Thursday, Oct. 6
I’m starting this post on Thursday, Oct. 6, the first day I had to report for jury duty at Superior Court in downtown Seattle. No clue when I’ll finally get to post, since I’m forbidden to talk about the experience until I’m excused (if not ultimately picked for a jury) or the case I sit on is over.
[Note: Last day was Thursday, October 13. If you want to skip the play by play and get to the meat, just skip down to that day.]
The commute to downtown Seattle sucks. I left the house at 6:15am and rushed into the jury room at 8am on the dot. Traffic wasn’t bad, either. If I’d hit bad traffic or if the bus had gotten held up anywhere, I’d have been late. On Monday I’ll leave at 6.
I had never ridden a bus in downtown Seattle. Jay rides one every day — and works up the hill from the courthouse — so I pressed him into service. Because I get car sick really easily, I wanted to minimize my time on the bus, so we drove the hour+ in to Northgate and caught the bus there. Easy ride, right into the bus tunnel, with a stop right in front of the courthouse. I was on my own coming home, but he had shown me exactly what to do and where to go, so I didn’t have any trouble.
Jury duty starts in the jury assembly room on the first floor of the courthouse. It probably seats a couple hundred people. There are a few tables and desks with electrical outlets, but I wasn’t early enough to snag one of those. The room is bright, roomy, and has comfy chairs, which is nice, because we spent a ridiculous amount of time there. Efficient they are not. Nice, yes. Efficient, no.
I arrived, as ordered, at 8am. At 8:30 they did a short orientation to explain the jury selection process. At 9:30, they called the names of the first jury pool. 75 people. A murder case, so they needed a big pool. What happens is the initial group is compiled randomly, and then during the voir dire process, that number is whittled down to 12 jurors and two alternates. I wasn’t called for that first group, so at 9:50 — almost two hours after I arrived, during which time I had done nothing — they gave us a 15 minute break. We were back at 10:05.
At 10:30 they called the names for the second jury pool. I was included in that one. We didn’t get to go up to the courtroom yet though. At 10:40 they gave us ANOTHER break. Back at 10:55, and then up to the courtroom. Finally.
The case is an ugly one — ugly enough that I’ve decided not to tell you about it. Let me just say that it involves a young child, and many jurors were hesitant to serve just because the subject matter was so ugly. Between the elevator rides and the organization, we were in there only about 25 minutes during which the judge read the charges, introduced the key players, and released the individuals who couldn’t serve due to hardship. Then we were sent back downstairs and broke for lunch at 11:45.
It was kind of nice to be downtown during the day, because Jay and I got to have lunch together. I was anxious initially because I hadn’t heard from him — sent text and VM — and I didn’t know where I was supposed to go. But once we hooked up, he showed me where all the restaurants are, and we had a nice, relaxed lunch. After all, I had an entire hour and a half to kill. Oy vey. I really wish we could just skip all the breaks and compress this into half a day. Like I said — nice, definitely. Organized even. But not efficient, at least not for potential jurors. (Jay pointed out that lawyers are charging a gazillion dollars an hour and thus have no reason to want efficiency.)
Back to the courthouse at 1:15. I think we got sent back upstairs about 1:45. We had one more break from about 2:30 to 3 (during which time they were talking to potential jurors who had asked to speak to them privately), but most of the remainder of the afternoon was spent with the beginning of voir dire, the jury selection process. Just the beginning, I’m afraid. According to the judge, it will take most of another morning to make the final jury selection.
I am still in the running at this point. I’m torn on the issue. I could have plead financial hardship, because I’m a contract worker who doesn’t get paid unless I work. I also could have plead difficulty with work, because we are releasing 17(!) courses at the end of next week. This is is really a horrible time to be gone. And, of course, I don’t like leaving the dogs alone all day. But I feel like I can make all those things work, and I have a duty to at least try to serve.
This court meets only Monday through Thursday, so I don’t have to go in tomorrow. This is good, because I can help out at work and get ready for the Train-the-Trainer sessions that begin on Monday.
At this point I’m trying hard not to draw conclusions based on first impressions. After all, I know nothing about the case yet — just the charges themselves. The judge is a handsome, well-spoken man with a calm, pleasant air about him. He seemed the sort of person who has great stories. The prosecuting attorney reminds me of Buffy Summers — young, blonde, and tiny. The defense attorney is a short, fat, bald man who makes jokes about his appearance to put people at ease. It worked. I can’t say I want to hang out with him, but I liked him better after his first discussion with us.
My biggest takeaway after the first part of the jury selection process is that the burden of proof is on the prosecutor entirely. The defense doesn’t have to prove innocence, because innocence is presumed.
Monday, October 10
Commute was significantly worse today, but I left myself plenty of time to get downtown so it wasn’t a problem. Jay told me about an express bus that runs in the morning and drops off a block from the courthouse. That saved me 10-15 minutes.
We started with the last part of the jury selection process. The prosecutor joked that it should be called jury de-selection because it was really a process of elimination. In the early stages the eliminations were for specific reasons — for “cause.” With those eliminations, the opposing counsel has an opportunity to object, and the judge has to approve or deny each one. In the last phase, each side gets a certain number of cuts called “pre-emps.” I can’t remember, but I don’t *think* opposing counsel or the judge have a say in those. The jury selection process was completely non-contentious in this case. Both sides seemed genuinely interested in seating a fair jury.
I am, by the way, on the jury. I am juror #10.
We had a long lunch period — 2.5 hours. A boring 2.5 hours. Jay worked from home today, so I didn’t get to kill time by going out to lunch with him. I ate a couple of bagels from Noah’s and sat in the jury assembly room. There was a man there with a Bernese Mountain Dog service dog. I couldn’t pet the dog (sadly), but I could chat with him about her. She’s trained to aid his mobility issues. Her name is Zoey, and she’s not quite two years old yet. Since she’s young, service work is still a challenge for her. She really wants to greet everyone!
After lunch we heard opening statements. That’s when the lawyers get to spin their tale about what we’re going to hear in the case. We heard details we hadn’t heard before. Even though that’s not evidence, per se, I took notes to capture some key names and dates.
After opening statements, we heard from the first two prosecution witnesses. Basically, the prosecutor is starting with the person who first took report of the incident, and then as each new person enters the timeline, she’s calling that witness. (Does that make sense?) That way she’s not bouncing around, and we’re not going to have trouble remembering who people are. It’s all very linear and overlapping.
There was a scheduling conflict, so they couldn’t call the third witness. We got sent home early, but the judge promised we’d have a full day tomorrow.
Tuesday, October 11
Well, they lied. Very short day. 🙂
The morning got off to a rough start. Our power went out during the night. When our fan went off, it woke us up, so I didn’t oversleep. In fact, I assumed it was probably about time to got up, and so woke up the dogs and went downstairs to start my day. Um… 3:45am. Nope, not time to get up. So I went back to bed
The day started a little late because a juror got stuck in the bathroom. The door locks from the inside (and opens in), and the lock broke and wouldn’t open. He was a great sport about it, but he was stuck in there for close to half an hour. Since he was stuck, the rest of the jurors had to wait as well. We joked and laughed and chatted. Many of us bring laptops or have smartphones to pass the time. We all seem to get along, so hopefully deliberation will be smooth.
Once we were in the courtroom, we heard from several more witnesses, including the victim. She broke down and had to take a break once, but overall she did well. There were things she didn’t remember, and I’m not sure whether that’s going to be an issue or not. There is a DVD that was made in one of her initial interviews that will be played for us tomorrow. They were going to play it today, but there were some technical issues, so they let us go at lunch.
According to the judge, the state is going to call a lot fewer witnesses than originally planned, so the trail is going to last only a few days. It could potentially be over tomorrow even. My bank account will be happy for me not to miss more than a week of work.
I had lunch with Jay at a Cajun place down the street. Yummy! Nice atmosphere too. Then I made the long trek home. Wonder if I’ll have a full day tomorrow?
Wednesday, October 12
Today was the last day that evidence was presented. This morning we watched the DVD that we couldn’t watch yesterday and we heard testimony from the person who did the interview captured on the DVD. After that we heard from a doctor, and then the state rested. After lunch we heard that the defense would not be calling any additional witnesses — the defense had cross examined the state’s witnesses already — and so we were ready for closing arguments.
Before closing arguments, the judge gave us a multi-page document with all the information we’ll need in order to deliberate. It included information like the charges, definitions of key terms, and the specific facts that the state has to prove in order for us to find the defendant guilty on that charge. The judge read the (entire) document aloud to be certain we understood it all. Then the attorneys presented their closing arguments.
The prosecutor went first, and she didn’t just weave an emotional story like you see on TV. Instead she used the list of facts that she had to prove and went through them, item by item, and explained how she *had* proved them. When it was the defense attorney’s turn, he disputed a couple of key things and said that the state hadn’t proved those things and thus we couldn’t find the defendant guilty. Then the state had a chance to provide a final rebuttal. She, of course, disputed his dispute.
Then we were sent back to the jury room. We didn’t do any deliberation today, because it was already 4:00, the evidence hadn’t been brought back to us, and the bailiff hadn’t given us our instructions. We’ll begin tomorrow at 9am.
During the trial I tried very hard not to form opinions about what I was hearing — or about whether I thought the defendant was guilty — because I hadn’t heard everything yet. When we got to closing arguments I was willing to start mentally reviewing the evidence to determine what I thought was relevant, what I didn’t, and what I think it all means. The defense made a couple of arguments that I had made myself, but I *do* think those things have been explained. I expect those points to be points of discussion during deliberation though.
I don’t have a feel for the other members of the jury. Oh, I have gotten to know them a bit as people, but we have been dutiful about not speaking of the case AT ALL, so I don’t know whether they’re leaning toward guilty or not guilty. I can guess, but… well, better to wait and see.
I hope the process goes logically and smoothly. I don’t think this crowd will get loud and contentious. I really hope not anyway. I know jury deliberation can be a painful process though.
Thursday, October 13
I considered erasing everything I had previously written and just posting today’s thoughts, because now I’m in the position to summarize everything. After rereading, I decided to let it stand.
The day started at 9am. Our first task was to pick a presiding juror, which we did in about 30 seconds start to finish. Then our bailiff, Monica, explained how deliberation would work. Basically we would be locked in the room, no cell phones, except for lunch. We could take breaks if we wanted, but they had to be in that room. All 12 of us had to be present to deliberate, so if someone had to go to the bathroom, we had to stop talking. We could write down questions and send them to the judge.
As I anticipated (and hoped), everyone was of like mind. The first half hour or more was spent just TALKING about the case, just discussing what we’d seen and heard and what we’d gotten from it. I think we could have jumped into the meat of the deliberation more quickly, but after having been unable to discuss anything with anyone for the last week, we were all pretty desperate just to share our experience and thoughts.
Then we got down to business. For each count, we had five things we had to prove. Three of them were obvious things like “This happened in the state of Washington.” The fourth thing was that this happened within a specific date range. On a specific date is not required in a case like this, and we were able to glean from the victim’s testimony that the acts had happened during the stated date range. So that was checked off.
The fifth thing we had to prove was four distinct events (one for each charge). What we were given were FOUR acts that met the criminal definition provided, but they occurred in THREE incidents. The instructions used the words “an occasion, separate and distinct.” So we weren’t sure if “occasion” referred to an act or an incident. The prosecutor had outlined it as the acts (also mentioning that each one was stated to have occurred on multiple occasions), and the defense attorney had not disputed that, but the word “occasion” seemed more like an incident, which would make it three counts, not four. (Although the multiple occasions thing could also work, but we had no details about those occasions.)
So we wrote a question to the judge asking for more clarification. The judge replied that he had given us the law, and it was up to us to interpret it. Interesting! Well, given that leeway, we agreed that it was “acts” not incidents. We took a final vote, and voted guilty on each of the four counts.
We provided the verdict to the bailiff, and then we waited half an hour for the court to reconvene. We went into the courtroom, and the verdict was read. The defendant closed his eyes and shook his head like we’d committed some horrible travesty of justice but otherwise remained silent, as he had through the entire trial. We saw two deputies come in to take him away, but after we each acknowledged that we had voted guilty and the entire jury had participated, we were sent back to the jury room.
The judge came in a couple of minutes later. We were free, and he was able to talk to us and answer questions. He’s really a delightful man. (Jim Rogers. Vote for him, Seattle people!) He explained that sentencing might not happen for six weeks, that the defendant was in custody and could not bond out now, and that he would probably be put away for most of the rest of his life. He also told us that there had been additional charges for a sibling, but they were dropped. He could be retried on those charges, but there would likely be no need.
After the judge left, we left the jury room, and we met the prosecutor and defense attorney in the hall. We stopped and talked with them for 20 or 30 minutes. (I really loved that we got to talk to the judge and attorneys afterwards to get our questions answered.) They asked for feedback on what they did, what made a difference. We learned more about why the defense attorney had approached the case the way he did, and why he didn’t come on stronger. Basic answer: if he had, it well could have backfired on him, opening doors to testimony he didn’t want mentioned. So he just drew attention to any place there was a hole to be poked at. Unfortunately for him, there were not many holes.
They told us more of the back story of the case. This family is a MESS, and they had to be careful with their witnesses and what was said, because they didn’t want to open doors to additional information that could have kept us there forever. The good news is that the victim is with a FABULOUS foster family who is in the process of trying to adopt her. Yayyy!
So often we hear about how the system is broken and how it fails the ones it tries to protect. Well, guess what. The system worked beautifully for this child. Every. Single. Step. The people she met along the way were extremely well trained, and they did just what they should have. Kudos to them all!
The other jurors were fantastic, and everyone involved with the case was very professional and good at what they do. Yes, I complained about the number of breaks and the wait time, but that was from a juror’s perspective. Much was being done behind the scenes to shorten the trial and make it as efficient and smooth as possible, which is why it ultimately ran a full week less than originally expected. In the end, I was very impressed. It was not a pretty case, but I’m proud to have been a part of it.