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November 26, 2001
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Jury Duty

8:08 pm: I had it all planned. I had my lunch, the hand pump, a cold bag for the milk, two books and my Visor. I was all set to spend most of the day at the courthouse.

Of course, I'd spent a lot of the night thinking about everything, I ground the left side of my jaw into pulp just from tension about all the unknowns eventhough I'd set up a good deal of it the night before, which is how I was able to get all that together. I had to get up at 6, and Jet woke up to the sound of us making breakfast for ourselves. John took care of him, with the 6 am waking, I was actually able to feed Jet before eating breakfast and getting totally ready and out the door by 7.

There was 4 inches of snow on the ground. The morning news reports said that it wasn't too bad, and when I hit highway 52, I found that they were right. Most of the road was just wet. Little snow and no ice, so it was pretty quick going. Last night John went over the whole route to the courthouse and parking with me. There was a map and John had some good memories of the route, so that all worked out pretty well. I had the major points of the route memorized, and a small printed map for the last bit to get to the parking lot.

So I got there no problem. The parking lot was a field of ice, but with my sneakers I had no problem negotiating it. It was a block away from the courthouse, but the parking was free, so I didn't mind at all. It was a very cold walk. It was also interesting seeing people greet each other as they gathered. Greeley (yes, the town that often appears in Connie Willis books) is the biggest town in Weld county and it's much smaller than even Longmont, so it wasn't too surprising for most of the folks that were gathering for jury duty to have some relationship to each other. It turns out that, today, of all days, there was nearly at 100% turnout of the called jury duty folks, and the commissioner confessed to a normal 60% showup and she was expecting even less with the bad weather. I wonder how many folks here are farmers that decided they couldn't expect to get anything done in this weather anyway and showed up?

I had an interesting time with the metal detector getting into the courthouse. The lady doing the screening didn't recognize my cell phone on her x-ray machine, and I offered her a look into my purse. She had another, more experienced lady there, and she pointed out that it was only a cell phone.

The jury commissioner collected all the tickets on the way in, and handed out signed slips for the day's work. We were herded into several jury rooms, and our room had about 50 people in it. I was the only Asian. There was one black man, maybe three Latinos and the rest were white folks. Some from farms, some in town, and there was a son-in-law and father-in-law pair that had gotten onto the same jury pool.

Colorado has a pretty interesting system, especially compared to Washington and California. When they say one trial-one day, they actually just really mean one trial. Anyone in the jury pool that was excused could just go home. I thought that a very pleasant difference. Other very cool innovations to the jury trials included the jurors being able to take notes and actually ask questions that the judge could look at and, if he deemed it sufficient, could and would ask the parties in question.

That's cool.

What's better was that we weren't expected to remember our numbers, and they called folks by name instead of by number. I remembered in the King County court that we were called up, initially, by number, and the extras were lined up in order so that they could take the empty seat whenever someone was excused. Here, they just had the pool in the spectator seats and called names when they wanted someone else. So no one really knew if they were going to get called or not or what the odds were.

I will never stop being fascinated by the justice system in the U.S. and how it's implemented across the states. It's a really cool concept and the practice seems to always work out better than I would have thought. People go knowing that they're going to be the ones that bring justice to the people on trial. And they do their best as they know it.

The other thing that fascinates me is that the jury selection process always, seems to me, to be a pre-trial warm up of the lawyers, their arguments, and the elements of the case itself. The lawyers try out the jury to see what they feel like, what they react to, and how easily they can be persuaded to be what they want them to be. That always fascinates me even as it repels me.

And this time it was truly repelling. It was a criminal trial for a man being accused of molesting two kids. During the questioning of the jury the prosecution made it very clear that they only had a case that was dependent on testimony. There would be no physical evidence, and there would only be the evidence of those involved and maybe a few experts. The prosecutor asked, very pointedly, for anyone that might have a problem with such a case. Everyone on the jury said that they could do it, they would have a hard time of it, but they could figure out if the guy might e guilty from just testimony.

The judge also said that it would probably be a three or four day trial, and I really didn't want to have to get up at 6 and have John take care of Jet for four days. So I knew I was biased there. I also had a terrible bias because the defendant was Cambodian. I knew that the lawyers wouldn't like the fact that I was Asian, though it would probably be the prosecution more than the defendant, though my bias was actually the other way. I knew that I could probably force myself to be fair about it all, but I had no heart to try.

They actually tossed five people before they got to me. I stated the fact that I'd have a really hard time being able to be persuaded to 'without a reasonable doubt' in sentencing the guy. I knew, it was an odd tack to take given my other biases, but it was one that the prosecutor had pounded into the ground. The judge talked to me for a little while, and he was pretty satisfied that I really would just find it hard, but if there really was 'enough evidence' I would return a guilty verdict. I said that it would be hard, but then I said, "I guess that is like everyone else." I then sat back, resigned to being part of this jury as the judge nodded in satisfaction.

The prosecution then went into what I thought was a very strange vein of asking me if I could return a guilty verdict on just the testimony of a five-year-old child and, very honestly, I said, "On *just* the testimony of a five-year-old girl?" She nodded. I met her eyes and said, "No, I couldn't." The prosecution then snapped something at the judge, who duly noted it.

Then the defendant's lawyer said that it wasn't fair to characterize the whole of the prosecution's case as being just the word of a five-year-old. He then went on to talk about all the other kinds of evidence that could be brought. I indicated that I understood all that. Then he asked me 'If there were no reasonable doubt that he'd done it, could you return a guilty verdict, given that evidence?" I thought about it and said, "If there were no *reasonable* doubt, yes, I could."

It was only when the judge said, "Challenge denied." and the now rather angry looking prosecution had to burn one of their excusing of a juror by excusing me that I realized what was going on.

I had been mildly surprised when both lawyer teams had actually questioned me. But it turned out that the prosecution had wanted the judge to just throw me out, but the defense went to the trouble of showing that I could actually fulfill the legal requirement of listening to all the evidence and making a judgement on my feelings rather than just on logic, and that I would follow the need for 'beyond all reasonable doubt'. The defense had done that to make the prosecution burn one of their six dismissals, as they are limited in number.

The defense also pointed out that I was Asian as well, kind of rubbing the prosecution's face in the connection, so I don't think they had a choice when the judge denied the challenge of my suitability.

So I was excused and free. So I checked in at the jury commissioner's office just to be sure I could go, as in both Washington and California a juror normally would just go back into the pool for another possible trial that would begin later in the day. Here, they only get the jurors they need for the trials that start each morning, and that is that.

So that was that, and I drove home with a clear conscience. I wasn't going to be able to be unbiased in a trial of that sad a circumstance set, and it was far better that I just not be involved. I might have been able to force myself to give some kind of justice, but there were thirty other people they could choose from as well who would be more willing and less biased and confused and resentful of the possible duty than I was.

I do know that there would be no way in the world I could tell if a strange to me five-year-old's testimony in front of a bunch of adults with consummate questioners like the lawyers was actually the truth, her truth, or the truth she thought they wanted to hear. I don't trust my ability to read people well enough to have ever been comfortable going on just what they said instead of being able to ask about what formed the opinions as well. So the justice system has worked again.

So it was good. I got to spend the afternoon with Jet and Kathy while John worked, and we then spent the evening watching Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels while eating Abbo's pizza. I actually think Snatch is better of the two.

I should commend Kathy on her yoeman's duty of actually getting up at 7 am to help John out with Jet, especially since it was 6 her time.

Jet had fun playing and is now exhausted. As am I. Good night...

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Copyright 2001 Liralen Li. All Rights Reserved.