Jury Duty

This week’s Big Adventure is that I’m on jury duty, specifically for the State of New Mexico, Bernalillio County, which is where I live.  When my summons arrived, I was asked to fill out several forms, including one that asked if I would incur any hardship if I were asked to serve.  I requested that I not be required to serve because I’m self-employed.  If I don’t work, there’s no one who can cover for me.

Documents in My Case

The county was sympathetic to my request, and reduced my term of being on call (not service) from three weeks to one.  I was also given the option to postpone serving for six months.  However, since I had no idea what my schedule would look like in six months, whereas this week had a certain amount of wiggle room, I opted to select this as the week I would make myself available to serve.

As required, I checked the county court’s website to see if my group number (not my juror badge number) was on the list for service on Monday.  Imagine my astonishment when, upon checking the appropriate page, I saw that one hundred and fifteen group numbers were listed.  Mine was in the fifth row.

Over the weekend, since I don’t know downtown Albuquerque very well, I’d gone to scout the area, including locating the appropriate parking facility.  Now, with a clear visual of the area in my mind, I found myself wondering how much time I should allow to get downtown, parked, and over to the courthouse by 8:30 a.m.  Even if each group contained only five people, the number of people attempting to park would be five hundred and seventy-five.  That many cars going to one parking garage would make a line that would stretch for miles.  The garage probably didn’t have that many places.

Jim and I discussed this and decided that – despite each juror having been assigned a separate badge number as well – the group numbers must indicate only one person.  When I checked in, I asked, and this proved to be the case.

So, as Juror Group 622, I took my seat in the jury assembly room.  The courthouse courteously provided both coffee and water, and I spent a comfortable twenty minutes or so sipping coffee and reading Terry Pratchett’s A Thief of Time.  No.  I didn’t pick this novel on purpose, but the irony of the title – since my time was being “stolen” by the requirement that I do my civic duty – didn’t escape me.

Eventually, a man came and explained that we had appeared in the jury pool because either we were registered voters, had paid taxes, or had driver’s licenses.  Basically, as is so often the case, because we were responsible citizens, more was being asked of us.  Those who don’t bother to vote, dodge their taxes, or drive unlicensed get off.  Oh, I know the state has to have some system, but once again… irony.

The assembled juror pool to which I belonged was short something like four people, all of whom, we were assured, would be hunted down and informed that they had behaved badly.  With that, about half of us (including several of the absent numbers) were instructed to go up to Judge Briana Zamora’s courtroom for voir dire.  For those of you unfamiliar with the term, voir dire is the process by which the judge and attorneys select the jury.

We were handed numbers that corresponded to a seating chart, then escorted into the courtroom.  Now, to my identity as Group 622, I added Seat 36.  We were greeted, sworn in, and then Judge Zamora told us the charge.  She also told us that it was likely that the trial would run for three to four days.

I can’t remember the exact wording of the charge, so rather than risk misrepresenting, I’m going to paraphrase.  The defendant (who was there) was accused of rape.  Complicating matters was that the alleged act had occurred in a correctional facility.

I’m going to jump ahead here and note something fascinating.  Voir dire had been going on for well over an hour – first the judge, then the prosecution had asked their questions – before it became evident that the fifty or so of us in the jury pool were confused as to what we thought the crime was for which we might be asked to sit on a jury.

The more literal-minded (I raise my hand here) thought that the incident in question had occurred between two inmates since all we were told was that it had occurred in a correctional facility.  Others had interpreted what was said to mean that if the incidence was “criminal,” it must be between someone associated in some form of non-inmate role and an inmate.  This latter turned out to be the case.

So, those of us who literally adhered to what was presented to us were incorrect.  Those who added (for whatever reason) information that was actually not presented were correct.  Given that over and over again we were told that we would be asked to view the matter in the light of the evidence presented, not in light of our preconceptions…

Well, let’s just say this misunderstanding did not give me a lot of faith in the system.

Since I wasn’t taking notes, I can’t take you through the long process of questions, rephrasing of the same questions, new questions, misunderstandings, and circumlocutions.  However, I will say that the number of times one or the other of the attorneys requested to approach the bench (or were called to the bench by the judge) was remarkable.

I mean that literally…  At one point, the gentleman seated to my left remarked “I wonder if we’re all going to get sent home.”

But, in the end, the questioning ended.  We retired to the juror room.  I enjoyed a nice chat about SF/F with several of my fellow potential jurors, then the names of those selected to serve were announced.

I wasn’t chosen.  On the one hand, given that I can ill afford most of a week away from my work, I am relieved.  On the other hand, I do feel I learned a great deal from my four or so hours in court, so this wasn’t a waste of time

I was reminded once again that words don’t mean the same thing to people, even when those people are all native speakers of the same language.  I was impressed by the thoughtful intensity which the members of my juror pool brought to their responses to the questions they were asked.  I learned that consent in sexual relationships is really, really important to many people – men and women, young and old.  And that people understand that “consent” does not apply in situations of unequal power.

I’m on call for the rest of this week.  My group may or may not be summoned again.   But if it is, Juror Group 622 will drive to the courthouse for her new adventure!


5 Responses to “Jury Duty”

  1. Alan Robson Says:

    I’ve been called for jury duty twice, but I was excused both times. Once I’d just put in a computer system for the local district Law Society and as a consequence I was on first name terms with most of the district court judges. No way I could serve on a jury under those circumstances!

    The second time, my employer sent a letter explaining that we were a small company and I was the only employee. If I had to serve, the company would have to close down for the period of my duty. So again I was excused…

    And now I’m over sixty five and so I’m no longer eligible for jury duty. I slightly regret that — I would have liked to have served.


    • janelindskold Says:

      Interesting that you get off the hook so young. Many of the people in my “pool” were retirement age. I’m pretty sure I heard a couple of fellows exchanging ages and they were both over 65. I could have had the age wrong, though, I wasn’t listening closely.

  2. James M. Six Says:

    I served a few times, back before I learned how often prosecutors and labs manipulated things. (Two labs in my original home state had major scandals for futzing with evidence to make it easier to convict or to force a guilty plea bargain.) The prosecutors in that state are fighting NOT to vacate the convictions and guilty pleas forced by that evidence tampering. I’m wondering if the evidence in one of the trials I sat on (and convicted) was one where evidence was tampered with. I am now so prejudiced against prosecutors and state evidence labs that I can’t possibly be impartial.

  3. Paul Says:

    I got called once but, under questioning, they found I already knew too much about the case. (I worked for a newspaper and so covered such stuff.) I did serve for a day on a grand jury, a totally different kind of thing.

  4. CBI Says:

    Interesting. I was on jury duty in Bernalillo Co. almost exactly a year prior to your serving.

    I did end up sitting for a case, an assault mother-daughter case (at the daughter’s residence). No injuries, a bit of shoving during a spat, and a she-said she-said situation. In my opinion, the prosecution did not even present a /prima facie/ case and it should never have come to trial. Anyway, it took us as long to choose a foreman (yours truly) as it did to come up with a verdict (not guilty).

    Two prosecutors, I believe one later said it was her first jury trial. Two defense attorneys–first jury trial for one of them as well. I later met the prosecutors in the hall, and asked them why they even brought the case to trial, since they must have known how bad a case they had. A bit flustered, they indicated that they just thought a trial should settle the matter.

    This did not give me a good feeling concerning our District Attorney and her policies. (Suspect the new guy isn’t any better.) The accused was still out attorney fees. As the adage goes, “the prosecution is the punishment.”

    By the way, at the question y’all were asked (re the rape crime), I would not have raised my hand for either choice. A “rape in a correction facility” to me says nothing about the employment or status of either the alleged perpetrator or alleged victim, but only about the location. In fact, when reading, I briefly wondered whether it was inmate-inmate or CO-inmate.

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