Jury Duty….it is one of those envelopes that comes in the mail each time I vote.
Reading my summons, I marked the calendar for May 28th.
As a dutiful citizen of Harris County, TX I got up in the wee dark hours, drove the 35 miles to downtown Houston. I parked in the assigned courthouse parking garage, and proceeded through the tunnels to the newly built Jury Selection building to await my fate.
This time, things were a bit different. The last two times I’ve gone, the cases were settled before Voir Dire began, and we were all dismissed with the promise of our $12 check to be on it’s way, unless we wanted to donate it back to the city. $12 barely covers parking, and it is easier to just donate it back.
This time, I was in a jury pool for a capital murder trial. It involved filling out a 117 question form on my background, beliefs, and habits. I was not happy filling out the 117 questions, but as a dutiful citizen of Harris County, Tx I filled it out quite honestly, figuring that my honest answers alone would have me dismissed with all due haste.
Nope! Pthph, I get to go to round two.
4 days later I’m up in the wee dark hours, driving the 35 miles back to downtown Houston. I parked in the assigned courthouse parking garage, and stumbled my way to Franklin Street to the Criminal courthouse. The Courthouse security was a little more intense than the Jury building, my purse was searched, and two of the items in my purse were questioned, my kleenex holder, and my business card holder.
It was a very interesting experience to watch the Bailiff try to wrangle 120 juror candidates into their two lines. Everyone had been reassigned their juror numbers when we filled out the questionnaire. Very few paid attention to that reassignment, and had no clue what to do. Neither did they listen to the Bailiff call out names, and reassigned numbers, and couldn’t figure out how to get in line. This is where my 4 years on drill team paid off. I know how to count off, and line up. Corny, huh? Still it took almost an hour to get 120 people into two lines to file into the courtroom.
We listened for 5 hours to the Judge tell us about the 5 points of law that apply to capital murder cases, and we heard the charges. Double homicide. On Christmas Eve 2012 the accused shot a police officer, and a bystander. We saw the defendant, who doodled, and appeared a bit bored while the Judge spoke. He looked to be all of 20 years old. It was very sad.
The Judge asked us as a group 1 or 2 questions per each point of law, and 2 of the questions applied to me, so I raised my hand. I thought that would have me booted out on my can.
Nope! Pthph! I have to come back for individual Voir Dire which allows the prosecution and defense attorneys to ask me questions about my responses to the 117 questions I answered on the 28th. Yippee.
2 days later, I’m up in the wee dark hours, driving the 35 miles back to downtown Houston, grumbling about the traffic, the construction. I park at the courthouse parking garage, and trip down the stairs making my way to Franklin street where I am harassed for money by two homeless men. I get to the metal detectors where I am searched again by the Courthouse security agents this time because they didn’t know what my WiFi hot spot was, and they wanted me to explain it to them. I proceed to the elevators to take me to the 20th floor behind a group of young men who have their pants belted below their buttocks, and decide I need to let them proceed and find another elevator. I’m getting really ticked off. Time for an attitude check. Why can’t they pull up their pants? I don’t want to see their boxers, really, I don’t want to see that.
Why am I so resentful? This is just an interruption in a reasonably good life, a quite sheltered life, really. If I can’t make it through 3 trips downtown in a week, how can I perform on a 3 week trial, doing this every day? How do people do this everyday at all? Then it hits me between the eyes at the overall Lose-Lose-Lose situation this trial is for everyone.
Let me explain: If found not guilty, the young man has lost at least 2 years of his life, and will have to explain the acquittal wherever he tries to work. If found not guilty, the victims families have no closure, as I doubt they have another defendant in the wings to try for the same crime. If found not guilty, the jurors chosen for this trial have spent at least a month of their lives committed to this exercise without pay. If found not guilty, the state has spend a huge sum of money at the tax payers expense.
On the other side: If found guilty, the young man could lose his life at worst, or will spend the rest of his days in prison with no chance of parole. If found guilty, the victims families do not get their dead returned to them. Christmas will always have the shadow of their loss. They might at best feel some kind of closure and justice for their hurt. If found not guilty, the jurors chosen for the trial have still spent a month of their lives committed to sending someone to prison for life, or possibly to their death. That is a very heavy price to pay. If found guilty, the state has spent a huge sum of money on the trial, and will spend a larger sum to house the prisoner until his death of natural causes, or until he is lethally injected.
I find myself still resentful. I proceed to the 20th floor, and see the 4 other juror candidates awaiting their turn to go in for questioning. I feel ill at this point. My hands are clammy, I’m nauseated, and I’m madder than I can tell you. I’m not the one on trial, but I am the one exposed and being questioned on my beliefs.
As Juror 27, I’m summoned into the courtroom. The defense team and defendant stand when I enter the room, and smile. The prosecution team sits and nods at me as I am escorted to the witness chair, and I am instructed to answer as honestly as possible. The waves of nausea are barely contained, and I stutter my answer as I’m asked my first question. I ask for a minute to compose myself, and the prosecutor does his best to joke with me, and assures me that in his last 2 capital punishment trials, he hadn’t lost a juror yet to Voir Dire. He was actually quite nice about it.
I was in the witness chair maybe 10 minutes at most. The prosecution team asked for me to be excused because of my beliefs that a person has control of their thoughts, and that my view of crime is that it is evil and selfish. The defense never asked me a thing.
The judge very nicely said “you are excused, the Court thanks you for your service.”
I was relieved, and sad at the same time. The Lose-Lose-Lose of the whole situation got me thinking about so many things, and the choices that we have in our lives. It made me really reflect on my beliefs, and why I believe what I do. It made me realize that ‘saying’ you believe something, and being able to stand up for those beliefs when questioned takes some practice. It made me think about what I think about, and re-establish my beliefs and my faith.
Harris county pulls at least 300 potential jurors for the 12 person jury and 2 alternates. After this experience, I can see why they would be so diligent to get the right people, the people who can set aside personal beliefs, follow just the letter of the law, and stick to the facts. It has to be a fair and impartial jury, and being impartial means setting aside personal beliefs. Could you do it?
Have you ever served on a jury?
Have you ever contemplated capital punishment?
Have you ever followed a trial where someone so young was accused with double homicide and facing some dire consequences?
Have you ever had to look at an accused in the eye, and not wonder at the guilt or innocence of the person, and if you had what it would take to find someone guilty if the evidence proved it to be so?
It was harder than I thought it would be-just going through the selection process. I will follow the trial. I have to now. I’m too invested not to care what happens and see how the process finally pans out.