Jury duty was so incredibly frustrating and angering. This post was 8 pages typed up in word, just to give you a heads up on what you’re getting yourself in to.
Monday, Jan 22
8:15 report. Sit around until 9:30am. Listen to people griping about having to be there. Loudest, rudest lady was Juror #6 on a felony case. I hope she is released for cause or dismissed by one of the attorneys, because loud and rude often also means un-empathetic. I’m juror 16 for a misdemeanor case. First, we’re taken back into the courtroom and read the names of the charges: Attempted aggravated trespass, loitering/prowling, tampering with vehicles. Then jurors 1-18 are pulled up front and interviewed. At least six people are released for cause, either working nights or being full-time students or admitting they could not be unbiased or already assuming he’s guilty just given the names of the charges and literally no other evidence. “I just have no patience for that kind of behavior,” one said, as if he had any idea what kind of behavior was actually behaved. Oh, and one man neither spoke nor understood English, so he was released as well. So, now there were 18 people without cause to be dismissed, and each attorney got a chance to “thank and excuse” a certain number of jurors. The defense thanked and excused four people, popping me into the Juror #8 spot, and the prosecution declined to pop me right back out. This would have gone a lot better for him if he had.
So, there I am. On the jury. This took until lunch-ish. I’m pretty sure opening statements by the prosecution began right after lunch, but knowing how sketchy I know memory to be, I’m certainly not going to make any 100% claims. Anyway, the basic trial format I remember all the way from Mock Trials as a sophomore in high school (plus a few recent googles to check some specifics) is:
- Opening by prosecution
- Opening by defense (unless deferred)
- Prosecution (witnesses direct questioned by DA, cross-examined by defense)
- Opening by defense (if deferred)
- Defense (witnesses direct questioned by defense, cross-examined by DA)
- Prosecution closing remarks
- Defense closing remarks
- Prosecution closing rebuttal
Defense did defer his opening, so we heard the opening remarks and all the prosecution witnesses by the end of Monday. Here are the facts of the case as stated as we heard them:
- On one day, a dude was hanging out in a parking lot, going between a bus stop and cars in the lot holding his phone to his head intermittently, but without seeming to be talking to anyone on the other end. He also tried the handles on a few car doors. He was confronted by a number of people who saw him doing this, asked him to leave, asked him what he was doing, and he was being super sketchball the whole time. Sideways looks, mumbled and unclear answers, standing around, etc. They called the police. A police officer stops him, and they chat. He tells the police something incomprehensible about seeing his girlfriend for the first time in 14 years. Eventually he is arrested, taken away, and then released.
- The next day, he shows up at a lady’s house and hangs out on the bench in her front yard. She asks him to leave. He walks back and forth on her property. She asks him to leave a few more times. He says he’s waiting for someone, but won’t say who. He says he can’t leave because that wouldn’t be a good idea right now. She says he can’t wait here, goes inside, and locks everything. He wanders around a while more, then comes up on the porch and jiggles the front door, then walks away again. Police show up eventually to arrest him, and he goes with them peaceably.
None of those facts are in contention. They definitely sound sketchy as all get out, and by the end of the first day those charges sounded very reasonable to describe his actions.
Tuesday, Jan 23
But on Tuesday morning, the Defense got his turn. Additional facts of the case:
- Dude is blind in one eye and half-deaf in both ears.
- Dude is on massive doses of pain killers due to a catastrophic injury 20 years ago. These medications include oxy and fentanyl. His fentanyl dose had been recently cut in half. Decreasing it suddenly can trigger terrible side effects, including auditory hallucinations, paranoia, anxiety, and a whole host of other unfortunate things.
- Dude claims he got a call on his phone that someone had a gun to his ex-girlfriend’s head (from 14 years ago), and if he didn’t follow the instructions exactly, bad things would happen to her. The instructions were to go to that bus stop and wait to be picked up by a car. He was at the bus stop near the parking lot and went to the parking lot thinking that was where the car was he needed to get in to so he could follow the instructions. He didn’t know what car it would be, the voice didn’t describe the car, and he was desperate to do as told. Then he thought maybe one of them had been left unlocked for him, so he tried a few door handles.
- The next day, the voice calls back and tells him that he messed up so bad the day before that if he didn’t follow the instructions to the absolute letter, bad things were going to happen. He didn’t know what bad things, but something Very Bad. The instructions were to go to this neighborhood, this particular house, and wait to be picked up.
Evidence other than testimony was three pictures of him at the lady’s house and one of the front of her house after he had left. The three pictures of him showed him walking one way, walking the other, and through the front door standing on the porch. There were also three surveillance video clips of him in the parking lot.
After dude came off the stand, I thought we were almost done. Turns out nope. First, we had to be read a 30+ page document of jury instructions, the details of the charges, the details of the specific parts of the specific charges, and a whole bunch of other things. I marked pages and annotated as it was read to us, because I wanted to keep all the pieces in mind. Especially the fact that he is innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Because that’s how it is supposed to work.
Closing arguments were pretty excruciating. Prosecution said a lot of stuff. Defense read power point at us. I see why he thought it was necessary, because the details of the laws and the many technical pieces had to be followed super carefully. I was actively interested in it, continued to annotate my packet, but my eyes almost rolled up in the back of my head a few times as well. Oy. Then the rebuttal, where the prosecution said a bunch more stuff. It was largely repeating over and over again that these were crimes and we should find him guilty. Point made, Handsome. Point made.
FINALLY, we can start deliberating! Oh, man, I thought this would go quickly. He was obviously in the middle of a psychotic break. Yes, he was acting weird, but no one was hurt and no property was damaged, so there’s no actual harm and no actual crime. Having a bad reaction to a meds change and behaving suspiciously is not criminal. Also, eye-witness testimony is largely garbage, and everyone knows how absurdly foolish memory is, especially for highly emotionally charged events, so obviously it’s not guilty and away we go.
I was so, so wrong. First we went around and introduced ourselves and said whether or not we would be willing to be foreperson. I was the only person willing, so that was me. Great. I asked for an initial anonymous vote.
Count 1: Attempted Aggravated Trespass. 11 guilty, me not guilty.
Count 2: Prowling/Loitering: 10 guilty, 2 (me and one other) not guilty.
Count 3: Tampering with vehicles: 10 guilty, 2 (me and the same other) not guilty.
I announced the results and asked if anyone wanted to back their vote with evidence or explain why they voted the way they did. The kindergarten teacher came forward as the other not guilty for counts 2 and 3. She was jumped on pretty quick. I tried to defend her, which immediately outed me as the other not guilty vote.
I’ve been told the four stages of group performance are forming, storming, norming, and performing. We never really got past the storming stage, because as soon as they knew who was holding up the works and one of those people was me, things turned antagonistic. Hell, after the trial one of the other jurors said they regretted having me as foreman within five minutes. Yeah, ME, TOO. I had no idea how heartless and uncompassionate these people were going to be. I super regret having to deal with it, but every single other person abrogated that responsibility as fast as they could. No one else was willing to, so you got me. Don’t blame me the wrinkles in the bed you made.
As the previous paragraph probably makes clear, I am in no way an unbiased or entirely reliable narrator for these events. This is what I saw happening and experienced. I’ll try to indicate other possible interpretations throughout, but for the most part this is from my uber-minority perspective. Also I don’t particularly appreciate being condescended to by older men. Anyway, the other jurors experience of dealing with me was probably just as awful as my experience dealing with them. I can absolutely see how their interpretation of events makes him look guilty, but I can also make an interpretation that makes him innocent, and based on the presumption of innocence unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, if I have two competing interpretations, I have to pick the one that finds him innocent. I tried making that argument. It did not go well. On either end.
I laid out all the facts as we had them, combined them with the evidence, combined that with the laws, and made a case for my interpretation. I could feel people beginning to consider my words. Then one of the retired dudes straight up laughed at me and tried to insult me by saying I talk like a lawyer, as if dealing with the law is not why we’re here. I again tried to explain that I was looking at the evidence and attempting to be compassionate to both sides. Yes, he super scared that lady, and I have the utmost compassion for her. Yes, he was also having a psychotic break, and I have compassion for him. He continued to try to insult me, this time by calling me “too compassionate”. I responded that I didn’t believe that was possible. He spluttered for a bit, then accused me of having a personal stake in the trial. I asked him what on earth he was talking about, and apparently since I had had hallucinations before (due to a high fever, and it was NOT a pleasant experience), I obviously had a personal stake. Luckily everyone jumped on him about that being ridiculous as I spluttered from that accusation. Good grief, these people have no idea what bias is or means. Being able to empathize with a person does not make you biased for them or against them. I can empathize with both sides of this case, and that gives me reasonable doubts about his motive. I will probably repeat this even a few MORE times in this telling, because it was a major sticking point.
Conversation went on many routes, and I kept trying to bring it back to evidence and the law, but everyone kept trying to make arguments about how the lady felt and how he shouldn’t have been there and that he touched those people’s cars and he was weird and suspicious. I agreed with all of those things. None of them prove criminal intent beyond a reasonable doubt. Knowing how scared he was of the voices and trying desperately to follow the instructions, I had all kinds of reasonable doubts about his motives being criminal. This was completely unacceptable to the other jurors. Things began to get heated.
At lots of points people were talking over each other, and the kindergarten teacher kept trying to norm raising hands and being called on, but it never really took for more than one or two speakers before everyone started chiming in again. I and my terrible habit of interrupting and talking over people was super guilty of this. I was not the most constructive member of the conversation in terms of keeping it organized. There was also discussion about how everyone deserved an equal voice, but I didn’t really buy that, because then the guilty side would get to speak 11 times more often than I did. Each side should get an equal voice. This was also not a welcome perspective. I did it anyway.
One of the worst moments was when one of the guys was talking, and I chimed in to argue, and he yelled at me. “I’m talking now! My turn! YOU DON’T TALK.” I piped down and let him finish, quite peeved, but he had a point. He didn’t have to be so shitty about it, but point. Not even two minutes later, it was my turn, and he tried to talk over me. I immediately snapped, “I’m talking now! My turn! YOU DON’T TALK.” Ohhhhh, boy did he not like that! Granted, I shouldn’t have done that in retrospect. It was petty and immature and felt so very good at the time to be able to throw his words back in his face, but not helpful at all. Just in general, I’ve been trying to figure out nonstop why my behavior was so atrocious when I have spent so much time and energy working on being compassionate and kind to others and looking at things from multiple perspectives. Still trying to learn from this overall experience.
Anyway, conversation went on. We passed around the four pictures. Someone mentioned that they thought they had seen another picture. Nope, just these four. No, really, they KNOW they saw, just for a second, another picture of him on the porch, but with his hand raised. Four or five other jury members piped in agreeing with him. I tried to argue that it doesn’t matter, because even if it did exist, which it didn’t, it wasn’t entered into evidence, and therefore we are not allowed to use it as part of our findings. I was shouted down, because they KNEW what they saw! I tried to explain to them 1) again, if it’s not entered into evidence, we cannot use it and 2) how memory works and that the brain is a jerk that makes shit up and fills in gaps to make a coherent story, but memory is a tricky thing you can’t always trust. No one believed it. They just kept stating over and over again that they had seen another picture. I finally wrote a question to the judge. It came back saying there was not another picture. I tried again to get them to see that their memory was being tricky and had convinced them that something was true when in fact it never existed. Group hallucinations are a thing that exist. Cue the, “I know what I saw,” mutters and other shitty remarks along those lines.
Votes at the end of first day.
Count 1: Attempted Aggravated Trespass. 8 guilty, 4 not guilty.
Count 2: Prowling/Loitering: 10 guilty, 2 (me and the kindergarten teacher) not guilty.
Count 3: Tampering with vehicles: 10 guilty, 2 (me and the kindergarten teacher) not guilty.
I had managed to sway a few votes on one count, but not enough. I send a note to the judge that we were deadlocked, and he pulls us back into the courtroom. I get asked questions about what the court can do to help reach a decision. I immediately want to say, “Teach these assholes critical reasoning skills,” but bite that back because I’m not a complete moron. I say something about more instructions regarding how to use the evidence and the law as written to draw a conclusion. The judge is stunned. Yeah. YEAH. He asks about the picture thing. I tell him what happened. As soon as another picture is mentioned, both lawyers look at each other with question on their faces and have a very quick and utterly hilarious silent conversation of, “Do you have another picture? No, you? No. Do you know what’s going on? No, you? Nope!” Both lawyers confirm multiple times that there is no additional picture, no more pictures exist, if there were another picture he would have absolutely shown it and entered it, but no other pictures exist at all of the scenario in any way other than what we were given. I hear one women behind me make a surprised noise. At least one person was able to accept evidence that her memory was incorrect. It made me slightly more hopeful. How silly was I?
We get told to return tomorrow. Apparently (I found out later) they want juries to deliberate for at least 4 hours before being willing to admit a hung jury. We had only argued for an hour and a half, so we needed at least another 2.5 hours on the record before we could be truly considered at a deadlock. That happened the next day.
I had dorm duty that night, so I went home and spent all evening working with the kids, but going over and over my behavior and the overall chaos of the deliberations. I thought long and hard about what I needed to do better and how I could guide the conversation to be less antagonistic and more focused on the evidence and the law. I had the idea to separate each case into its individual pieces, lay out the evidence for each piece for and against, and have people discuss only the evidence we had written down unless they were suggesting we add additional evidence, which was totally fine, as long as it directly related to the current piece of the current charge under discussion. Structure. Structure and organization is good. Ever the optimist, that’s me.
Wednesday, Jan 24
So, we come back Wednesday. We sit back down, take another vote, nothing has changed since the night before, so I try to implement my new strategy. It does not go well. On charge 1, Attempted Aggravated Trespass, I wrote out the wording of one of the stipulations and made columns beneath for evidence for and against. Evidence for: she claims he wiggled the doorknob. Evidence against: He claims he only knocked and had no desire to get in the house. He had ample opportunity to try to get into the house in the time he was hanging out on the bench outside when the front door was even unlocked. When she came out to talk to him, he made no moves to get in the house. After she went back inside, he went up on the porch and knocked thinking maybe she would know something about the instructions. As I was writing this down, I put in, “Did not make any attempt to enter the home while door was unlocked” and asshole who had yelled at me before kept yelling at me again to erase the word “any”. I declined. He yelled at me again. I declined. He tried again. I declined more forcefully. He slammed his hands down, stood up, and yelled, “I’m going to the bathroom! And I recommend you chose a new foreman!”
We’re not allowed to talk about things unless everyone is present, so we hung out in silence until he came back. I considered the phrasing and changed it to, “no evidence he made any attempt to enter the home while door was unlocked.” Same meaning, but asshole liked it better, so whatever. Some of the jurors got hung up on whether or not she claimed he wiggled the door knob. She did. That was part of her testimony. No one denied that. I already had it written on the evidence board. It was in front of them as evidence we already agreed on. But they demanded to hear the testimony again. Fine. I write a request to the judge to please read it back to us.
This process took a while because of tech issues, and same yelling asshole tried to pull some kind of weird power move by telling me to sit down from where I was standing by the whiteboard and wait for the testimony. Yeah, I was already heading to my chair, genius. Good thing we have you around to state the obvious and give orders. So we waited. I was so done. These people were stuck on something that was never up for debate. Yes, she said he jiggled the knob. He said he only knocked. For some reason they wanted to hear the whole thing back again to confirm she said that. I ALREADY HAD THAT WRITTEN ON THE EVIDENCE BOARD. No one was denying she claimed he jiggled the knob. It’s a question of what did she remember as a person on high alert and heart pounding and not sure why this dude was on her front porch. And, interestingly, all the people who invented a picture that never existed that they claimed was undeniable evidence their version of events were true were all the ones claiming that her memory must be infallible. Infuriating. No one would even acknowledge what had happened the day before with the picture, either, or admit that there had been confusion with the evidence. Nope. Just pretended it never happened.
No dice on the testimony because technology, so we moved on to the other counts. I was again desperately trying to start where we agreed and trace it down to statements of law and evidence for and against. Turns out, big yelling asshole wouldn’t even agree with statements that he had to agree with in order to find guilty. He was so desperate to disagree with me that he would argue everything that came out of my mouth. I finally pointed out that if he didn’t agree with what I was saying, he had to find the guy not guilty, and boy did he not like that! He didn’t like a lot of things. Most particularly me. But this “let’s have a structured conversation about the law using evidence” just was not working, because none of them wanted to use evidence and the law. After about an hour and a half of all this fruitless shittiness happening, finally people started opening up their packets and reading the actual words that gave us the laws and the instructions that we were supposed to follow. Once that happened, I was able to convince more people. The conversations became so much more productive, because now the sides were about evenly matched instead of it being everyone against me. There was any voice at all besides mine making arguments for innocence. I could finally shut the hell up much to everyone’s relief, including mine.
It all came down to technicalities and us having to make a judgement about his state of mind and intent. The people voting guilty could not get past their interpretation of his behavior to consider his intent, but I was able to bring a few people over on the first two counts. The last count was still a sticking point, everyone wanted me to vote him guilty just so we could get a verdict on at least one count, but I’m not here for bargaining with a man’s future.
Count 1: Attempted Aggravated Trespass. 5 guilty, 7 not guilty.
Count 2: Prowling/Loitering: 8 guilty, 4 not guilty.
Count 3: Tampering with vehicles: 11 guilty, me not guilty.
We get pulled back into the courtroom. Judge questions me again about the process and engagement levels, I respond that I don’t believe there is anything at all that can be done further to change anyone’s mind. So, a mistrial is declared, and we’re excused. The lawyers then ask if they can poll the jury, but it was after we’d technically been excused, so we were told we could hang out with the lawyers in the hallway and chat.
I headed outside and sat down to read an article for grad school until they came out, which separated me from the other jury members. The lawyers came out and went to chat with them, and I came up behind, which made for a really weird separation of me on one side of the lawyers and all the other jurors who waited around on the other side. A handful just bailed, but there were a few who wanted to talk to the lawyers. So, they both asked for advice and feedback. The other jurors wanted additional evidence in the defendant’s favor, as if trying to get ahold of medical records for a homeless dude is not something that the defense lawyer would have ever thought of or tried to do.
Do these people not realize that his job as a public defender is to get all the evidence he can possibly scrounge up in very inconvenient circumstances and do his best to defend this poor guy with literally no resources available to him? Oh, they probably don’t, considering they have no idea how the justice system works at all! It never even occurred to them that he was a public defender until I mentioned it when someone said something about how if he could afford a lawyer then he should be able to afford something else. My suggestion that he was a public defender surprised everyone, but as usual after a moment of silence the topic changed once more to how wrong I was about everything.
During the conversation, dude who insulted me about talking like a lawyer and having compassion grilled the defense about whether or not the guy had any other past charges. The lawyer declined to answer, which dude took as confirmation and crowed about how he knew it. Good god, man. He’s homeless. The criminalization of homelessness is not a new thing. I mentioned that Dr. Martin Luther King had been arrested 29 times and had a criminal record, as did Rosa Parks. Once again, silence and a topic change to something else I was wrong about from the other jurors. The DA laughed and said he didn’t think it was quite the same situation, and I agreed, but my point stood.
They asked for specific advice, and multiple people suggested he should not have deferred his opening. He explained his strategy, but I don’t think it worked the way he was hoping. He said it was a new strategy for him, so he’s still learning when to use it, but in this case I think the jury needed the context of his medical issues and the idea that he was hearing instructions from voices to explain his weirdo behavior. I also mentioned that the power point closing was excruciating, and he said that was also a new thing for him, because usually the defense makes an emotional plea upon closing, but since this case was so situated in the technical details of the law, he wanted to go through all the pieces of it with us. I see the reasoning behind that for sure, but many of the other members of the jury had already long stopped listening to him, so the emotional plea to help them build an alternative story from the facts and possibly put some of that doubt in their minds may have been more effective. He was a dude who had a couple very scary days after a meds change and was just trying to keep Bad Things from happening to someone he loved.
Probably my second shittiest moment of behavior besides snapping back and yelling asshole was when one of the other jurors actually complimented me that I had convinced her on two of the three counts. I really should have just said thanks, but I went on a tirade about how it’s almost like it’s my job to use evidence to build and support arguments and also teach other people how to do that oh no wait that IS my job. It was 100% unnecessary and uncalled for. She was trying to make amends, and I took her olive branch and burned it to ashes. That also lead another juror to say, “Do you see what we’ve been dealing with for the past two days?” Which, wow, did that feel shitty. And, wow, was that a reasonable thing to say in that moment. That moment is my biggest regret in the whole process. I handled it so poorly.
Eventually the other jurors left, but I stayed and chatted with the lawyers for a few more minutes. They were super cool dudes. We were talking justice system in general, and the public defender talked abut how he wanted to burn the whole system down. The DA and I laughed, but he was serious. He said his wife is in grad school for criminal justice, and they’re going to work together, him from the inside and her from the outside, to change the system. The conversation turned to the criminalization of homelessness, and he said he had seen so many police reports that started with a person being pulled over for biking without a light that ultimately led to more criminal charges because of probation or whatever that he spent $200 to buy 400 bike lights and began handing them out to all the homeless folks he came across. The DA described that as “true believer kind of stuff”, and I agree wholeheartedly. The criminalizing of homelessness is a huge social justice issue. First we cause the problem, then we punish the people for having the problem we caused. It’s astoundingly heartless.
We chatted about the case a bit, too. The DA disagreed with my not guilty on the tampering with vehicles, which I totally understand and accept the disagreement of others. It was awfully nice to be respectfully disagreed with rather than attacked. He also described himself as, “liberal as fuck” for a Monterey County DA, which I can definitely see. He mentioned then that he was hoping for at least one guilty verdict so that he could get him into the system and force him to get help. That made me think a little harder about whether I would have been willing to switch to “guilty” on the tampering charge, but since we were told numerous times that we could not consider what might happen in sentencing during our deliberation, and I maintain there is reasonable doubt regarding criminal intent, I couldn’t have changed my vote in good conscience. Justice is so tricky, and this gave me a lot to think about in terms of just how much work there is to do in terms of educating people about social issues, reducing discrimination, and increasing empathy and compassion.
It also gave me a lot to think about in terms of my own ability to deal with conflict and dissent. I don’t mind people disagreeing with me at all. There’s lots of stuff to disagree about, and I have had my mind changed multiple times by people who could present good arguments and evidence why my position was incomplete or incorrect. But, holy shit, I cannot remember the last time I was treated so badly nor that I treated others so badly. I tried not having coffee on Wednesday, since I know that was part of what had me running a little hot on Tuesday, but I didn’t handle the pressure all that much better. I don’t want to be the person I was in the deliberation room. That is not a nice person. When I was talking about it with my students, they were shocked. One said he couldn’t even imagine me raising my voice or getting angry, so at least all the work I’ve done in order to be good to my students seems to be paying off.
I want to get more experience in adverse situations and learn how to keep my cool and maintain reason. Maybe I need to work retail during the holiday season? Who knows, but this whole experience left me with a really bad taste in my mouth regarding the general public and a lot to think about in terms of who I am.