So, jury duty today. It was just the selection process and I was found wanting, so now I don't have to spend the rest of the week determining whether or not someone
REDACTION!!! and their frame of mind in the process. Primary takeaway: the jury selection process is the most awful thing ever. Well, maybe not ever, but I certainly didn't appreciate it.
Before I attack anyone else, this was my facebook status yesterday - just to get it out there that my lead up to the whole proceedings were just as flippant as the next person, and probably more so; particularly in the face of the George Zimmerman verdict just being released and the emotional racial wounds that whole thing generated.
True to form, sitting on the first floor of the courthouse at 8:30 this morning I was joking with the people around me about bad excuses to get out of serving, which is normal. Nobody wants jury duty (unless you're unemployed. Apparently then you're entitled to $40/day). And when I got to the selection process and saw that the defendant was black, the first thought in my mind when asked what I do was to reply I handle public protection budgets for the Senate Majority (while having the advantage of being mostly true, it also implicitly identifies me as a law-and-order Republican that, justifiably or not, carries enough connotation to scare off a public defender).
End of the day, I didn't. I was part of the second group of potential jurors interviewed, and the attorneys pretty much gave away the case and the defense during the selection process with the first group, so I knew that when asked to how judge when someone's being truthful, replying "someone's reputation and the consistency of a story" would automatically cross me off both the prosecutor's and defense attorney's list - any other discussion re: my family in law enforcement and any family being in trouble with the law was unnecessary to get released (I probably should have admitted to my knowledge of the McDonald's on Pearl as well).
I think it's ok, and even expected, to joke about not wanting to be there. Be honest - you don't want to be there. But I was sitting about ten feet from the defendant while a judge and two lawyers joked with the jury and trivialized the proceedings. All the while, a guy whose future is about to be decided sits right there listening to people joke about knowing a certain employer and how duty might interfere with their kids' day camp.
I get why it happens. The lawyer that fails to connect with the jury loses, because people base decisions not on facts but how something makes them feel (see: Anthony Weiner's mayoral run, etc, etc.). You have an obligation to your client to joke throughout the very serious and consequential proceedings in order to give them the best chance of winning. Likewise, the judge has every right to make the courtroom feel safe so that people are the most open about their thoughts and experiences. That's how you best select a jury. So I don't fault the players; just the game. And it seems like the best remedy is to not have the defendant in the room at the time (for the record, in 1984 the Supreme Court ruled that the Sixth Amendment guarantee of a public trial also extends to pretrial hearings. It's definitely part of the process and the defendant should be there. There have aso been a couple interesting and cases this century affirming the public's right to view pretrial hearings if you're interested in that sort of thing.)
So the dude needed to be there. But at the same time, his future was joked and bandied about for about six hours today. A necessary part of the process, sure. Still offensive enough to make my stomach churn. And for the record, although several quips were made, once I sat down in seat #4 I struggled to find my sense of humor while those sitting next to me laughed at how funny kids stealing from the cookie jar are.