Saturday, June 13, 2015

Jury Duty in the Bay State (They finally caught me)

I've managed to avoid serving on a Jury for over twenty years.  I did have to go in for Jury Duty one time for a case in California, but didn't get picked.  Massachusetts works a bit differently. They don't call juries for individual cases, but rather call in a pool of people who are made available to any cases that happen to be in the process of jury selection for that day.  You have to make yourself available for the day for any cases that might call for a jury.  If you get dismissed from one jury, you have to go back to the pool.  There is still a high chance that you'll be called in for another case later that day.  The advantage of this is that you serve for one day in the pool, or if you get picked, you serve for one case.  Once complete, you are off the hook from having to serve for three years.

I was dismissed from the first case of the day.  That case was predicted to have a 4 to 5 day length.  After returning to the jury pool, several of us were called into another case.  That case was for a DUI, and the judge predicted the trial would be complete before the end of the day.

The case was simple enough.  A man was pulled over in the middle of the night for suspicion of driving a vehicle while being impaired by alcohol.  It wasn't a straightforward DUI case.  There was no alcohol blood level evidence presented.  The officer, who was forthrightly doing his duty, did a fine job in identifying a driver who was possibly impaired.  His testimony was based solely on observations of the car for a very brief period of time, a smell of alcohol within the vehicle once he approached, a smell of alcohol on the driver's breath, and somewhat convoluted description of field sobriety tests and results.  The driver passed one test, and technically failed another, though not in a manner that one would expect to rise to the level of being impaired while driving.

There was a lot of repetition of statements and evidence while the trial went on for a few hours. There was evidence that had nothing to do with the case.  There was contradictory evidence presented by the prosecutor.  There was flaws in the evidence that the defense attorney pointed out very well.

In the end, the jury of six people, including myself, came to the conclusion that the evidence did not prove the individual was impaired.  I'm sure the District Attorney's office was a little disappointed by our jury's ruling, but they really didn't make their case.

The big surprize for me was the frankness and approachability of the judge.  He walked his jury through the process from beginning to end, with the full understanding that most of us had no idea how anything worked.  He explained the law well, as well.  After the trial was over, he visited with us one last time to see if there was anything in the process that we felt needed improvement.  None of us could think of anything.  I think we were just grateful to be on a quick in-and-out case that didn't have a lot of evidence to review.  As suggested by the Judge, we were done before the end of the day.

Did I come out of the process with a new found respect for it?  Not really.  I wouldn't mind serving on smaller, one-day cases at some future point. I am just thankful I didn't get tied up with a case that lasts a week.

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