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marthawells

Martha Wells

My Flying Lizard Circus


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marthawells

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Today I had jury duty in municipal court. In the past, I've served on one criminal jury (Assault with a deadly weapon -- a guy was trying to kill another guy and ended up accidentally shooting a baby. The baby survived because the top pediatric trauma surgeon in the state happened to be hanging out at the local hospital that night), got booted off a traffic court jury for cause (Go me), and apparently reacted so visibly to the charge in a criminal court voir dire that in the reshuffle, I got moved from the front row of the seating section to a folding chair in the doorway. The defense attorney didn't nudge me out the door with his foot, but I think he wanted to.

Traffic court and municipal court (where you're just deciding whether or not someone's going to pay their fine) are much less tense than criminal court. For instance, instead of calling the court to order, the judge just wandered in with a cup of coffee and said we might as well get started. And at one point they had to stop to hold a wedding. (I figured the people out in the waiting room with the bouquet of flowers were not there waiting for a Class C Misdemeanor trial.) They have streamlined the process in this county so that all the jury exemptions are done ahead of time, which saves about two hours in the courtroom, which is very nice. They were doing five misdemeanor trials in one day, and only one guy had bothered to bring a lawyer. They were all minor things, going the wrong way on a one way street, not stopping for a stop sign, public intoxication, and disorderly conduct (having a fight in public) (it was the fighting guy who had brought a lawyer).

They made it clear right off that 99% of us were going to be on a jury, today, and that was that, including the people who waited until the last moment to come in, hoping the thing would happen where they don't have enough chairs and they just let the extra people go. Oh no, there were plenty of chairs. (Extinguishing the hope of escape actually takes a lot of the anxiety out of the process.)

The beginning part went very quickly, until the defense lawyer decided to go through the same explanation of burden of proof etc which they do in criminal court, and which takes longer than the actual misdemeanor trials do. (Though I think he was instrumental in getting a guy booted for cause, who seemed to think the idea that somebody might be innocent of a traffic violation was crazy. I was really glad they booted him, because I sure did not want to be on a jury with him.) Then we got assigned to trials, and my group got released to go have lunch while the first two trials were going on.

I got back for the end of the second trial, where the guy was defending himself from the charge of going the wrong way down a one way street. His defense was that it was dark, and it was a mistake, and he didn't know what the solid yellow line meant, and he didn't see all the signs. Yeah, everybody but him knew that wasn't going to cut it. (We got to sit in the audience section with our defendant, who looked increasingly nervous. I guess his defense was equally lame.)

Then they finished and sent the jury out to deliberate, and the judge chatted with us about how everything was delayed, including the wedding, because the first jury took an hour and a half debating the legality of breathalyzers in a case that did not in any way feature a breathalyzer. He had to threaten to call it a mistrial, and when they actually discussed the actual case, it took them two minutes to come to a verdict.

Literally, by the time he had finished telling this story, the other jury had come to a verdict. (Guilty, fine of $1.00, plus $120 court costs.) Then it was our turn! (This is exciting, because by this point, you want to be on the jury. Earlier you were all in a huddle as far as from the jury box as possible, complaining pitifully about the small number of bathrooms, parking spots, and no snack machine, and now you're all eager to get up there. It's like Stockholm Syndrome.)

Except then we had to stop for the wedding. During the wedding, the DA took our defendant outside and offered him a plea bargain, twenty-five hours of community service at the YMCA for a plea of no contest. He took it, and looked very relieved and happy, and we got to go home early.

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I'd better not say anything for fear of accumulating jury karma...

Heh. Since I moved out of the "interesting" neighborhood, I haven't been called for jury duty once. I think I got called 4 times in 2 years in my old neighborhood. (Mutters about numbers of registered voters in certain areas...)

I'm in the jury pool for petit juror this month, so sooner or later I'll trot on down to the county courthouse and see what happens. I've made it as far as the voir dire one time, and last year the guy finally plead guilty the night before the trial (thankfully--it was a murder case and I really didn't want to deal with icky photos). For me municipal court is more of a hassle since it isn't walking distance. Yep, Civic Duty can be interesting or boring--just the luck of the draw

Interestingly, I haven't been called once since I moved to my current East Austin neighborhood. Got called a few times before that. Not sure it means anything; isn't is supposed to be random?

In Brazos County, they pull from a database they get from the DMV, and not the voter registration polls.

For us it is the voter rolls--if it were the DMV I'd never get called since I don't drive (unless they also use the "state ID" records, too). Either way, I'm just hoping whenever I'm called for duty it isn't Thanksgiving week

I haven't got called in about 15 years now. The first time was in New Mexico, I got excused because I was leaving for vacation the next week plus I looked like management because I wore a tie to court (case was against Los Alamos National Lab where I also worked); the second time was in Michigan, I watched the video all the jurors had to watch, then sat around for two hours until the judges came in and explained that most of the parties had decided to plead guilty, a bench warrant was issued for one person and the other cases were postponed because a judge was sick. So I still haven't served. My mother was called a number of times but was excused because she is very hard of hearing; one time a judge questioned her first before dismissing her.

(Extinguishing the hope of escape actually takes a lot of the anxiety out of the process.)

Indeed. Once I realized I wasn't going to be allowed to give my "my boss needs me at work!" excuse and no one else was either, it got a lot easier. And then when I realized they were just going to be using a lottery to pick us...! (Federal grand juries are definitely chosen differently.)

That is kind of the best story ever.

Does that "go me" mean you did something on purpose to get booted off the traffic court jury, or that it was just marvelously convenient? My boyfriend would also like to know for future reference whether it means you were actually picked for the jury and then kicked out later ... He's interested in learning that technique. ;)

The only time you can get released for cause is when you're still in the jury pool, before you get chosen for the jury. I don't recommend doing anything deliberately to get kicked off the jury after you've been chosen; you could end up paying a contempt of court fine. :)

During the voir dire in traffic court, they asked about our opinion on how effectively the police responded to noise complaints, and I said not effectively at all, so the DA didn't want me on the jury.

You can tell I've never done jury duty, or I wouldn't be asking silly questions. ;) It sounds like I'd probably get kicked out anyway due to some opinion or other. Pity ... It sounds like it'd be interesting to do it at least once.

Jury duty is fun. But in my entire immediate family, only my dad and I have ever been called. I never sat - plea bargain on the morning the trial was supposed to start. But my dad did two juries where they found the defendent not guilty in both. In one of those cases, the judge reamed out the police in court.

But I work for an insurance company which will exclude me from a lot of civil cases. I've already had that experience in a federal thing. Filled out the questionaire, never got called to even go in.

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