So once the 16 potential jurors were unloaded from the freight elevator, we spent some time waiting in the hallway outside the courtroom. I came to know this hallway very well over the next 5 days. The weirdest part about the hallway is that everyone involved in the trail waited in the hallway together throughout the trial. All the jurors, attorneys and witnesses gathered there together. I'm not sure if I expected each party to have their own locker room or what, but only the Judge had her own hideout in her chambers behind the courtroom.
Eventually, the court clerk led us in and we took a seat in the observer section, behind the low barrier dividing observers from those involved in the case (you know, where Mr. Brady was sitting when he dropped his briefcase to get the con artist to turn his neck in the neck brace to prove he was trying to scam Mrs. Brady in traffic court). On the other side of the barrier are the prosecution & defense tables, court clerk desk, court reporter box, witness stand, jury box and Judge's bench. A lot like TV except it wasn't all polished dark wood and dramatic lighting. I mean, there was some polished wood, but I didn't get the same feeling of formality and grandiose importance as one would in the "A Few Good Men" courtroom.
We were told the case was a criminal case: State Vs. [Defendant's last name]*. Three Charges: 1) Domestic Assault causing bodily harm 2) Domestic Assault causing fear 3) Disorderly Conduct. As soon as I heard the charges, I thought there was no way I'd end up on the jury. I'm a woman. I minored in women's studies in college. I went through volunteer training at a battered women's shelter. My bookshelves contain autographed copies of Andrea Dworkin and Susan Brownmiller books.
Then we were introduced to the prosecutor and the defense team. The defense team consisted of the Defendant and... that's it. The Defendant acted as his own council. That means he not only interviewed potential jurors for the defense, but did opening and closing arguments, all cross-examinations of the prosecution's witnesses (including the victim), and attempted to make objections. And no, he is not a lawyer.
And that is how someone with my background not only ended up on the jury, but was eventually elected foreperson during deliberations. This is why I am not using the defendant's name in the blog. Because he interviewed the jurors, he was given our names and cities we live in. My full name was also read aloud during the verdict as the juror foreperson.
Let me just state for the record, I went into this trial with an open mind. I believe in every individual's right to a fair trial and that the defendant is innocent until proven guilty. However, all jurors are going to be influenced by their life experience. That is why 16 potential jurors were interviewed for a 6 person jury. It is up to the defense and prosecution to weed out any jurors that have life experiences that would bias them in the favor of the other side. I answered all questions posed to me by both the prosecutor and the defendant with complete honesty. The Defendant did not ask if any jurors had ever worked with victims of domestic violence, nor if there was any reason we might be biased. All he asked us about was where we live, what we do, our education level, and our hobbies. Then the prosecutor had his turn, but of course, he didn't ask questions that would help the defense. We did not fill out any written forms, we were only asked questions verbally. Before I knew it, we were once again dismissed into the hallway while the jury was chosen.
I felt a little guilty while sitting in the hallway. Should I have just raised my hand and said, "Dude, I'm a feminist."? I figured even though this information hadn't come out, I'd still have a small chance of being chosen. I was about the same age as the victim, surely that was enough for the Defendant to strike me from the list. We were eventually called back in. The Judge read the names of those jurors not chosen. When the judge was finished, I was still in the Jury box. I really had no time to think about it because as soon as the 6 of us consolidated our seats in the front of the jury box, the trial began. The prosecutor began his opening statement. He basically told us what to expect in the way of witnesses and the evidence each of his witnesses would bring up. As times his remarks were dramatic, as he mimicked the slapping noises heard by witnesses during the alleged assault.
Then the Defendant got started. Right away I knew that the estimated trial length of a day and a half was drastically low. Even though we had been informed that opening statements are NOT evidence and therefore have no real bearing on jury deliberations, the defendant immediately launched into his version of events. He also tried to define the law for us, which immediately solicited multiple objections from the prosecutor. Only the judge can define the law for the jury and it comes after all evidence and closing arguments. The Defendant's lack of understanding of the law would continue to be evident throughout the trial. It got to the point where the judge would simple intervene herself without an objection from the prosecutor. The Defendant repeated himself often and made long pauses. Some of the jurors were more patients than others. Even though inexperience and length of time shouldn't influence the jury's verdict, the defendant never seemed to get it through his head that getting to the point would be better for him in the long run. As such, one of the first notes I made on the legal pad provided was "Just because he is an idiot does not mean he is guilty." Despite starting opening statements relatively early in the afternoon, the defendant still had not finished his testimony, er, opening remarks by the end of the first day.
*I leave out the Defendant's name not to protect him, but so I don't have to enter the witness protection program.