecuter) was that we were not allowed to consider what the punishment might be when we deliberated.

Now I had heard dozens of other PJ's make really pitiful attempts at looking like bad options - (cops are all liars, cops are all righteous, I hate guns and violence, this one time in band camp...). But I had a serious concern with this penalty thing. I told the judge, "I need to know that the punishment associated with a guilty verdict isn't unreasonable." And he told me he couldn't tell me what the punishment might be but I should just trust the system. Then I was asked some more about this by the judge and the prosecutor and I said I thought it was a bad rule that jurors aren't allowed to know the consequences of their decisions. (oh here's the great part - one of the 12 jurors then raised his hand and said "Yeah, he's right, I don't like that either", and the judge told him, "You're already sworn in so you have to abide by your oath.") So after all that they adjourned to chambers and when they came out the judge dismissed me. It must have been close though because he told the attorneys he had changed his ruling on me (meaning in chambers he decided I was OK and then in the court room he reversed himself).

So I've yet to serve on a jury and now it appears that something I truly do believe might prevent me from ever serving. I'm not sure if that's a good thing or not. When I'm an old man and look back at the experiences I've had in life, being a juror is one I'd like to have in my portfolio. But so is Wednesday Night Ride 2008-xx that I missed because of jury duty.

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