It begins, of course with the summons in blue ink, I looked at the suggested date and said “no way I’m serving then”, it was the day before I was flying off on vacation. Massachusetts has a great system where, if the date they suggest doesn’t work, you can suggest another. I chose the Friday before Labor Day, after all, who would start a trial then? I could sit for a few hours, then go into the office, and they would probably close early for the long weekend. Didn’t work, the Jury Commissioner knows that plot and sent another summons proposing a different date, Tuesday after Labor Day.
Labor Day transforms Boston, we move from the depopulated season when all the students have fled (and many of the teachers) to The Big Move, when Hertz trucks are triple parked, and every block shows three guys carrying a couch.
Tuesday I got in a nice run, and got myself to the bus stop by 7:30 – this is cutting it close to be downtown by 8, but experience told me these things kick off slowly.
In my wonderful small town that is part of Boston, it is unusual to be outside and not see someone you know, and today fulfilled that. Ashley pulled over next to the bus stop to mail a letter. She has the most welcoming of smiles in the world, and is a kindergarten teacher; the teacher who makes you wish you were starting kindergarten. She offered me a ride to Forest Hills (the subway station). We discussed the excitement and fear of the start of a school year. I wished for red lights so I could spend longer with her.
Yes, I was a few minutes late, but, the line outside the jury room was still being processed, I joined it, and realized I had, of course ,forgotten my juror questionnaire. I left the line, grabbed one and filled it out while waiting.
You hear a lot of theories about how to answer the questions so that you will be excused from jury duty. Most of the questions are yes/no, and not open for fudging, but there is a nice open ended one – “is there anything else in your background, experience, employment, training, education, knowledge or beliefs that might affect your ability to be a fair and impartial juror?” Well, some people say to state you are a racist, to state that you don’t believe the Commonwealth should have the right to detain citizens ever… the list goes on. If your overall goal is to be relieved of jury duty, these answers seem transparent, and probably don’t fool anyone.
But, I would want myself on a jury. If I ever needed a jury trial I wouldn’t want the old joke of “12 people too dumb to get out of jury duty”, so I didn’t try any of those.
We gather in a big room, feels sort of like the assembly hall at high school, but with nice windows and a good view. I am lucky to find a seat near an outlet, and set up shop with a plugged in laptop, a cell phone, two insurance text books, and a Kindle , How much technology can one woman carry? What? No Wi-Fi? How am I supposed to sit here bored for a few hours if I can’t check my e-mail? Fortunately, I have a big project, and can always check mail on my phone.
The room is oddly quiet, there are about 300 people who don’t know each other, and probably will never see each other again. No coffee is allowed in the big room, it rustles with newspapers and the buzz of too loud IPods, but no chatter.
Finally the Court Officer gets up to the podium. He exudes the bored style of a flight attendant giving safety briefings. He’s done this announcement a thousand times, and knows no one listens. I’m the one who always does listen to the safety briefing (and feels for my life vest, and counts the rows to the nearest exit), so I close my laptop and listen. His English is perfect, but accented, he’s reading, but the rhythm of the words is his. He loves the word “jurors”, about every sentence includes it “and jurors, you will have a break at 11 AM, at which time jurors, you may leave the building”. I realize halfway through his talk I should have started counting that word. Then, he rolls the film.
The movie is pretty well done, it explains the process, what a jury is, and has testimonials from jurors who are happy they have served. Interesting history , women couldn’t serve on juries in Massachusetts until 1950, women were being elected mayor before they could serve on juries.
After the movie, the court officer tells all the men to remove hats, and everyone to turn off phones, close laptops, and put away reading material (uses the word “juror” six times in that instruction). Then for the first of many times in the coming days, we hear “all rise”, we all do.
The judge’s talk is inspirational. She begins with talking about why we rise, and notes, that, as empanelled jurors, all will rise when we enter a court room, that this is a sign of respect for the process.
When I was in elementary school the process of rising when teachers entered a room was going out, school and parents were fighting this, but it was the 70’s. Some of this rising business stuck (along with saying “thank you” as I leave an elevator). I have an impulse to stand when people enter the room, I’ve found this makes many people uncomfortable, so, I raise my head, and make firm eye contact. It’s not just to give the message,” you have my attention”, the change in posture actually creates the attention, I t gives me, the opportunity to fully attend.
After the judges talk, the eerie silence returns, interrupted by calls for numbers. I have number 212, no way I’m seeing the inside of a courtroom. I plug away at writing lesson plans for a course in Commercial Liability insurance I’m supposed to start teaching in two weeks.
The numbers are getting higher, they’ve just passed 100, they won’t need another 112. I’m surprised to hear 200 passed, and then “Jurors 206 to 220, please gather all your belongings, and come to the front, Jurors 206 to 220”. It takes me a few minutes to curl up my power cords, close my books and fit everything into my briefcase, the court officer is checking off the numbers by the time I get to the line, and we are squeezed into an elevator.
The court room is beautiful. It’s art deco, with floor to ceiling wood panels, and lots of light from big windows. Two attorneys in pink blazers sit at the tables, a guy in a blue shirt, and lots of people I vaguely recognize from the jury pool. The bailiff encourages us “make friends, sit close, there are going to be a lot of you. The court reporter and the clerk are chatting about lunch, a few more elevator loads arrive, and then, another “all rise”. The Honorable Bonnie MacLeod takes the bench. She summarizes the case.
“On January 23, 1982 John gave a 13 year old girl a ride, hit her over the head with a rock, tied her up and raped her” The story goes on from there. My navel pulls firmly back to my spine, sending a painful reflux up my esophagus.
I hear facts read in a calm judicial voice. “These facts are not disputed, the question the jury will contemplate is whether John is, today, a sexually dangerous person”. How can we possibly decide that? Isn’t that what we have psychologists for? And, how can anyone who does something which makes me feel so sick get a fair trial? But, how can we permit psychologists to be the ones who determine freedom? The potential for abuse is clear.
I really don’t know if I can serve on this jury, but the ambivalence with which my thoughts have jumped during this presentation shows me that I haven’t made up my mind. Don’t I owe the judicial system that open mind?
Another set of questionnaires is distributed. This one is easy to see how to get out of the case. “Do you believe someone who has committed sexual violence can be reformed?” “Yes, no, I don’t know”. If you want out, check “no”. I check “I don’t know”.
Judge MacLeod cautions us not to discuss it, and sends us off to another court room pressed into service as a waiting room. The silence returns, numbers are called, we go to lunch, numbers are called, we’re down from about 100 to 14 in the room, Finally “Jurors 200 to 212 come with me, that leaves two o f you here, why don’t you come too, there are only 12 chairs is that ok?” We line up in order in chairs in the corridor outside Judge MacLeod’s court room. Juror 200 is called into the court room, the door closes, and a minute later she leaves and goes down the corridor. The same occurs with the next ten . We move up a chair with each number.
My number comes, and I sit at a table with the judge, the attorneys, and John. I hope this is the closest I have ever sat to a rapist. Judge MacLeod begins “I am sure you figured out that the key question is ‘Do you believe someone who has committed sexual violence can be reformed?’ You checked “I don’t know”, can you tell me more about that?” Her tone is sort of social worker, her eye contact is strong, She wants to hear me talk.
“I would like to live in a world where rehabilitation is possible”. I realize I am about to talk about universal salvation, and stop myself. Not that this audience would think I am nuts, but I don’t want to waste their time. “But, I don’t know enough psychology to know if it is”.
“Do you think you can fairly listen to testimony and evaluate this case?” Again, the penetrating eye contact, this is someone I want to please.
“I can do my best” I feel like a Girl Scout, not that there is anything wrong with that.
“That is all we can ask”
That’s enough to earn me the position of Juror Nine. I’m the last one picked that day. After a strong admonition to not discuss, not research, and do our best to not contemplate we are dismissed until noon the next day.
Next post – the mysterious Juror One!