by Kassandra Lamb ~ First, Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day! A day late, I know, but in his honor, I’ve put a related book, Police Protection on sale for $0.99. (See below.) Second, today’s blog post, also somewhat relevant as it’s about justice, or rather the justice system ~ 10 Surprises I Didn’t Expect on Jury Duty.
In early December, I was tapped for jury duty. This is something most people try to get out of, but I was delighted. And I was also a little surprised by several things I didn’t expect.
Why was I delighted? Because I’m a mystery writer, so this was an excellent chance to research the court system and perhaps garner some fodder for future stories. And I was not disappointed.
Surprise #1 I Didn’t Expect on Jury Duty
I didn’t expect on jury duty that the atmosphere would be relatively informal and relaxed. Perhaps this is because the judge who oversees the jury selection process in my county is obviously an extrovert.
Surprise #2 I Didn’t Expect on Jury Duty
They had a specific procedure for efficiently handling people’s requests to be excused. The judge quickly outlined what issues might get one excused, and which would not. Then he asked anyone who had one of the issues from the first list to line up along one wall.
One at a time, each juror in the line came up and quietly chatted with the judge. He excused very few people, which did not surprise me, but…
Surprise #3 I Didn’t Expect on Jury Duty
Allowances were made for people who would suffer great hardship if they were on a longer trial. There were three jury trials scheduled that week, two expected to only last a day or two, and one that would probably be a week or more. Several times, the judge, after speaking with a potential juror, would whisper to his assistant next to him. She would then type something into her computer. I realized that she was designating those who needed to be on a short trial, due to child care problems or other issues, for the jury pools of the two shorter trials.
Not surprisingly, since I had raised no objections to serving and had indicated on my questionnaire beforehand that I was retired, I ended up in the pool for the longer trial—a murder case, as it turned out. Indeed, I was selected to be on the first “jury panel” to go through the voir dire process.
I was quite excited; I might end up seeing a murder trial up close! And the panel sat in the jury box during the process, which was kinda cool.
Surprise #4 I Didn’t Expect on Jury Duty
The voir dire (French for to see and to say) process was conducted primarily by the prosecuting attorney. None of the lengthy back and forth with the defense attorney that one sees on TV shows. The defense attorney is expected to take notes and is given the opportunity to question jurors at the end of the process.
Unfortunately for the young man on trial in this case, the defense attorney took crappy notes. More on that later.
The prosecutor would direct a question to all of us at the same time, asking for nods, head shakes or raised hands by way of an answer. Then he would zero in on those folks who answered a certain way and ask them follow-up questions.
Surprise #5 I Didn’t Expect on Jury Duty
The young prosecutor questioning us, again relaxed and pleasant, did not ask directly if any of us were opposed to the death penalty. Instead, he asked if anyone would feel “morally uncomfortable” serving on a jury for first-degree murder.
I did not raise my hand, even though I have mixed emotions about the death penalty (for a succinct explanation of those mixed emotions, see the final confrontation scene of Lethal Assumptions; I share Judith Anderson’s reservations). But a couple people did raise their hands and cited religious issues with the death penalty.
Surprise #6 I Didn’t Expect on Jury Duty
The prosecuting attorney then asked, if it came down to following the law (which required them to find the defendant guilty of murder if the evidence so indicated) or following their conscience (which objected to the idea that such a verdict might lead to the defendant’s death), would they follow the law?
Wow! This shook me a little. I definitely didn’t expect this on jury duty. In other words, to serve on a jury, one was expected to put one’s own conscience aside and only follow the law.
My excitement was shifting somewhat toward mixed emotions.
Surprise #7 I Didn’t Expect on Jury Duty
I did not know that in some states, including Florida, there is this thing called “felony murder.” Basically, if someone commits a felony, such as robbery, and someone else is killed during that robbery, the felon is responsible for that death and can be charged with first-degree murder, even though that person was not the direct cause of the death and there was no intention that anyone would die.
Turns out that this particular case was a felony murder situation. And when asked how I felt about felony murder, I had to admit that, while I understood the reasoning behind it, I was not totally comfortable with it. My bottom-line answer was, “It depends.”
Because, of course, my creative mind could think of a dozen scenarios. Maybe the defendant didn’t know that his accomplice even had a gun. Maybe he’d been told that the gun wasn’t loaded… (for more on the felony murder charge, check this link out.)
And, of course, I was asked the would-you-follow-your-conscience-or-the-law question. My honest answer was, again, “It depends.”
This is, I believe, the primary reason why I was not picked for the jury—although there were other strikes against me.
Surprise #8 I Didn’t Expect on Jury Duty
I absolutely didn’t expect on jury duty that the voir dire process would reveal so many details of the case. One of the questions asked was whether we would fairly consider the testimony of a “convicted felon” who might or might not have been given certain considerations for their testimony.
By the time the process was over, I could pretty much tell the story of the crime. Two or more young men, one of whom was the defendant, robbed another man. Drugs were involved in some way. And the robbery victim was killed in the process, but the defendant in this case was not the one who actually directly caused the death.
AND other “convicted felons” involved in the robbery may have gotten reduced sentences because they ratted out the current defendant.
In other words, the guy who actually pulled the trigger may have gotten a plea deal for a lesser sentence by fingering this young man as an accomplice, even though he did not actually kill the victim.
And now this young man might face the death penalty for felony murder, while the other guy gets a lighter sentence.
At this point, I wasn’t sure if I should hope I was picked or that I wasn’t, because “Yeah, IT DEPENDS!!”
Surprise #9 I Didn’t Expect on Jury Duty
When you mark “retired” on their handy-dandy questionnaire, they follow up by asking what you did before you retired.
So I had to admit that I was a psychotherapist in another lifetime, something I knew would probably get me eliminated. Prosecutors don’t want jurors who might over analyze people’s motives.
And then he asked what we were doing in retirement, and I had to admit I was a writer, although I didn’t say what kind of writer.
But, at the end of his part of the voir dire, the prosecutor asked, “Is there anything else that I might not have asked about that might influence your evaluation of the evidence in this case?”
I meekly raised my hand. “Um, I write murder mysteries.”
The entire courtroom cracked up, including the judge!
The prosecutor chuckled. “Guess I should have followed up on that.” He then asked more questions about the research I did on guns and police procedure.
Sadly, the experience did not end on that comedic note. The defense attorney proceeded to ask vague questions of several people, including myself. Apparently, he hadn’t noted WHY I had objected to the law at some point. He just kept asking me if I had reconsidered and would now follow the law.
I was confused as to what he was even talking about. But I realized later he was referring to my “it depends” answer regarding felony murder. And I thought, You idiot, I’m the very person you wanted on the jury. I might have hung it for you. And you just reminded the prosecutors of that possibility.
But of course it didn’t matter, because the prosecuting attorneys would have had several other reasons for eliminating me at that point.
(A side note: the defendant himself was taking copious notes. I hope he can use them to file for appeal on the premise of incompetent legal representation. Because he was convicted.)
Surprise #10 I Didn’t Expect on Jury Duty
The judge did offer some mood relief. First, he named the eight people who had been chosen as jurors so far (no surprise that I was not one of them), and sent them to lunch, with instructions to return at 2 p.m. Then he told the rest of the juror pool to go to lunch and return at 2 p.m. for the seating of another panel to pick more jurors.
Then he waited, with a small smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye, until all of those folks had filed out of the courtroom.
When the door closed behind the last one, the judge, now grinning, turned to those of us remaining in the jury panel. “I didn’t want the others to hear this. They’d be jealous. You folks can go home. You have fulfilled your duty.” Then he thanked us warmly for our service.
So the final thing I didn’t expect on jury duty—how grateful those involved in the judicial system are when citizens do their duty and serve on jury panels, even if they aren’t picked.
And yes, I have gleaned much fodder for future stories. Plus the young prosecutor, as I left the courtroom, wished me luck with my new police procedural!
Have you ever been called for jury duty? Been on a jury?
And here’s my book that’s on sale for $0.99, for just this week!
POLICE PROTECTION, A Kate Huntington Mystery #10
A story ripped from real-life headlines.
A police detective is found in an alley, standing over the body of an unarmed African-American boy. Groggy from a concussion, he has no memory of what happened, and he is literally holding the smoking gun.
To the Baltimore County Internal Affairs division, it’s a slam-dunk. But various forces push psychotherapist Kate Huntington and her P.I. husband to investigate behind the scenes, and what they find doesn’t add up. Why did the boy’s oldest brother disappear on the same day? And did the third brother, who’s on the autism spectrum and nonverbal, witness something relevant?
Bottom line: what happened in that alley was more than just a bad shoot by a stressed-out cop. The answers may come from unexpected sources, but Kate and Skip better find them soon… before another life is lost.
Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological mysteries, set in her native Maryland, and the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida. Plus she has started a new police procedural series, also set in Florida—The C.o.P. on the Scene mysteries. And she writes romantic suspense under the pen name of Jessica Dale.
Misterio press produces an array of quality crime fiction. We post here twice a month, usually on Tuesdays, to alert you to new releases, to entertain, and to inform.
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