Jury duty was mostly boring and a little chilly because the 28 of us sat for nearly three hours in a drafty room before anything happened. I was prepared for boredom and a long day—I brought both my Kindle and my lunch.
We were on tap to serve on one of three cases; by 10, one of the cases had been resolved short of a trial (exact words from the Officer of the Court). Around 11, we were taken upstairs to a court room to be empaneled for a criminal case.
The empanelment process is pretty simple: the judge asks a series of questions, some of which are specific to the nature of the charges involved and some are just basic questions about things like innocent until proven guilty, or the burden of proof being on the prosecutor. If you need to answer yes to any of the questions, you raise your little juror tag which has your number on it (mine was 29—there were a fair number of no shows and the numbers actually went all the way up to 46).
This trial involved some sort of vehicular misdeed although not homicide. I felt a little sad for the defendant because he wasn’t dressed very well at all, so I’d guess he didn’t have money for a really sharp attorney, and his (probably court appointed) attorney was older than Moses. I could have served on that jury and been fair about everything. But my number wasn’t called, I think the highest number called for that case was 23.
We all trudged back down to the jury pool room and waited some more. We got called back upstairs for a second criminal trial around 12:45. Keep in mind we hadn’t been given our lunch break yet either, so people were getting hungry, grumpy and chatty. I was really glad I’d brought my lunch and I wolfed down my PB&J right before we went upstairs for the second time. Good thing too, since that empanelment took over an hour.
This second case was different, at least for me. The defendant had been arrested for loud and disorderly behavior in her home, keeping a disruptive home and resisting arrest. The question that got me had to do with whether or not I could be fair to the defendant given the nature of the charges. In all honesty, no I couldn’t. We live beneath loud, obnoxious people who are never bad enough to cross the line into a police call but who negatively affect the quality of life here.
I was called to the side bar and asked about my answer to that question. I told the judge, the assistant DA and the defense attorney that I wished I could be fair to the defendant but in complete honesty, I wasn’t sure that I could.
I felt sorry for that second defendant too. You’ve seen her before, she’s the one with brassy blonde hair and horribly dark roots, smokes cheap cigarettes, wears jeans from the 80s, and lives in a trailer in a bad section of town (or she would if there were trailer parks in Boston). She’s probably never gotten a break in her life, people have probably always been crappy to her, and she is one angry woman. Something happened, something snapped and now she’s looking at jail time. And I still didn’t think I could be fair to her.
There were 21 of us for that second empanelment. The judge wanted a jury of eight but had to settle for six. For one reason or another, 15 of us didn’t think we could serve on that jury. Sure, at least one guy was saying anything at all to get excused (seriously he held his card up for every question—jerk), but most of us had given just one reason.
On the T ride home, I realized it’s probably a lot tougher to seat a jury for cases like that. Chances are good most people in Boston have lived near a really loud obnoxious neighbor who made things miserable. That's part of what happens with this kind of urban density.