Monday, August 07, 2006

Jury Duty

I had an interesting experience this past week. I was selected for jury duty.

I had been told by others that I would probably not even be required to show up. After all, they said, cases get settled all the time, sometimes at the last minute. So when I called in the night before to check, I wasn't surprised when I was told my group did not have to report. In fact, I was pretty sure that the next day, I would be just as lucky and avoid the whole unpleasant thing all together.

That next morning, though, I got a call from the jury clerk. She told me my group was required to appear, and gave me all the details. I probed a bit, asking her how many were in my group, and how many were needed on the jury. I was told that 20 people were in the group, but they only needed 4. The odds were in my favor -- I was sure I would show up and be sent home, and friends and family agreed.

On Thursday, July 27th, I showed up at the courthouse. I was directed where to check in, and was presented a huge $18.50 check for my troubles. I sat with three other people whom I assumed were in my jury group. After six of us had arrived, we were taken by the baliff to another courtroom.

We sat there for about 2 hours. I think I would have died of boredom, if I hadn't had my Nintendo DS. (I had specifically asked the jury clerk if it was OK to bring it, and was surprised when she said "Yes.") But, still, after 2 hours and 20 minutes of Super Mario World DS, I was bored again.
At about 10:30 AM, the jury clerk entered the courtroom. She read off the list to make sure everyone was present, and had us sit ordered by number. Turned out we had one no-show. Apparently there is a penalty of $100 or 3 days in jail for not showing up for jury duty when selected.

After another short wait, the baliff entered and took us all to another courtroom. It felt a lot like elementary school, because we had to line up in the same order the jury clerk had put us in. We ended up standing in the hall outside this next courtroom for about 15 minutes, while we waited for whatever was going on inside. For the first time, I got to chat a little with the people around me. I was juror #6. Juror #5 was a nice lady who worked for the postal service. She couldn't have been much older then me. #4 said she was a secretary. We all talked about our kids for a while, and then the baliff directed us into the courtroom.

You know how you see jury selection on TV sometimes, and it looks all serious and dramatic? Well, for this case, it wasn't. The first thing we were asked was if we knew any of the witnesses, the defendant, or either of the laywers. I assume that if someone had indicated that they knew any of the people involved in the trial, they would have been dismissed for cause. We then all had to stand up, introduce ourselves, and answer a few simple questions the judge asked. We were asked to tell the court what we did for a living, our spouses' name, and how many kids we had. After that, the judge asked if any of us, or relatives, had been convicted of a felony. Several people had past DUI's, and several others had family who clearly had had trouble with the law. The judge asked every one of them, in turn, if their experiences would make it difficult to be unbiased in this case. When she got to the first potential juror who had mentioned a DUI, she indicated that the case involved driving under the influence.

Then, the judge directed the lawyers to pick their jurors. There was a lot of papers passed back and forth between the defense and the prosecution, and a lot of whispering and chattering. The judge talked through most of it, though I got the feeling the only reason she did it was to make it so we couldn't hear what was being said.

Finally, both sides gave their papers to the judge, and she read off the names. I was picked as juror #2. The 15 other lucky folks got to go home. It was now 11:15 AM.

I won't bore you with a blow-by-blow recount of what happened in the courtroom. Although, I still have my notes, and could probably tell you. Despite the fact that I was not happy with being chosen as a juror, I figured that I'd give it my best shot. Basically, this is what the case was about:

  • Late last December, at 4AM, a state trooper spotted a vehicle off the side of I-80 westbound, on the frontage road. The trooper could see the vehicle's lights were on, and upon approaching the vehicle, noticed the vehicle was running.

  • He exited his vehicle, and walked to the driver's door. He observed the defendant, asleep at the wheel, with his seatbelt still on.

  • The trooper knocked on the window, and woke the defendant up. The defendant rolled down the window, and the trooper smelled alcohol.

  • Later, after being arrested (the defendant couldn't pass the first field sobriety test, and then refused to take the others), he blew a .148 on the breathalyzer.

  • The defense claimed that since the defendant wasn't driving at the time, and that he had not been drunk when he drove to that location, that he had not committed a DUI.

  • The prosecution said that it didn't matter, because Utah's DUI statute indicated that it did not matter if the person was driving or not, but rather if they were in actual, physical control of the vehicle. The prosecutor clearly believed that the defendant was, in fact, in said control because he was asleep at the wheel.


We sat and listened to the lawyers wrangle for hours. The defense spent a lot of time arguing about HGN (which is a nice abbreviation for horizontal gaze nystagmus, the condition where your eyes can't smoothly follow an object moved slowly in front of your face), and even asked if the trooper who performed the HGN test was an eye doctor. The prosecution talked for ages about this cool math formula they could put together, which clearly proved that the defendant couldn't have gotten a .148 on 3 bottles of beer (which was supposed to disprove his claim that he had pulled over and had 3 beers, and fallen asleep). The only problem was, there were parts of the formula that he couldn't explain... such as why males merit a 14 in the equation, and why females get an 11.

At the end of closing arguments, we were given several instructions from the judge. One was a copy of the statute, which I've linked to above. When we got back to the jury room, we all agreed -- you don't get to .148 on three beers, and if you're behind the wheel with the engine running and the lights on, you're in actual, physical control of the vehicle.

Since I was the first to speak, the other three voted that I should be the foreman, despite the fact that I was the youngest in the group. So I got to deliver the verdict, which was slightly nerve wracking, but interesting nonetheless. I didn't look at the defendant, but I was told by the other jurors that when I read the guilty verdict, he actually started laughing to himself.

There were a couple of items I found quite interesting. One, the first trooper to testify indicated that there was only one empty beer bottle in the truck, and no empty cans or bottles outside, inside, or around the truck. The prosecution brought this up to show that the defendant must have been drunk before driving to this location and passing out. The defense fought tooth and nail to keep these facts out of evidence. In fact, later on in the trial, when the prosecutor made his closing arguments, there was a sidebar over an objection made when the prosecutor brought this up. I really didn't understand why they spent so much energy on it, considering the trooper was allowed to testify about this early on.

The second interesting point was when the math formula was brought into evidence. First off, the trooper testifying didn't seem to know the topic well enough. As I indicated earlier, he could not explain parts of the formula where he used the number 11 if the subject in question was a male, and a 14 if it was a female. Second off, the defense made a huge deal about how external factors (alcohol absorption, food in the stomach, etc) could affect blood alcohol content. And, finally, the defense talked a lot about how the beer was from Wyoming, which apparently has a much higher alcohol content then beer sold in Utah. At least, it was enough to make this dude blow a .148 after only "two or three" of them.

All in all, it was interesting. Definitely not something I want to do again, but interesting. I wonder if all defense attorneys think jurors are stupid. This one sure seemed to think we were.

1 Comments:

Anonymous james said...

Thanks for posting this.

2:32 AM  

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