All my life I have wanted to do Jury Duty. As a teen I was addicted to Perry Mason novels and L.A. Law; in college I got a phenomenal score on a practice LSAT test I took for kicks; in Peace Corps I resolved to become an environmental lawyer upon my return to the States. In a sense, my interest in the law is a natural extension of my interest in games: after all, what is the law but a bajillion-paged rulebook, and what are councilors but those who play at a Grandmaster level?
And the easiest way to get involved in the judicial system, it seemed to me, was for someone to draw my name out of a hat and call me in to hear a case. Alas, this had only happened once so far, and I was working in Bolivia at the time. Meanwhile, my friends and family seemed to get roped in on a weekly basis. I could never understand why they dreaded the prospect, why those lucky enough to get picked would suddenly develop medical conditions or embark on mission-critical work-related projects when they were called to serve.
My wife had been picked for Jury Duty only two months prior. She was assigned to the municipal court, presumably to help sort out parking tickets and other such minutiae. But, as it turned out, she didn't do a damned thing. She showed up Monday morning, her name was added to the roster, and she told her to return to work. If they needed her, they said they'd give her a ring -- and that was the last she heard from them. So when my notice showed up a few weeks later, I assumed that that's what I would be doing is well. In fact, it wasn't until just two days before my summons date that I finally read the thing and discovered that I was destine for the King County Superior Court.
The King County Superior Courthouse is located in one of the Seattle's worst neighborhoods. I suspect that many of those charged with assault and robbery don't have to travel far to get from the scene of the crime to their trial. As instructed I arrived on the premises at 8:00, Monday morning, and upon entering I realized I had visited the building on a "Civil Law" field trip class I had taken in high school. I don't recall if you had to run a gauntlet of security barriers to enter the joint back in 1988, but you certainly do now.
Once I walked through the metal detectors (which I managed to do with my keys in my pocket, to no alarm whatsoever) I found an intriguing mix of lawyers, criminals, defendants, witness, and hapless folks like me, citizens who can't even figure out where they are supposed to go. It was odd to contemplate that the six people currently queued up in the lobby's coffee shop to purchase muffins might conceivably, in an hour's time, all be playing radically different roles in the same courtroom: some on trial, some defending or prosecuting, some sitting in judgment.
The Jury Waiting Room was on the seventh floor. Every window in sight was either frosted to the point of opacity or covered up with boards (remnants of the 2001 Seattle Earthquake, I was told), making the place look like a casino hotel worried about suicide jumpers. The waiting room itself looked like an uncomfortably tiny airport boarding area, with chairs every bit as luxurious as those you'd find at Sea-Tac gate D-17. Everyone got a badge that had "JUROR" on it but no name. On Jury Duty you are more than just a number, you are also a bar code.
The first thing you do upon arrival to Jury Duty is nothing. Maybe they were waiting for all the stragglers to show up and check in, or maybe that "8:00" show-up time is a ruse to get everyone in the house by the real time of 9:00. For whatever reason, we all had to sit there and stare at the wall for an hour. Well, many of us read, actually, but a remarkable number of people took the wall-staring route. On the bus I always wonder why so few people have books or magazines, but I suppose reading in vehicles makes some folks ill. These jokers had no excuse.
Some folks made half-hearted attempts to converse with their neighbors, but no one was really in the mood for chit-chat. Men were gently hitting on every attractive woman. Well, perhaps not "hitting on," per se but it's universally understood that "may I use your clipboard" is little more than a conversation-opening gambit. The guy sitting directly across from me was wearing a very smart three-piece suit and reading The Wall Street Journal; the young man sitting next to him was wearing camouflage shorts and reading Harpers.
At 9:15 they showed us a video about the history of Trial by Jury. The bulk of the video was a generic "Yay, Judicial System!" bit, not unlike a training video you'd be forced to watch on your first day at Hotdog On a Stick. But prefacing this was an introduction by Raymond Burr, informing you, in a "I'm not a lawyer but I play one of TV" kind of way, that being on a jury is right up there with getting shot in a war in terms of service to your country. The core of the video was designed to be shown anywhere in the nation, but the filmmakers tried to "customize" this introduction by throwing in as many references to Washington State as they could. "The Judicial system is as majestic as the Olympic Mountains," Burr said. "And as exciting as a Seahawk game."
Then we sat around for a while longer. People became openly restless. A woman in the corner nearly completed a jigsaw puzzle. The guy to my right played game after game of Klondike on his PDA.
Finally, at 10:00, the first jury was called. "The following people are to report to Judge Gray," boomed a voice over hidden speakers. "When I call your name, yell 'here' at the ceiling; we have microphones up there. David Ganther."
"You are Juror number one. Diane Mayu."
"You are Juror number two."
Judge Gray got 50 Jurors in total. After the last name was called they were herded out of the room, not to be seen again. Not by me, anyhow, as I was not among them. Thirty minutes later a smaller set of Jurors was rounded up and sent to meet another judge. I was again unselected.
There were still a huge number of people in the waiting room with me -- so many that, it occurred to me, not everyone could possibly wind up on a case. According to my sheet, those of us who were not on a case by the end of the second day would be dismissed. So I began to suspect that this would be my entire Jury Duty experience: sitting around in this astronomically dull room for two days, reading my book and drinking hot chocolate out of "Wild Card Poker" paper cups. I could feel my Jury Duty enthusiasm oozing out of me with frightening rapidity.
At 11:00 they started calling names for a third jury. "Matthew Baldwin."
"Here!" I shouted at the ceiling.
"You are Juror number 16."
I was finally on a case, and was again psyched to play a part in the judicial process of the United States.
The thrill would last for about 90 seconds.
Unlike the first two jury pools, my group of 50 did not immediately tromp off to meet their judge. We were instead asked to fill out a questionnaire and return it to the Courthouse Clerk. I picked up mine, returned to my seat, and felt my zeal for Jury Duty whoosh out of me like oxygen from an open airlock.
Every question had something to do with molestation -- or, in legalese, "sexual misconduct". "Have you ever been the victim of sexual misconduct?" "Has anyone you know been the victim of sexual misconduct?" "Have you ever been accused of sexual misconduct?" Worse still, tucked away in the middle of these queries, was the unnerving question "Has anyone you known had a child forcibly removed from their home?" Sexual Misconduct + Child = case I did not want to be on.
I checked "no" to every single question, meaning I wouldn't get tossed out for out-and-out bias. I began mentally reviewing all the Jury Dodging techniques that friends had imparted to me. My wife told me to emphasize my schooling, that they rarely accepted folks with a Bachelors degree. So, in the "years of education" section of the questionnaire, I put "17" instead of "16," deciding that this would be a good time to start counting kindergarten as a grade. A coworker told me to play up the fact that I was a programmer, because (he claimed) they dismiss analytical types. Under "Occupation" I therefore put "System Anaylst Programmer" -- the only time I have ever used my full title on an official document. I was pretty proud of that, until I realized that any advantage I might get by having the word "analyst" in my title would probably be negated by the fact that I misspelled it.
After the questionnaires had been returned we were lined up and marched to the courtroom. As we filed in, the first 13 were told to sit in the Jury Box (12 Jurors + an alternate), while the rest of us sat on the observation benches, ordered by number. That put me three seats away from the Box -- two seats, really, because Juror #15 had vanished after turning in her questionnaire. The judge welcomed us and explained a bit about the Voir Dire process. Voir dire, he said, means "to speak the truth," and that was our job as the lawyers peppered us with questions. Afterwards, each side in the case could dismiss an unlimited number of potential jurors "With Cause" -- that is, if they could convince the judge that the person was biased -- and a certain number of "peremptory" challenges, which they could use to dismiss anyone for no stated reason.
Another "sure-fire jury duty avoidance technique," I had been told, was to give long, honest and candid answers during voir dire. I resolved to do so and get me one of them peremptory challenges. I briefly toyed with the idea of acting maniacally eager to be on the jury ("I will do anything to be on this jury, Your Honor! Anything!"), but decided that would be too much work.
I found voir dire to be the most interesting aspect of the whole trial, possibly because it was the most "game-y". At this point they could not yet tell us the specifics of the case, but the two sides could phrase their questions in such a way as to lay the foundation for later arguments. The defense attorney, for example, prefaced nearly every question with "Given that the defendant is innocent until proven guilty ..." In a sense, each councilor was trying to to simultaneously detect and instill bias in the jurors, and every question was masterfully worded to accomplish both objectives.
The prosecution went first, and started by lobbing softballs. She posed some follow-up questions to those who had provided "yes" answers on the questionnaire. She asked if we understood the concept of "reasonable doubt" (all while subtly redefining the term). She asked if we understood that "direct evident" (i.e. testimony) was given as much weight as "circumstantial evidence" (e.g., smoking guns and DNA) in a court of law. She was very emphatic on this last point, so much so that I began to suspect that she was, in essence, describing her case. When she asked if anyone would have a problem convicting someone based solely on testimony, I raised my hand. "I think I would find it very hard to find someone guilty beyond a reasonable doubt without some physical evidence corroborating the testimony," I announced. I then did some mental back-patting, certain that I had just earned my dismissal.
Things looked even better for me when the defense started. He asked if anyone had friends or family who worked in law enforcement. "Actually, a good buddy of mine was a Seattle police office," I told him. "And another friend of mine is a prosecutor in a nearby city."
He looked profoundly unhappy when I said the word "prosecutor". "Do you ever discuss cases with your prosecutor friend?" he asked.
"Sure. In some detail," I replied. "I am interested in law, so when I see her I generally have her give me the full rundown of her recent cases."
"And does she ever talk about defense attorneys?" he asked.
"Ohhhhhhh yeah," I crowed. "It is fair to say that, as a prosecutor, she has an adversarial relationship with defense attorneys." At this moment I was so assured that I was a goner that I had restrain myself from picking up my backpack and strutting out the door with a "See ya!"
We went sent home for the day. The following morning, as we filed back into the courtroom, our numbers were diminished considerably. Apparently all of the "With Cause" dismissals had been made, leaving a jury pool of 35 folks. Some of the newly vacant seats were in the Jury Box, so I was officially at risk of being selected. Still, I was certain that I would be back at work on the following day.
Having concluded voir dire, the lawyers were ready to use their peremptory challenges to select the jury. In this they alternated: first the defense would axe someone, then the prosecution would get a turn. As they began, the Jury Box contained eight men and four women, but that immediately changed as the defense dismissed one of the females and a male took her place.
Then the prosecution dismissed a woman, who was replaced by a man. Then the defense dismissed another woman, who was replaced by a woman -- except that the replacement didn't even get into the Box before she was dismissed by the prosecution and replaced by a man. That left us with 11 men and a single woman. If this was a sexual misconduct case (as it surely was) and the victim was a woman (as it surely was), then I could understand why the defense would want an all-male jury. But what was the prosecution doing? Wouldn't she want women on the jury for the same reason that the defense didn't? To this day I still don't know what her strategy was.
The upshot to this was that I, and all the other men, were ignored. The whole thing reminded me of the days of yore, when kickball players would get picked from all around me while I remained standing on the wall. Finally a male was dismissed but, sadly, it was a non-me male. The prosecution then challenged the one remaining woman, but the chair she vacated was filled by yet another female. Eleven to one again. As the next three jurors-in-waiting were all women, I figured this is where the lawyers would cease the gender Cold War and finally get around to excusing some System Analysts.
Instead, the defense said "Your Honor, we accept this jury."
And the prosecution said "The state also accepts this jury."
And I said "Aw, crap."
During voir dire we were lectured, questioned, and talked down to. Then the jury was selected and we broke for lunch. Upon our return, we were suddenly treated like royalty. "All rise for the jury," demanded the bailiff every time we entered the room. And the attorneys began speaking to us like we were their closest, most trusted friends.
In an effort to keep the participants in this case as anonymous as possible, I'm going to largely avoid the specifics of the case. But here's the gist.
The charges were multiple counts of molestation and rape of a child. The allegations were brought forth by a young woman, in her late teens, who claimed that the defendant (a relative) had serially abused her throughout her childhood. The (alleged) victim had no history of medical, psychological or behavioral problems, nor had anyone else known of or suspected the abuse until she had first confided in a friend some 16 months ago. There was, in short, almost no circumstantial evidence to corroborate her claims.
The case was thin to begin with, but the State still managed to mungle what little they had. The first item the Prosecutor entered into evidence was a huge, blown-up photograph of a door. It was the door to the room that one of the molestations was said to have taken place, yes, but the picture had been taken seven years (!) after the date of the incident -- so long that it wasn't even the same door that hung in the house at the time of the alleged molestation. The Prosecutor put this picture on an easel so we could all look at it while she made her opening remarks, which were essentially a narrative stringing together the five allegations of abuse. My gaze kept returning to the picture of the door, waiting for her to point out some fingerprint or footprint or something I had overlooked, but she never mentioned it. After she finished her statement, the picture was removed and never referenced again by either side. I was left to conclude that this "evidence" was, in fact, a prop, something to help us visualize the dramatic events she was describing. It seemed like an embarrassingly clumsy courtroom device, a technique they might advocate in "Prosecuting For Dummies". I found it far more distracting than helpful, and her introduction of evidence-that-wasn't-really-evidence made her argument seem weak from the get-go.
The State then called a number of witnesses, all of whom testified that the victim had recently told them about the abuse. That's it: they couldn't (and didn't) speak to the actual veracity of the allegations, only that the claims had been made and that they believed them. The Prosecution spent a lot of time on these witness, but I couldn't figure out why. Neither could the Defense, apparently, because he let each go with nothing more than a perfunctory cross-examination.
On the second day, the victim herself took the stand. She described the allegations in some detail, giving a vivid account of each of the five charges. Here again we learned of no additional circumstantial evidence that would help substantiate the claims; but, that said, her testimony was eminently believable. Curiously, when the Defense cross-examined her, he spent little time questioning her account of the charges brought against the defendant. Instead, he referred to a transcript of an interview she had conducted with a police officer a year ago, and grilled her on some additional allegations of abuse she had mentioned then.
Apparently he was trying to trip her up on the details of these other incidents, but the message he sent me was: "I can't poke holes in your accounts of the actual charges, so I'm going to poke holes in your accounts of some other, not-entirely-relevant claims." Furthermore, by asking about all these other occasions, he was only reinforcing the premise that her abuse was systematic and frequent. On redirect the Prosecutor made a point of telling us that it was she, and not the victim, who had opted to only pursue the five specified allegations. But had it not been for the Defense attorney, we may well have believed that these five occasions were the only time she had been abused. In fact, I had been wondering just that, thinking it odd that there were few molestations over the course of seven years. Thanks to the Defense, this significant doubt about the State's case was dispelled.
The whole trial went like this: the Prosecution would do a inept job of making her case, and the the Defense would get up there and make it for her. There were times when I wanted to interrupt one lawyer or the other and demand to know what side they were on. At one point a witness rambled on and on in response to a question from the Defense, while the lawyer stood there reviewing his notes, seemingly oblivious to the fact that she was shredding his case as she went.
By the time the Prosecution rested, I was ready to vote "Not Guilty" on all charges -- it wasn't that I didn't believe the victim, it was just that I thought the Prosecution had failed to make their case. Then the Defense went. By the time he was done, I wasn't sure what to vote. He managed to take my five "not guilty" votes and give each a healthy shove towards "the other side.
He did this by calling only three witnesses, asking them completely nonsensical questions, and eliciting responses that were so clearly rehearsed as to be wholly unbelievable. Much of his rebuttal centered around the door, the door that was sort-of-but-not-really pictured in State's Exhibit #1. The door led to a room owned by another member of the family (who was conspicuously absent from the courtroom), and the Defense asked the same line of questions to everyone he called. It went like this
"Did the owner of the room lock his door when he wasn't around?"
"Did the defendant have a key to the room?"
"Did anyone in the household, aside from the room's owner, have a key to the room?"
That's pretty odd
"Did the owner of the room ever let anyone else go into his room?"
"Did the owner of the room leave his room unlocked even a single time over the course of the five years he lived there?"
Gimmie a break!
After the Defense had rested, the Prosecution made her closing arguments. She frankly admitted that her whole case came down to the testimony of one person -- the victim -- but that we could still find the defendant guilty if we believed the allegations beyond a reasonable doubt. Circumstantial evidence obviously helps, she said, but you don't need it to make a conviction. Then the Defense went. He essentially summarized how I had been feeling just after the Prosecution rested: that the State had failed to make its case, and that there was, in his words, "reasonable doubt all over the place". Then, to my surprise, the Prosecution got to make a second closing statement. This was technically a "rebuttal," but it sounded just like a closing statement to me. I thought the Defense always got to go last, but apparently not.
The trial concluded, we now found out which among us was the alternate juror. The judge had (wisely) not told us who the alternate was before the case, because he wanted that person to pay attention during the proceedings. I was hoping against hope that it would be me.
Alas, it turned out to be the guy who probably would have been our foreman had he not been excused. He tried to look bummed out, but didn't quite succeed. He quickly gathered up his stuff, headed for the door, and said "I don't envy a one of you."
This is the part of the story where I become a hero.
You already know how it goes. We retire to the jury room and take a preliminary vote. It is 11-1 guilty, and I have cast the lone "Not Guilty" vote. Everyone else is shocked, but I explain my reasons. I point out subtle logical inconsistencies in the State's case. I make a series of astonishing deductions that demonstrate flaws in the State's argument. And in an exciting finale, I show that all the evidence conclusively supports my alternate hypothesis, something obvious yet overlooked, an angle even the Defense attorney failed to explore. One by one my fellow jurors realize that I am right, that they not only abandon their "guilty" vote, but that they actually believe the defendant to be innocent. After a final tally is taken it is 0-12, "Not Guilty," and I have single-handedly adverted a travesty of justice.
Anyhow, that's how it works in Twelve Angry Men (and That One Happy Days Episode). It's a shame real life doesn't work like that.
We began be choosing a foreman. Back in the olden days of yore, a million years ago when I was all jazzed to be on jury duty, I was totally jonesing to be the foreman. It would be just like being elected student body president! Now I was enthusiastically seconding the nomination for someone else.
We did not start with a preliminary vote. Instead, we plowed right into the case, trying to reconstruct the chronology and details of the five allegations. In a perfect world the Prosecution and Defense would have made coherent cases, obviating our need to reconstruct. But, as mentioned yesterday, both attorneys put forth such meandering and scattershot arguments that it was up to us to take the various pieces that had been flung at us and try to fit them together.
Furthermore, we were not given a transcript of the courtroom proceedings to aid in our memory. We had been allowed to write down details during the case, and these notes, along with some thoroughly useless "evidence" (e.g., the photo of the door), was all we could use to reach a verdict. Even the mysterious "transcript" that the Defense had repeatedly referred to when asking the victim about the additional abuses was nowhere to be found. Our general discussion of the case took three days.
On the fourth day we got down to business. The consensus was "something had happened": everyone agreed that the defendant had abused the victim to some degree. The question was whether or not we could find him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt on any of the specified counts.
We decided to start with the first, most serious charge, which was also the one with the most details. We took a straw poll, and the vote came out 10-2 Guilty. I had cast one of the two "Not Guilty" votes. The other "Not Guilty" came from the foreman, who said that he wanted to vote "Guilty," but he was worried that we would vote 12-0 Guilty and not discuss the charge any further. That left me to defend the defendant. So, see?: it was just like the movie! Except that, rather than being the hero, I strongly suspected that I was the person sticking up for the serial child abuser.
Still, I did my damnedest to plead my case -- or, rather, the defendant's case, since my heart wasn't really in it. Look (said I), we have no circumstantial evidence whatsoever. How would we possibly convict on that? And wasn't it at least conceivable that the victim was making the story up? Perhaps she had told a little fib and it had snowballed into a colossal lie. Perhaps these were false memories, planted by the police or her therapist or, or ... I dunno, someone. Surely there was, as the Defense kept insisting, reasonable doubt all over the place.
My fellow jurors would have none of it. Yes, they conceded, it was conceivable that she had made the story up. But if we had to find guilt beyond a conceivable doubt, no one would ever go to jail. The question, they reminded me, was reasonability. Is your doubt reasonable, they asked -- that's what matters.
Deadlocked 11-1 on this count, we moved on to others.
Two of the counts we were, as a group, inclined to dismiss. In both cases, the description given to us by the victim (and the Prosecutor) did not meet the technical requirements for the charge. For example, in one it was impossible to say whether any molestation had actually taken place even if you assumed that the events happened exactly as the victim described. We finally came to a consensus that we would not be able to convict on these two.
At this point we broke for lunch. I used my 90 minutes to go to the gym and run on the treadmill, as I tend to do my best thinking while exercising.
I mulled the case over while running, and came to a few conclusions. First, I realized was that reading an entire book on the scientific method just prior to this trial was not one of my better decisions. I am a pretty hardcore skeptic by nature (almost to the point of atheism, although I refer to myself as agnostic), and this particular text had put me in full-on Mr. Spock mode. Second, although I thought I had disabused myself of all my romantic ideas about the law, the truth was that I had not. I still wanted one side or the other to prove their case beyond a shadow of a doubt. I wanted Perry Mason to demonstrate that it was physically impossible for his client to commit the crime; or I wanted the State to overwhelm me with evidence.
But my biggest realization, in regards to the first count, was that my fellow jurors had convinced me that my doubts were unreasonable. Part of me had been resisting this idea, because it seemed like I was "caving in," that I was willing to vote to convict someone just because everyone else did. I wanted to be the hero who talked everyone over to his side, but it finally occurred to me that this only works when the hero is correct. The defendant was guilty, and I knew it, and I had had known it for quite some time, and refusing to vote that way was a sign of stubbornness rather than integrity.
So when we reunited after lunch, I announced that I had reconsidered,
and we were now 12-0 Guilty on the first count. From here it was just a
matter of mopping up. We ultimately found the defendant Guilty on three
counts, Not Guilty on the remaining two. The foreman signed the necessary
papers, rang for the bailiff, and we awaited the return of the judge to
we could announce our decision.
Verdict and Aftermath
An hour after we had come to our decision we were ushered back into the courtroom. I had expected all the participants to be present: the victim, the witnesses, the family, etc. Instead, it was just the judge, bailiff and clerk, the defendant and his wife, the two lawyers, and us.
The foreman had expressed concern that he would have announce our decisions, as they do on tv. As it turned out, that's not how it's done in the Seattle Superior Court. Our verdict was first handed to the bailiff, who gave it to the judge to review. The judge then gave it to the Court Clerk, who first entered it into the records and read it aloud. In a way, I was kind of glad the Clerk read the verdict, as she, of all the people in the courtroom, looked the most distraught during the trial. During the victim's testimony I thought she might break into tears.
The defense attorney asked the judge to "poll the jury". Accordingly, the judge asked each of us, in turn, if the announced verdict was our own. We all answered in the affirmative. Apparently, if any juror suddenly says "What the -?! That's not the verdict I rendered!" during a poll, we all get sent back sort things out. Polling the jury is truly the last ditch effort on the part of a defense.
Having been found guilty on three of the five counts, the defendant was remanded into custody as we filed back to the deliberation room. After a few moments, the bailiff came back and told us we were free to go. She also mentioned that both the Prosecution and defense attorneys would be available to speak to anyone who wanted to explain the verdict. Attorneys often like to talk to jurors to find out what swayed our decision, the bailiff said, but she emphasized that we were under no obligation to discuss the case with them or anyone else. Given the heinousness of the crime, and my dissatisfaction with both the defense and the prosecution, I opted to hightail it out of there. So as soon as we were allowed to leave I hurried to the stairwell, removed my "JUROR" badge, and left the Courthouse as quickly as I could.