Monday, March 9, 2015

Number 32

For several hours today, I lost my identity and became known as just Number 32.

Several weeks ago, I was summoned for jury duty.  My day to report was today.  After making arrangements with Frank to get home early so he could be home when Matthew got home, I arrived at the Gwinnett County Justice and Administration Center around 7:30 a.m.  We prospective jurors were seated in the assembly room, where we were treated to two large screens that repeatedly scrolled the FAQ's about jury duty, and told us how we were going to get compensated.  Instead of a check, we will get paid with a debit card, and we were informed that "this is NOT junk mail!"

I was first sorted into a pool of 70 people and told to sit in a particular chair.  That was when I received my number, Number 32.  Each of us got a number, and when we were called into the courtroom, that was the way we were referred to.

Before getting called into the courtroom, I sat and I caught up on my Bible lesson for my ladies' group.  Last week, I was sick with a cold and I didn't go, and I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to go tomorrow . . . but just in case I did go, I wanted to have my lesson ready.  So while waiting, I went through the lesson we are doing.

When our group arrived at the courtroom, we swore that we would answer each question truthfully.

The case that was put before us was a child molestation case.  From the names and ages of the defendant and the alleged victim, I suspect that they were a grandfather and granddaughter.  The charges of what the defendant allegedy did to the victim were very specific, down to the parts of the body he touched.  I mentally shuddered.

We were asked a number of questions, such as, "Do you read crime fiction or watch crime shows?" "Have you or anyone you know, or a member of your family, been a victim of a similar crime?" "Have any of you ever served on a jury before?" "Is there anything weighing on your mind that might keep you from paying attention this week?"  "Do you have legal experience?"

If the answer to these questions was "yes", you were to raise your card with your number, and the prosecution and defense attorneys would write down the number.  I do read crime fiction (I just finished a James Patterson book and I watch Criminal Minds and Law and Order, among other shows), I do have legal experience (as a former court reporting student), I have never been a victim of a molestation, and I have served on a jury.  (That trial ended in a mistrial about five minutes after it began.  The bailiff let two jurors out on a bathroom break without asking permission--I was one of the jurors the bailiff let out!)

We were sent out on our lunch break and told to report back to the assembly room at 2 p.m.  I got there at about ten till two.  The original group of 70 was called out 14 at a time.

My group of 14 didn't get called until 4 p.m.

While waiting, I read two books (both a quick read) and watched as the battery on my iPad went down to 17%.  Had my battery died, I would have gotten a magazine from the magazine rack in the assembly room and read that.

When my group of 14 was called, we went to the courtroom by a back way, only to learn that the judge was not in the courtroom.  So we waited in a jury deliberation room.  Several of us took bathroom breaks.  I was the last one, and when I came out . . . the jury had left without me.  The bailiff was waiting.  I apologized, and he said, they were supposed to wait for you and they didn't.

We were each questioned one by one . . . and that's when I discovered that out of 14 people, SIX of them knew someone who had been molested.  Of those six, four of the victims were family members. I was, as the British would say, gobsmacked.  One woman who had a family member molested began to cry.

When my turn came, I was asked to state my name, and thus regained my identity as Tina and not as Number 32.

The prosecutor asked about my jury service, and then he asked, what's weighing on your mind?  I said, I have a teenage son with autism, he gets home at a certain time and he has to be met by an adult.  My husband was able to arrange time off of work, but we only have one car, he has to use public transportation, and I'm concerned about something happening with the transportation.

The defense attorney did not question me.

Previously, a physician who was an epidemiologist said that he had a friend who'd been molested and that she was "really messed up".  They GRILLED him.  They asked him about DNA evidence, could he make a decision without DNA evidence (which leads me to believe that they don't have DNA in this case), could he separate what happened to his friend from this case, etc.

After an hour, we were told we could leave. I told the court reporter on the way out that I was an ex-student and that I admired what she did.

It was about 15 minutes later, back in the assembly room, that my name was called, along with several others--including the physician and the woman who cried--and we were all told that we were excused and that we did not have to come back.

I, and my sore feet, were relieved.  I wore a "dressy" dress which needed "dressy" shoes . . . and those "dressy" shoes hurt my feet and gave my heels blisters.

When I got home, Frank fed me dinner, gave me a foot rub, and filled up a basin with water so I could soak my feet.  I am still soaking my feet as I write this.

Jury duty can be inconvenient.  It consists of long periods of waiting punctuated by walking, by being quizzed, and more waiting.  And being referred to by a number instead of a name can come across as slightly dehumanizing.  (Efficient, but dehumanizing.)

But had I been chosen, I, Number 32 in the jury pool, would have done my very best to listen to the evidence with an open mind, apply the law to the facts of the case, and return a fair and just verdict.

Because everyone is entitled under the Constitution to a trial by the jury of their peers.

Inconvenience, waiting, and being called by Number 32 are worth it.

Just my .04, adjusted for inflation.

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