More on Jury Duty

First, a point of clarification and further explanation. The jury questionnaires (there were two) that I filled out prior to the trial were standard ones; every person who shows up for jury duty in Philadelphia fills them out. There's one page of 16 questions for criminal trials, and a page of nine questions for civil trials. The procedure, which is different in every jurisdiction, goes something like this in Philadelphia:

  1. As a potential juror, you show up at the Criminal Justice Building. If you're carrying a cell phone or a camera or a tape recorder, you give it to a woman in charge of several narrow file drawers. She puts your electronica into a small compartment and gives you a token with a number on it.
  2. You stand in line with a gazillion other people, waiting to file through the metal detectors. (It's just like airport security.)
  3. You hand your jury summons to one of the court officers as you head into the jury assembly room, and you're instructed to take one sheet from pile 1 and one sheet from pile 2. These sheets are the jury questionnaires.
  4. You get some coffee and a snack, if available (come early for best selection) and desired, from the coffee room, and then find a seat.
  5. You fill out both pages of the jury questionnaire, leaving the box for Juror No. blank (you don't have a juror number yet).
  6. Depending on how busy the courts are that day, either the first panel will be called right away and then you'll watch a movie where different judges clarify (or sometimes just repeat) the questions on the questionnaire for you, or vice versa.
  7. A court officer will call a panel. She'll start by saying how many will be in the panel (e.g., 40) and whether it's a criminal or civil trial, and then she'll read off the names. When you hear your name, you respond loudly, "HERE!", and then she'll give you your juror number.
  8. You write your juror number on either the criminal or civil sheet, depending on what kind of trial it is.
  9. When the officer is done reading names, she'll tell you the judge's name and the courtroom number. You write these on the top of your questionnaire; if you're not selected for the jury, and it's before 3:30pm, you'll have to come back to the jury assembly room—and at that point, they'll ask you where you've been. You'll need to give the judge's name and room number.

There's a lot more involved here, including lining up; getting your parking validated, if necessary; being walked up to the courtroom by a court clerk; etc. We ended up standing in the hall outside the courtroom for quite a while as the court clerk and the judge's administrative assistant collected the various copies of our jury questionnaires. The white copy goes to the judge, the blue to the prosecutor, and the yellow to the defense. The juror keeps the pink copy. Once you get to the courtroom, that's when voir dire begins. Every judge and every trial is different; you might be asked additional specific questions by the attorneys or the judge (such as the one Josie mentioned, about whether you're insured by State Farm; or the ones I was asked during voir dire for the asbestos trial, including whether we'd seen the movie A Civil Action), or the judge might ask additional questions about your answers to the standard questions.

jury questionnaire (criminal trials)

In the voir dire for the trial I was on last week, the judge said to each of us who had indicated that we had children, "congratulations, I see you have [n] children. How old are they?" If the juror indicated s/he had adult children, the judge asked if the children worked outside the home (he had to clarify that he meant outside the home they now live in :). This was interesting; the questionnaire had specifically asked our occupations and those of our spouses, but with so many older folks in the jury pool, the occupations of immediate family members were also relevant.

As I mentioned, we were asked to expand on our answers about ourselves or someone close to us being accused of, witness to, or victim of a crime. The judge also repeated his pre-voir dire remarks about the fact that a police officer's testimony should be given no more or no less weight than any other witness' to anyone who answered that they'd be more or less likely to believe a police officer solely because s/he was a police officer; he checked a few questionable answers (did you really mean "no" here?); and he clarified for anyone who answered that they had a religious, moral, or ethical objection that if it was related to the death penalty (all were), there was no need to worry—the death penalty was not on the table here.

The attorneys asked no questions of us, though they may have of the few people who were called back to chambers because they didn't want to answer one or more questions in open court. Our judge was genial—the opposite of stern, I'd say—though he was very clear that it would take an extraordinary hardship to be excused from jury duty. Not being able to find child or elder care would not be considered a hardship (which makes me all the more glad I was not selected back in December 2005, when I didn't have regular childcare available to me).

So anyway... That basically brings us to the point where the jury was actually selected. I didn't notice it until someone mentioned it in the deliberation room, but apparently none of the wives of police officers (and there were four of them, I think) were chosen. The man who wanted to tell the story of his mugging at gunpoint was. The two jurors who'd had marijuana possession charges against them dropped were dismissed; I, with my underage posession of alcohol conviction, was chosen.

As for the trial itself, it was a tricky one. I won't go into all the details here, but it was a drug case; the charges were possession with intent to deliver (which I'd never heard of before) and criminal conspiracy (related to the first charge, since the defendant was allegedly delivering to someone). The witnesses for the prosecution were the policeman in charge of surveillance (the only one who saw the alleged delivery), and all the arresting officers. There was also some evidence entered by stipulation (i.e., agreement between the two counsels); namely, that if called to testify, the two police chemists who tested the evidence would have testified that the drugs were, indeed, drugs.

The witnesses for the defense, including the defendant himself, provided an alternative explanation of why the defendant was at the location; to us (the jury), that alternative explanation was plausible, so the only question was whether the surveillance cop saw what he thought he saw, was mistaken about what he saw, or lied about what he saw. As I said, it was tricky, and in the end, we ended up deciding that we weren't sure enough that the alleged transaction actually happened to convict. I think in a way I sort of epitomized the dilemma: I could see it both ways, and that, to me, seemed like the definition of reasonable doubt. A few people in the room thought the defendant was probably guilty, but that the prosecution hadn't proved the case; I honestly didn't know whether he was guilty or not. Either way, I hope the defendant took the Not Guilty verdict as an opportunity to start fresh and stay out of trouble.

The deliberations themselves were interesting; I saw it as my responsibility (even though I wasn't forewoman) to keep everyone focused. It's easy to get sidetracked on details that don't matter, especially when people make analogies to their personal experience. At times it must have seemed like I thought the defendant was definitely guilty, but what I was trying to do was make sure that all the evidence on which the case hinged was examined in enough detail that each juror could say either "that's enough for me" or "that ISN'T enough for me." In the end, obviously, we decided that it wasn't enough.

I think the most interesting part of the deliberations for me was in trying to get a point across regarding the difference between saying that you think a witness is mistaken versus saying you think he's lying. No one wanted to call the witness a liar, which seemed like a slur, but for the scenario being discussed to have occurred, the witness *had* to be lying. It took about four tries, but finally it clicked with the juror with whom I was debating, and it was kind of a breakthrough. I think it's important to be as honest with yourself as possible about why you think the way you do, so that you can communicate this to your fellow jurors. You may agree on specific points for different reasons, and I think the reasons should be out on the table.

I also think I would have enjoyed facilitating the deliberations a lot more if I didn't have to vote myself. I liked probing each question and point of view, challenging people to examine their motives as well as the evidence, but in the end it made it harder for me to sort out how *I* felt about the whole thing.

The judge came back to talk to us after the verdict was read in court, and in addition to thanking us for our service, he let us ask him questions. (He also had one for us: Namely, was the question we sent out—and that was answered in open court after the judge and counsel returned from lunch—the deciding factor? We told him that it was one factor, but not the only one; we were almost done deliberating by the time the answer came, and the answer just sort of confirmed in our minds the direction we were already headed. The reason he was curious? Apparently we all nodded when the answer was given. :) The only question I had was to whom the assistant D.A. was apologizing when he turned toward the gallery, shrugged, and mouthed, "Sorry." The judge said that one of the policemen who testified was sitting back there (I hadn't seen him).

The forewoman asked if the judge could ask the prosecutor and police for more evidence next time. He laughed and said that in drug cases it's often a case of one person's word against another, and that it's the jury's job to determine who's telling the truth, and whether the Commonwealth has proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt. Although I certainly would have appreciated more to go on, I did not share the forewoman's concern; not every piece of evidence can be corroborated, and it was our job to determine the truthfulness/accuracy and weight of each piece. I don't think a defendant should be found not guilty just because there's only one eyewitness account, and I do wonder if some people voted not guilty for this reason (several folks wanted to know why the surveillance officer did not take photographs or video of the incident and seemed reluctant to convict in the absence of such evidence). My reason was that I had a hard time judging the veracity of the eyewitness account, especially when weighed against the alternative scenario.

In any case, the judge encouraged us not to lose sleep over our verdict (something he said he tells juries that convict, too). More specifically, we were not to agonize over any niggling concerns that the defendant might, indeed, be guilty, or that we were contributing to the drug problems in Philadelphia by turning him loose. (If it's any comfort at all to those who thought he was guilty, I'd add: the drugs recovered—and there *were* drugs recovered from two non-defendants who were alleged both to have received them from our defendant and to have been observed selling other drugs—were confiscated. Those will not be returning to the street along with our defendant.) Despite this instruction from the judge, I have, of course, been agonizing over the details of the case and the deliberations ever since. I have not lost sleep, however, which in the end was my gut-check for deciding to vote not guilty: I knew I could sleep if I did.

Posted by Lori in civics at 11:13 AM on January 29, 2007


Wow...awesome! What great detail - I feel like I was there with you. I took Evidence last summer, so it's cool to hear how some of what I learned played out at your trial. And, you're right about the "reasonable doubt" threshold. Believe it or not, some people do get railroaded because the police just haven't been able to crack a case or arrest anyone. And, of course, some people are guilty.

I have to say, though, that I found the part about the DA apologizing to the officer while still in the courtroom a bit tacky. Show some pride, man!

Posted by: Josie [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 30, 2007 10:58 AM

Great to know this--I will reread before my Feb. 14 appearance! (Did you call the night before as the instructions request?) Was this all one day?

Posted by: juliloquy [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 30, 2007 12:57 PM

Yes, I did call the night before -- and was told to report as usual at 8:15am. The jury selection all happened on a single day (Wednesday), but opening arguments weren't presented until Thursday morning. We heard all the evidence on Thursday, and closing arguments and deliberations happened on Friday. I believe we deliberated for almost exactly 2 hours.

Posted by: Lori [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 30, 2007 1:05 PM

That was a really cool synopsis.

As an attorney, I can say that I would never want to be tried in Philadelphia by a jury of my peers... :)

Posted by: Kelly at January 30, 2007 10:09 PM

Comments are now closed.

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this entry: