I showed up for Jury Duty today at the criminal courthouse in Downtown LA. I’m completely filled with a sense of civic pride and good old-fashioned patriotism. As I mentioned yesterday, I think that serving on a jury is one of the major duties of a citizen, right up there with paying taxes. (Pop quiz: can you name 3 rights and 3 duties as a citizen? Something we do every November is both a right and a duty.)
Juror Waiting Room
After going through some airport-like metal detectors, I rode a packed elevator up to the 11th floor and reported to room 302. When I walked in, José (the Juror Waiting Room Guy) was in the middle of giving instructions to people who would like to get postponed from serving due to some upcoming vacation. About 50 people flooded out of the room, so I took one of the empty seats.
A judge came into the room and told us what an important job we were about to do, thanked all of us for being such devoted citizens, about how the system relied on our participation, etcetera.
The Juror Waiting Room Guy then showed the 200 or so of us a couple of videos which explained what Jury Duty was all about, described what happens in a criminal case, and even covered some administrative stuff. I learned that we’ll get paid a whopping $15 a day + 15 cents a mile (one way) for transportation. I also learned that they need something like 1,000 jurors each day for duty, but the term of service is usually less than 7 days. I think my employer pays for 10 days.
José took about 15 minutes of questions. People asked everything from “What happens if I run my own business and it’s a financial hardship?” to “Do we need permission to use the restroom?” to “Do you know if there are any phone jacks in this room so we can dial out for Internet access?”
We got a 20-minute break. I got a cup of coffee, an egg salad sandwich, and a pack of cinnamon hard candies. I read a little bit of my PC Magazine, then headed back to the room. They called a bunch of names for Panel 1, but mine wasn’t on the list. Then they called a bunch more names (I don’t know what for, maybe those folks had some hardship so they were excused?) and again I didn’t hear my name. Ariella called my cellphone and we had a brief chat. She mentioned that United Airlines filed for Chapter 11.
Assigned to Courtroom
About halfway through the list of names for Panel 2, I heard “Michael Radwin”. Whoo-hoo! I wasn’t going to have to wait around in the mind-numbing Jury Waiting Room all day! We were told to report to Floor 9, room 105. I seemed to recall from José’s instructions that this was the maximum security floor and that we’d need to go through a second set of metal detectors.
Sure enough, Floor 9 was for the Accused Really Bad Guys. We went through the metal detectors, and then waited in front of room 105 (lots of waiting when you’re serving jury duty). The court clerk took another roll call. We filed into the courtroom, the judge and attorneys introduced themselves, and then they started putting people in the jury box by calling out the last 4 digits of our juror id numbers (printed on our big red juror badges). I was assigned to seat number 15. About 25 of a total of about 45 prospective jurors were seated in the box. Once we were seated in the box, the judge read the charges out loud: felony kidnapping and something to do with discharging a firearm. He also noted that the case was expected to last until December 20th (but could finish as early as Tuesday or Wednesday of next week).
It was almost noon at this point, so the judge declared a lunch recess until 1:30pm. I haven’t been on foot in Downtown since the LA Marathon a couple of years ago, so this was an opportunity for a 90-minute tourist trip. I went a couple of blocks away to the food court at the Los Angeles Mall and got a veggie burrito and a medium Horchata. I haven’t had Horchata in 2 years. Delicious! After lunch, I walked over to the recently-built Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels and took a look around inside. They were doing Mass, so I tiptoed around the perimeter. I heard somewhere that this church was built to last 500 years. Sure looks it. It’s a pretty plain concrete exterior and interior, but the thing looks totally solid.
I returned to room 9-105 (after a couple of more trips through metal detectors, another crowded elevator, and roll call) and took seat number 15. The judge spent the next hour asking jurors various questions about close relatives who work in the legal profession (civil & criminal attorneys, judges, police officers, corrections officers, etc.) and if they thought that if those relationships (or whatever we know about the penal system from them) would cause any bias in this particular case. He also asked about any prior experiences with the law (“Have you ever been a victim of a crime?” or “Have you ever been arrested?”) Of the 25 of of us in the jury box, about 15 answered yes to one or more of the questions, and the judge asked some follow-up questions. Up to this point, I didn’t have anything to say, so I kept quiet.
Next, each of the 25 potential-jurors were asked to state:
- City of Residence (and neighborhood if you live in LA proper)
- Marital Status (plus Spouse or ex-Spouse’s Occupation)
- Number of Adult Children (and their Occupations, and their Spouses’ Occupations, if any)
- Prior Experience Serving on a Jury (Civil or Criminal)
Finally, I got a chance to speak. My answers:
- Software Engineer
- Beverly Hills
- Married (Graduate Student)
- No Children
- No Prior Experience Serving on a Jury
The judge only asked me one question: “What is your wife’s field of study?” I answered “Near Eastern Languages and Cultures.” I should’ve answered “Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, Your Honor,” but I didn’t remember to throw that in there. Nobody seemed to notice.
After all 25 folks answered these five basic questions, the prosecutor and defense attorney then got an opportunity to ask prospective jurors some more questions about potential bias. I didn’t get asked any questions. Both attorneys waived their rights to excuse for cause. The attorneys then took turns issuing peremptory challenges, reducing the jury pool to 12. I moved into seat number 4.
The clerk called out another thirteen juror id numbers, bringing the number of folks in the box back up to 25 (and reducing the number of potential jurors in the “audience” section of the courtroom down to about 7). At this point, the judge dismissed us for the day, and we’re supposed to be back in court at 10am.
That was it. No opening arguments, no evidence, no testimony. Just jury selection. Apparently this part often takes more than one day.
Tomorrow, I plan to take the MTA Bus instead of driving.