Heather O’Connor is a 3L. After a seven year marriage and three kids, Heather went through a divorce that left her questioning what to do with her life. She decided to become an attorney and has never looked back since beginning the long journey. She entered a local community college after...
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Jury Duty Calls
Since the day I turned 18, I couldn’t wait to be called for Jury Duty. In 1999, the day finally came. I received my little Juror’s Card in the mail informing me I had been selected to serve. I felt as though I had just won the lottery! I had been SELECTED!!! (No calling me dork or any of the other names you’re thinking in your head right now.) There was one problem though. The date I was scheduled to serve was very soon after my second child’s due date. I could have checked that little box that claimed I wanted to reschedule, but nope, I was finally getting my chance. There was no way I was going to wait longer. Needless to say, I showed up at the Brockton District Court two weeks after my son was born to perform my civic duty to my country. I got picked to be on the jury, and the case was a traffic violation with a driver that pulled over a little too slowly. I was sooo happy. But this elation suddenly went sour when my post-pregnancy body decided I had separated myself from my nursing infant a little too soon. I won’t go into much detail, but will only say that after a lot of pain and modeling a completely drenched shirt, the case got dismissed because the prosecutor forgot to mention in his direct that the defendant was pulled over on a public road (which was an element of the charge). Slightly disappointing.
Then over this last summer, my name was called again. Not so excited this time though since law school keeps you fairly busy and it’s very hard to work a day of jury duty into a law student’s schedule. But it was my duty to go, right? Either that, or there was this part of me that was excited to have the opportunity to do this again, minus the post-pregnancy side effects. I filled out my, “I will be there with bells on” card and mailed it in.
After the first week of classes and beginning Trial Advocacy (all about going through a trial as well as the little strategies you can use to get a jury to believe you more than your enemy – I mean opposing counsel). Now, I wasn’t so much excited about serving and just seeing a trial, but also because I wanted to really watch the lawyers and see all this expertise put to work in the real world. I showed up at 7:45am because the card said to be there by 8. The card failed to mention that they really meant be there at 8 because the courthouse doesn’t open until 8:05. Luckily, it was a pretty nice day. However, being the type of person that could be freezing in a burning building, I chose to stand inside the little lobby with the sign reading, “Only three people allowed in here at a time.”
As more jurors arrived, everyone started talking. This was in no way caused by me and my curiosity to see what people thought about being here for jury duty with the idea in the back of my head I would be writing about it later. Nope, not guilty here.
The first person there, besides myself, was this older lady who was very concerned about missing a day of work. She was self-employed so she would just lose money if she had to be in court all day. She had nothing good to say about serving as a juror. The second person was a gentleman who quickly introduced himself as a lawyer, which granted him “a ticket out of here.” The next person to show up was a very opinionated and not quiet woman. A local Fall River resident. She kept talking about how serving on a jury meant we were free. That and she’d much rather be on this side of the law than the other side. More and more people crammed into the room until there were about 14 of us jammed into this small entrance. Two more people joined us. I noticed them because they had pajama pants on. Not like the kind you can wear out because they look a little like workout pants, but legit pajama pants with the sleeping bears and the stars and the moon and everything. Definitely raised an eyebrow.
Another women stormed by all us stragglers and entered the lobby which was beyond our reach at the moment. (It was still before 8) One of the pajama girls said, “Ohhh – don’t mess with her. She’s mean.” The lawyer turned his head to listen in. She continued, “She’s a parole officer and she’s strict, real strict. I mean, really nice, but if you mess up she’s down your throat. Can’t mess up with her or she’s all over you.” Lawyer turned back to his paper as he commented under his breath, “Isn’t that how it should be?” A nice lady spoke up, “Well, you’d imagine with this job she’d have to be strict or people would walk all over her.” Pajama girl, who I also noticed was wearing bunny slippers kept talking about her and asking her friend if that was her parole officer too. I crossed her off the list as being a fellow juror.
Finally, the security guard gave us the go ahead to proceed through the metal detector. Lawyer went first. He went to walk straight through, but security guard told him he needed to go through the detector. Lawyer humphed and argued, “But I’m a lawyer. I’m in this court every day.” Security guard looked a little shocked (don’t think he had really ever seen the lawyer before today), and replied, “But today you’re a juror, just like everyone else. Don’t forget to take off your belt.” Lawyer continued to argue that he didn’t look like a person that would be carrying a gun. Security guard, obviously aggravated at this point shot back, “Neither did the 72 year old lady I pulled one off of last week.” I’m not sure if he was serious or not. I don’t think I want to picture 72 year old little ladies walking around Fall River packing, so I guess I don’t want to know the answer. Weird.
Once everyone was upstairs, I, being the good little law student I am, pulled out my laptop and started working on homework. This of course brought questions and soon everyone was talking about how they know someone who is in law school, is a lawyer, or works in the court system. Then I realized there was no coffee or donuts. Jipped!!! When I served in Brockton, they had a whole little lay out for the jurors. My stomach growled and I wished I hadn’t skipped breakfast.
We were all called pretty quickly for the first trial. We were brought into the courtroom and watched a video of Chief Justice Marshall of the Massachusetts Supreme Court tell us how important our job here today was. The lady next to me was sleeping. Brought back memories of the sleeping juror case. I wanted to poke her, but held myself together. When the video ended, a lawyer walked in the courtroom, hung up his coat, organized all his papers on the table, and sat down. Everyone was watching him. I thought about what Professor Lucciola said, “When you’re on trial, you’re on trial from the minute you wake up until after the jury announces the verdict. You need to act like you’re being watched at all times by the jury and they’re deciding if they’re going to trust you.” This guy wasn’t a very good actor, even though we were all right there staring him down. Then the clerk walked in and realized he was sitting there. She quickly scolded him and he scurried away. While she was standing in the hallway talking to a security guard, we overheard her say, “Well, there goes that trial! He was just sitting in there in front of the jury. He knows better.” Of course this brought laughs and taunts from the jury about how they wouldn’t hire him as a lawyer.
Then the judge came in and we did our whole jury oath. The attorneys came back in and the juror selection process began. (The judge must not have thought it as big a deal as the clerk since the mistaken attorney was the defendant’s counsel.) Seven people were selected and took their seats in the jury box after their numbers were randomly called. The attorneys then introduced themselves to the jury. When defense counsel made his introduction, he placed his hand on the defendant’s shoulder, giving it a little squeeze as he announced, “this is my client.” I found this a little strange – it could have either been a way to try to present the defendant in a friendly fashion, or it could have been a slight show of encouragement to the defendant who is probably sitting there terrified of going to jail. It looked more like a welcoming move though, like a “great job you made it” type of squeeze – I don’t think I’ll do that in trial.
The judge announced the charge in this case was against a husband being accused of assault and battery against his wife, his brother, and his sister-in-law, as well as a violation of a restraining order. I knew right then I would be going home without serving. They asked if anyone was or knew a victim of a crime of assault and battery or a domestic violence charge. About 8 people raised their numbers to be recorded. The judge then asked if anyone felt their experiences would cause them to be impartial. Two people raised their cards. Granted they were honest, which is good because you don’t want someone serving as a juror who won’t give the defendant a fair shake at being innocent, but at the same time, it amazes me that people can become so biased against something that they will not be able to look past it. Here, the two women who raised their hand later stated that it didn’t matter, they would have found him guilty no matter what. I can see admitting you may have a bias against a certain subject matter, but to say without hearing any of the facts in the case that no matter what, you would find this person guilty is beyond me.
About five jurors were challenged at side bar. I was straining to hear what was going on, but could only make out bits and pieces of the conversations. Finally, they decided on the jury to be picked (the lady who definitely did not want to serve was up there – I felt a little bad), and the rest of us were sent back to what they called, “the holding area.” Way to make us feel like we were in jail. In the hallway, the security officer shouted to the many people waiting there, “Jurors coming through. Make way.” Another strange experience. I wasn’t sure whether to look around or just keep my eyes on the ground. We then all sat in the room for another three hours. People were getting restless. One guy kept talking about finding the security officer to see what was going on. Everyone had to keep reminding him that if he left, he wouldn’t complete his jury duty and would be reentered into the pool. Finally, the security guard came in and told us we could go. And that was that. My civic duty was complete. Another let down. Back to real life and off to catch my 12:45 class.