Saturday, May 24, 2008

Jury Service

Yesterday was my big day on Jury service. I wasn't too displeased when, ringing them after 4:30 the previous business day, I learned that I was indeed expected to appear this time. The only down side was the uncivilised hour they wanted to start. As originally indicated in the notice from the Maricopa County Superior Court, I expected to have to front up at 8:00. How fortunate they pushed the call back to 8:45. Still earlier than I'd have liked given that this is downtown but one does what one must.

Actually I cased it out last Sunday. Getting to downtown is no problem in itself; it's once you get to the maze of one way streets and streets that don't go through that it gets worrisome. The free parking is on 5th Ave but there's a bloody great court house in the way! That's the Sandra Day O'Connor Federal Court building, where I took my naturalisation oath.

So I felt it wiser to check it out at leisure Sunday afternoon. That done, I knew exactly where to turn without getting lost; so well in fact that I got there half an hour early! Plenty of time for a smoke or two.

Then inside, through the inevitable, these days, security checks. At least they let you keep your shoes on. Thus to a not so long wait, punctuated by the equally inevitable 'civic duty' speech. Complete with the homily that we're fortunate as citizens of this great land to have the unique privilege of jury service. I don't remember the exact wording but it was phrased such as to leave the impression that the USA is the *only* place on the planet with juries and such. Hmmm, that'll be news to the British! As it was to me!

A few minutes pass and they called for the first lot; 60 potential jurors. A big trial for that many I thought. They got to the sixtieth name and I relaxed back into my book. An interesting detail I noticed was that very very few indeed had brought a book with them; did they know something or do they simply not read?

A few more minutes pass and this time they're calling for 120! Wow! And, you guessed it, mine was one of the names called out. Now you'll understand that I'm not going to say anything at all about the case, even though I was excused later in the day. All I'll say is that it was a criminal trial with multiple defendants, expected to run multiple weeks!

And at about this point it all departed from what I'm used to back in Australia. The first thing is that we were numbered! For the sake of this exposition let's say I was number 141. For the rest of the day whenever anyone in an official capacity addressed me I was Mr. 141. And how did they know my number? Simple. I had a large sheet of paper with the number printed on it!

So we were herded upward to the court room, after instructions to line up in numeric order. You might remember my Naturalisation Ceremony[^]. There we also had to line up in a precise order. They sure like numbering people! Thence into the courtroom itself, in numerical order.

Suprise the second. We (potential jurors) were seated in the public gallery area, separated from the business part of the court by a waist high wooden barrier. On the other side of the barrier was the judge, the prosecution and the defense attorneys. I thought there seemed a lot of defense attorneys. It turns out that half of em were the defendants; the better dressed half! Indeed, some of the lawyers looked shiftier than their clients. There, I've got the lawyer joke out of the way!

Then the serious side of the business got under way. After a group swearing in we were given a precis of the crime, some names etc and the usual question; did any of us know anyone on the other side of the barrier? So far so familiar. But after that it all became quite different.

The judge went through the longest set of questions I've ever heard asked of a jury. She'd ask a question and if your answer was 'yes' you held your number up. When she gave you the nod you stood up and said your piece.

It took all day and at the end of it they'd whittled us down to about 60. You understand that by the end of the first day they hadn't selected a single juror, they were simply eliminating us one by one. The questions themselves seemed reasonable; what struck me as unreasonable was the lengths people would go through to avoid service. One person volunteered the information that a distant relative in law enforcement had been killed in the line of duty, in 1915! A long litany of recitations of burglaries committed against the good people of the jury in the 1970's.

One wag intimated that she couldn't easily attend court on Mondays and Tuesdays but could make the other days; would that be good enough? Uh huh. What part of being a juror did that person not understand?

Throughout it all the judge maintained a cheery good humour. In contrast, every time I've been called for jury service in Australia the judge has seemed to regard anyone trying to avoid serving as not much more than a criminal himself. Methinks this is a normal occurrence and they budget a week to whittle it down to the dozen, plus alternates.

I won't go into why I was excused.


Guy said...

I'm surprised that you're eligible. In Britain I think that you have to have lived in the country for at least 5 years before you qualify.

I'm guessing that you were disqualified because of your hair? (The judge was jealous.)

Rob said...

I fulfilled every requirement; over 18, US Citizen, resident in Maricopa County, not a convicted felon.

As for length of time? I've lived here 5 years, 6 months and 7 days. So there! :-)

Guy said...

I hadn't realized that you'd been here for more than 5 years. What is the "length of time" requirement?

Rob said...

Length of time varies: If born in the US then it's 18 years.

5 years plus naturalisation red tape for most naturalised citizens.

3 years plus naturalisation red tape for those married to a US citizen.

1 year plus naturalisation red tape for a serving member of the US military.

Plus whatever the county residence requirement is; in the case of Maricopa that's 3 months.

Rob said...

Oh, and I forgot to add, presumably only the county requirement if you're one of the 5 people the Secretary of State gets to nominate each year.