So the week after Bouchercon I had jury duty.
The way it works here in Los Angeles, you call in the night before, punch in your juror number, and you’re told if you need to report the next day. If you go all week without being called in, you’re off the hook until the next time you get a summons.
But what about if you’re called in? Well, you’re now in what’s called the 1 Day/1 Trial system.
What’s that mean? It means you don’t get put on a jury that day you come in, you’re done for at least a year. Doesn’t matter if it’s Monday or it’s Friday. You’re done. Free. Obligation fulfilled. This is what is meant by 1 Day.
If you are put on a jury, or are in a jury pool from which a jury will be selected, you are now on the 1 Trial track. Those playing along who haven’t guessed already, this track means you’re on jury duty until the trial is over or you’re excused by the judge.
Going into jury duty, I was a little unsure of how I felt. The last time I was called in, I was excited and wanted to get on a trial. But that time I didn’t even get called out of the waiting room (1 Day for me). This time, though I thought getting on a jury might be interesting, I was also right in the middle of writing my next book and was fearful of killing my momentum. See what I mean? Torn.
On the Sunday before, I called and learned I didn’t have to go in on Monday. Okay, good. I got a day to work on the book. Only I had kind of hoped Monday was going to be my day. See, I was starting to worry that I might have to repot in on that coming Friday. That was the day I was supposed to head up to my hometown for my high school reunion. Yeah, I know, I could have postponed ahead of time, but the idea didn’t cross my mind then. They also gave us another chance to put it off in the waiting room after we all arrived, but I decided, Hell, I’m here already. Let’s just do this.
Wait, I’m getting ahead of myself, if only slightly. See, we were on Monday, and Monday I didn’t go into the courthouse. But Monday night I called again. This time I was told to report on Tuesday morning.
Okay, good. If I’m only there a day, I’ll be back in front of my laptop on Wednesday and without a worry about my Friday travel plans. So in I go, my iPad and one of the Matt Helm books in my backpack. The morning passes by. I read, I watch a move. Some jury pools are called, but my name isn’t. Hey, maybe I’m going to get off just like last time. But the funny thing was I was stating to think that I’d kind of like to hang around and participate. It would be interesting and, after all, it was my duty as a citizen, right?
After lunch another pool was called, but still no Brett Battles. Then, just before 2 p.m., they call yet another. 40 people for the pool. I was around the 30th called. Awesome, maybe I WILL get on a jury.
Up we go to the 15th floor. After about 10 minutes of sitting around, the clerk comes out and passes out juror questionnaires. Oooh, cool! I’ve never seen one of these. Lots of questions about law enforcement and domestic abuse. Hmmm…I wonder what this trial’s about? The clerk also gives us each a number that has been randomly assigned to us. I’m #16.
After we finish our questionnaires we all file inside the courtroom. The first thing the judge tells us is that we will all be back the next day. (I’m sure several people groaned on the inside.) The lawyers need time to go over our forms, and they won’t be ready until the morning. The second thing she tells us is that we don’t have to report until 10:45. That’s good news for me. It means I can get some writing done before heading off to court. The third thing she tells us is that if we get on the jury, the trial is expected to go 7 days. Ugh. That means if I do get chosen, I’ll have to adjust my Friday plans. Well, you roll the dice and sometimes you lose.
Wednesday comes. I get up early, get a nice chunk of writing done, then head off to downtown on a oddly rainy Fall day. This time when we go into the courtroom, numbers 1 through 12 are instructed to sit in specific chairs in the jury box. Numbers 13 through 18 (remember, I’m 16), are instructed to sit in a row of chairs directly in front of the box. Numbers 19 and above are to sit in the public seating area for the time being.
The judge starts. She tells us the case is one of alleged domestic violence. At first I think that maybe the accused is a police officer given what we’d had to fill out. But I soon get the impression that he’s not a cop, so I’m guessing there’s a difference of opinion between him and the officers who probably arrested him. The judge then asks questions of each of the first 16 based on our questionnaires. Some she asks several questions of, some just a few. One of the questions on the sheet was: What is your profession? I put crime and thriller novelist.
“Huh, a novelist,” the judge says when she gets to me. “What kind of books?”
“Spy novels. Thrillers.”
“Well, I don’t think they’ll be any spies here to worry about.” That gets a general laugh.
She moves on.
Then it’s the lawyers turn. They both ask me about my brother because he used to be a cop. It was the “Do you believe cops are always right” kind of questions. I wasn’t the only one they asked this of. Finally, we broke for lunch. When we came back, they started excusing people.
First it was the excused-for-cause juror candidates. This included a woman who said she could not send anyone to jail because she strongly believe that much of the money spent on prisons should be funneled toward schools and education. I can testify she seemed pretty set in her convictions, and wasn’t playing a game. More power to her. Next to go was a guy who said based on what had happened in own his childhood he could not judge a domestic violence case without prejudice. I don’t know the details, but I could imagine that being a problem. There were one or two others, then it was time for the lawyer challenges. These were just jurors the lawyers decided they didn’t want for whatever reason.
For this phase, the concern was only the potential jurors sitting in the box, nos. 1-12.
“Mr. Defense Attorney?”
“The defense asks that you thank and excuse juror number 6.”
“The court thanks and excuses juror number 6.”
Juror number 6 leaves, and the person sitting in chair 13 in my row is instructed to take their place.
“Mr. Prosecuting Attorney?”
“The people ask that you thank and excuse…”
And on and on.
Finally the guy next to me, no. 15, gets up and takes the latest seat.
“The defense asks that you thank and excuse juror number 2.”
Juror number 2 gets up and leaves. I tense. I’m moving into the box. I’m going to be juror number 2. I’m pretty sure at this point neither attorney is going to get rid of me. If either did, it would be the defense. It certainly wouldn’t be the prosecutor. My brother was a cop. True or not, I have to seem like someone who would might lean the prosecutions way.
“Juror number 16, please take juror number 2’s spot,” the judge says. Once I made the move, feeling the seat under me, and know this was going to be my home for the next 7 days, she then said, “Mr. Prosecuting Attorney?”
No hesitation. “Your honor, the people ask that you thank and excuse juror number 2.”
Did he just say juror number 2? The prosecutor? I’m juror number 2 now, only–
“The court would like to thank and excuse juror number 2.”
By my estimation, my butt was in that seat for thirty seconds. THIRTY SECONDS!
Walking out, I was stunned. What had I done wrong? Why didn’t they want me? Did the fact that I’m a crime and thriller writer work against me?
Sadly, if it did, I’ll never know, because my big court adventure was over, and I was headed home. I don’t even know if the case went seven days or not. I don’t even know…forget it, Brett. It’s over. They didn’t pick you.
On the bright side, I made it to my reunion in plenty of time.
So, 1) theories on why I got the boot, and 2) jury stories! Come on, give ‘em up!