Jury Duty, Part 5: A typical day

In which I describe a typical day of jury duty

I’ve written a lot of specifics so far, but thought it might be worth describing a typical day of actually sitting on jury duty.

There are 3 defendants, each represented by a public defender. One defendant has an extra, private sector lawyer who was called in on special circumstances…whatever that means.

We (the 15 members of the jury [12 main jurors, 3 alternates]) need to be assembled in the jury room by 9:30 on days that we have court. This means I need to leave the house by 8:30 to get on the 8:45 bus to Oakland, and then walk half a mile to the courthouse.

The jury room is a small room about the size of a modest bedroom with a conference table, a mini-fridge, a coat rack, a water cooler, and a men’s and women’s bathroom attached. The whole building reminds me of an aged middle school.

Once all 15 of us are here or at 9:30 (whichever comes first; our group is punctual and we’ve never actually been late), we buzz down to the bailiff with a little piezoelectric buzzer; one buzz from us tells him that we are assembled and ready to enter the court room. He buzzes us back once to confirm receipt and we wait.

In typical government fashion, we end up waiting around for another 15-20 minutes. Our jury room is on floor 6, the courtroom is on floor 5. There is a private stairwell that connect the two. Every so often the guard will shut our jury room door and there will be shuffling around outside in the hallway.

There is a sign on the door telling us in no uncertain terms that we are not to open the door until a guard opens it for us. It repeats this several times.

There is an elevator that is used to transport inmates from the basement to floor 6, at which point they are sent downstairs via the same stairwell that we use.

Once the inmates (or defendants or whatever, but in this case they are currently inmates) are seated in the courtroom, the bailiff will buzz us twice. This signals to us that they are ready. The guard opens the door to the stairwell, we line up in order of our juror numbers (I am #5) and walk down the stairs into the courtroom.

The defendants remain seated, but all lawyers (both the DA and the 4 defense attorneys) stand whenever we enter or exit the room.

We take our seats in the juror box, which are actually pretty nice chairs. I’ve seen into the other courtrooms, and their chairs are shitty wooden contraptions that I would not be able to tolerate for long.

Once we are seated, the bailiff will close the door, the sound of which is a signal for the judge to enter the room. The judge enters and walks to his chair, and the bailiff announces “Please remain seated and come to order, district 7 is now in session.” This differs from TV I guess, because I always thought that they said “All rise and come to order for blah blah blah.”

The judge says good morning to us and we continue the trial. A typical day he will instruct whatever lawyer last spoke to continue with their (cross or direct) examination of the witness, if one is on the stand. If no witness is on the stand currently, the judge tells the DA to call her next witness, who she gets from the witness room in the hall.

The DA will question the witness, sometimes at great length. Often the defense will raise objections to her questions.

The judge will either sustain or overrule the objections; sustain means ‘either the witness should not answer or the answer should be stricken from the record’ and overruled means ‘witness can answer or the answer can remain in the record.’

Once the DA is done questioning the witness, each defense lawyer gets the chance to cross examine. The same question and answer process, complete with objections from the DA, will take place.

Usually around 10:30 or so we’ll take a recess, the jury will be sent upstairs and told to buzz again in 15 minutes. Most of us will just hang out and play with our phones, but some will go smoke or get coffee downstairs.

There are some reading materials in the jury rooms: a huge pile of magazines. I rifled through them the first week I was there, and the oldest one that I could find was from 1994. I should have kept it as an antique.

I actually wondered how this collection showed up here, but not long after this thing started one of the other jurors brought in a stack of magazines from her house and put them in the pile; I guess it’s just a dumping ground for magazines jurors don’t want anymore.

15 minutes later we go through the same ‘buzz the buzzer’ dog and pony show and wait for them to summon us. We’ll go back down and hear testimony until the lunch break, which is usually at noon sharp.

For lunch I almost always go to the deli down the street, get a sandwich and some chips, bring them back to the courthouse, and hide out in the jury duty room (the one where we watched the inspiring video about jury duty) with my computer to try to get some work done.

After lunch it all starts again; we’re called down, the witnesses continue being questioned by whoever was examining them when the lunch recess started.

Around 2:15 or so, we get a second 15 minute recess in the second half of the day, which goes much like the first one: we’re dismissed, we go upstairs, we hang out, we get buzzed back down, etc.

Almost without fail, someone will make a “We’re in the home stretch now” comment as we file back down into the courtroom.

Once the witness has been questioned by the DA and all 3 defense lawyers, the judges asks the DA if she’d like to re-direct the witness based on anything that came up in the cross examination; if she does, it starts the whole round of questions again. If not, the witness is dismissed, usually with the caveat that they can be recalled if necessary.

Because I have problems sitting still, I have started taking 256 of my buckyballs into the courtroom with me. They let me fidget with something while still paying attention to what is going on; I actually managed to wear the set out. There are chips on them and they don’t move as freely anymore. Small price to pay to keep my sanity during the trial, I figure. Better than using twitter or facebook, which apparently is a thing people do even though we’re specifically told to turn our phones off when we sit down for the day.

Sometimes it seems like the judge plays the part of a referee in a sports game. The defense attorneys can get quite confrontational during parts of the trial, and the judge will often have to calm them down.

It’s really weird to see the lawyers interact inside and outside of the courtroom. When one is questioning a witness, they are dicks to each other; sometimes they go so far as to sigh loudly and shake their heads. Even the lawyers for the 3 separate defendants will do this to each other. Then outside of court, I’ve seen them palling around and being nice and civil with each other.


The Jury Duty Saga