I, Juror or My Big Jury Adventure

By Brett Battles

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.”

Wait. What?

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.

Bummer.

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!

40 thoughts on “I, Juror or My Big Jury Adventure

  1. vadreamer

    So sorry Brett. Probably would have ended up in a novel.

    We have lived in Arlington, VA for 21 years, my husband for 25. My husband has been called twice – once for Federal and once for county. In Federal one of the other potential jurors told him "don't worry. You will be excused. The defense attorney won't want a white, married, educated, white collar male. Yeah, they both ended up on a jury. The case was against 3 inmates at Lorton Federal Penitentiary who attacked a man with a homemade shiv. Turns out they were fighting over a plastic bucket used to distill ketchup packets to make homemade wine. Riveting, huh? It went on for four days. They found two guys guilty and one guy at the wrong place at the wrong time. A few weeks later we were at the movies. My husband whispered in my ear, "see that woman over there? She was the ADA on my case." I looked and realized she was young. Probably just out of law school. Dave looked at me. "No Jack McCoy on my case. They sent the B team." The second case was domestic abuse. The jury didn't have problems finding the man guilty, but the sentence was harder. They decided on 5 years probation so the guy could work and provide child support. If he was given a prison sentence there would be no wages for him to pay for his kids. Smart jury.

    I have been called for jury two times. Once in Howard County, MD and once in Arlington, VA. At that time Howard County had a 6 week term. You called in at the beginning of the week and found out if your pool was on for the week. Then similar to yours, one day or one trial. I was called the first week and excused. I was moving to Arlington and getting married in 3 weeks. The second time I had more hope. In Arlington you have a two week duty period with choice of one week or the other for primary. We all appeared before the judge the 1st day for rules and instructions. She was really funny telling us the ins and outs of the system. For example, "this is not CSI: Arlington. There will probably be no physical evidence or lab results. You will most likely hear a he said/he said." We were dismissed before noon. The I had to appear on Wed. We sat in the jury room until 1.30pm and were dismissed. End of Jury Duty Round 2. FYI murders in Arlington are low: 2006-4, 2007-2, 2008-4, 2009-2. A good place not to get killed I guess. Our murderers will wait until you cross into D.C.!
    Not a whole lot to mine for plots here. Maybe in another 20 years?

  2. J.D. Rhoades

    You got bumped by the prosecution because, as a novelist, you were likely to be an independent and creative thinker. The prosecution wants people who'll do what they're told and who'll be more inclined to believe an authority figure like a cop or the prosecutor when they say the defendant is guilty.

    Yeah, 20 years in the courtroom has made me a little cynical.

    Don't even get me started on stupid jury stories.

  3. Darlene

    I'm sure you didn't look…um…shifty or disreputable. If if was a domestic violence case they may have been looking for a jury with more women than men.

    I don't have a jury story, but I was once a witness in a case where the judge leaned back in his chair and propped his feet in cowboy boots on the edge of the bench closest to me. His feet never stopped moving and I was afraid he was going to kick me by accident with those boots. I probably looked shifty sitting there.

  4. PK the Bookeemonster

    Twenty-five years ago, I was called. I've never been called since and this isn't a big city so somebody has been double dipping. I never made it past the beginning stage; I believe I was booted for being too young. But while I was there, the (female) judge was informed that her husband (a well-known principal) had been found dead. (suicide). I can't remember why now.
    I think you were jettisoned for the reasons others have stated but also that they (the prosecutors) probably thought that you thought you knew (too) much about law, crime, etc., and had preconceived notions. I would think the old cliche that cops have about PIs is probably the same for crime writers.

  5. Spencer Seidel

    I agree with Mr. Rhoades. I'm not a legal expert by any stretch of the imagination, but it seems to me that novelists wouldn't be good for the prosecution. A couple of what-if's later and suddenly the innocent defendant is involved in some vast conspiracy.

    BTW — here's a recent post from an artist who doodled during his jury duty. (Hopefully, he only doodled in the down time, as jury duty is a serious matter. But his artwork is damn good in any case!)

    http://chrisroth.net/blog/jury-duty-doodles

  6. chris2

    hmmm, a creative thinker … good one, I hadn't thought of that

    I figured it because your brother was a cop and the prosecution was thinking ahead, so maybe they didn't want anyone the defense might be able to claim afterward was biased and thus give them any wiggle room and grounds for an appeal

  7. Brett Battles

    Interesting stories and some very plausible reasons there.

    Dusty, I hadn't thought of that. Since you're in a position to know, I'm guessing you're probably right.

  8. Robert Gregory Browne

    I think you got booted because you have a generally foul disposition. I mean it, Brett, you are one unpleasant dude. The prosecutor must have sensed that.

    Oh, wait — that was ME, when I went for jury duty.

    So maybe the prosecutor had read one of your books and could plainly see that you sympathize with criminals? Let's face it, Quinn cleans up bodies for a living.

  9. Alafair Burke

    Sorry, dude, but as a former prosecutor, I would have bumped you. Writers bring creativity, open-mindedness, and imagination to a process that prosecutors want to be cut and dry. That makes prosecutors sound awful, but it reflects their belief that the state's evidence is strong and straightforward and the defense is asking jurors to form reasonable doubt based on fancy.

    Strong personalities also get bumped. Sheep. Lawyers want sheep.

  10. Debbie

    In Ontario a preliminary form letter arrives asking if there's any reason you couldn't serve on a jury. If there's a medical condition or something, this is the time you get the doctor to verify that you can't serve.

    I only got that form twice. One time a horrific case was about to go to trial and I was mortified that I might have to hear the details. I was convinced of the fathers guilt and the mother's accessory to the murder. Admittedly, I am nearly indifferent when I hear the news in terms of passing judgement but not this time.

    What scared me? Not the images (the child was beaten, killed, dismembered, and placed in bags which were dropped at a park by the shores of Lake Ontario where I spent my childhood playing). The mother going so far as to carry some part of her daughter in her daughters very own grade school backpack. Not the horror that any human being could do this to another, let alone to someone they brought into the world. I know that it should be that. No, it was the fear that some STUPID, legal technicality would make it impossible to convict. That I'd have to let this person walk.

    I'm sure my strong opinion on the case would have had me dismissed. I've heard recently that the accused is in the room during jury selection. The vindictive side of me would have had great satisfaction explaining in the father's presence how guilty I thought he was. Of course, I had no family, no fears in my mind that I might be in danger and to be honest, face to face, I'm not outspoken, so it probably would have played out differently.
    Btw, he was convicted along with his wife, and trust me, I remember his name and will notice when he is released if it makes the news.

  11. Dudley Forster

    I agree with Dusty and Alafair as far as criminal and personal injury cases go. In complex commercial litigation I preferred intelligent jurors who would understand the case and not be bored to the point of tuning out. Whether you were seated would depend on other factors disclosed on your jury questionnaire and those elicited during voir dire.

  12. Spencer Seidel

    Rob, Brett — His "doodles" remind me of Mad Magazine, one of my favorites, which is why I was so taken with them.

    Debbie — I don't blame you for being freaked out at the prospect of having to serve on a jury for that case. I can live quite comfortably with such awful things if they're FICTION. When they're REAL, I don't do as well. Yikes.

    Spence

  13. Shizuka

    A few years I was called into jury duty and made it into the potential jurors room.
    The two attorneys started asking questions like "What would you think if an 80-year old woman from a wealthy Connecticut town drove too fast down a street and hit a scholarship student who had just graduated," and "What would you think if a guy was crossing in the middle of the street and pulled out suddenly in front of a woman driving at perfectly normal speed" and so on. They kept fighting and accusing each other of giving away too much info. This went on for a day and a half.

    At one point, the lawyers took me into a different room and said, they really wanted me on the jury, would I please say I could be impartial, etc. I told them I seriously doubted it because they had both been so inappropriate.

    FInally, we were all called into the judge's chambers and asked if we could be fair and impartial.
    I said I would try, but it was like being asked to watch a movie with no preconceptions after being shown a dozen different previews.I was dismissed.

    It was funny watching the judge scold the lawyers.

  14. Louise Ure

    I agree with Dusty and Alafair, too. Remember my last jury post? The prosecutor booted me after asking whether I could distinguish between what was going on in the courtroom and what was going on in my novels.

  15. Gar Haywood

    Brett:

    I get called for jury duty once every 14 months, or at least, that's what it feels like. I've made it all the way to trial maybe six times out of 11 tries, though, for all the reasons previously stated, I don't know why I'm not consistently dismissed. Yeah, I'm capable of concentrating on the business at hand, and not my next novel, but who in their right mind would really trust a writer to do that?

    BTW, I've been called to go in for my next tour of duty on the 15th. If I'm not done after just a day like you, I'm gonna be PISSED.

  16. Sylvia

    My jury duty date is November 19 (we have 1 day rather than the week) so I'll let you know.

    I never get picked. I don't make a stink but they never like my background for whatever the case is Financial fraud? They didn't like my Wall Street background. Intellectual property case? They didn't like my high-tech background. I guess I need a drunk driving case since I don't have that in my background.

    I'm indifferent on being picked. If I can help the system, great. If not, I'll go home.

  17. Alexandra Sokoloff

    I can see how "brother a cop" would do it.

    But at the same time, I got put onto a trial where I had socialized with the plaintiff; she was a good friend of a friend. Wouldn't you think that would be enough to get rid of me, considering the considerable jury pool available in L.A.?

  18. Brad Parks

    I think maybe the prosecutor read your stuff and was like, "What? This dude won the Barry Award? Are you kidding me? Sakey's stuff is WAY better!"

    Either that or what Alafair said.

  19. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    I think they wanted free books. You should've passed out free books.

    I was very lucky one year and became a juror on a murder trial. I was working for Disney Studios at the time, and they paid my full wage for fifteen days, which was the length of the trial. It was a fascinating opportunity–I loved it. It was painful to see it end in a mistrial, however, due to one juror. But it gave me a lot of story material, and I used some of it in Boulevard.

  20. lil Gluckstern

    I'm a psychotherapist by trade, and both times I was called, I was let go by the judge-once in an obviously drunk driving case, and once, in a heroin import case. That was one intimidating set of defendants. I get the feeling psycotherapists aren't too popular as jurors, probably because we think too much.

  21. Allison brennan

    Brett, I just today was on jury duty, spent all day in a court room for bank robbery and attempted murder of a peace officer. Total 9 counts. I wanted the case because it sounded fascinating and there would be three juries seated for one trial of three accused. Three weeks of my time, which I don't have, but I was willing to sacrifice to do it. I was asked a lot of questions by the judge and a few from the defense, such as could I be fair and impartial, and I said I believed in the system, that we have trials to keep government and law enforcement honest. and the prosecution asked everyone the exact same question … Whether we were gun owners and if we had any special training. I said yes, and some training but not beyond safety classes and some range time.

    The prosecution removed me! I was stunned and hurt.

    Last time I was called, the defense removed me. It was a domestic violence case that time, and
    one of the questions was had I written any books about domestic violence. I said yes, my first book.

    I really wanted to serve. I would have been fair.

    Reading Alafair's comments, I understand that, but all I think about is that there were twelve idiots on the oj Simpson trial and why wouldn't lawyers want moderately intelligent people? (though I do think there were other issues with the trial, and they should never have allowed him to put on the glove.) Anyway, one of the jurors didn't know what the second amendment was and had no opinion about guns good or bad. She was still on when I left.

  22. KDJames

    I've never been called for jury duty. I think it would be fascinating.

    But I suspect they have access to drivers license photos and, no matter which state I'm living in, mine always look like I've just escaped and am on the run from a maximum security mental facility of some kind.

    Either that or they know about my problem with authority figures. Or they suspect that at some point I'd interrupt and ask my own questions.

    Really, they should pick me. It would be fascinating. I'd make sure of it.

  23. Tammy

    I served on a grand jury for a year – not as bad as it sounds πŸ™‚ We met once a month or so, for a day, and decided whether or not cases went to trial. Mostly the police officers came in, read us a pile of indictments, and left the room; and then we voted yeah or nay as to whether the case sounded credible. Those went by fast – mostly drugs and drunk driving. We did have a rather horrific murder where 3 people who worked for a movie theater were killed execution-style, after closing time. We definitely voted that one through. Most of it was very repetitive. Some of the individual cases were personal ones – someone charging their neighbors with something criminal. Those were more interesting because we got to hear stories.

    We had one really funny one though – man came in and was telling us the story about a guy who had shot him (obviously not fatally) and he's rambling on and then says something about the guy shooting himself. This shooting *was* fatal. The foreman asks him why he's here if the other guy is dead. Response was that the DA told him to come down, so he did – and could we make the guy's estate/the town pay for his medical expenses? Umm, no. The DA apologized and said someone hadn't checked carefully enough.

    There were more than 12 of us – 16 or 18, so there would always be enough for a vote. Six or so people got selected to serve a second year so there would be experienced jurors – I think our foreman was one of the second year people. All this was over 20 years ago and I've not been called since. It was kind of fun and no worries about sending someone to jail or letting a criminal go free – just deciding if there was enough evidence to send a case onto trial. Definitely nothing like the grand jury stuff on tv/film. No drama at all.

  24. Tammy

    Allison, not saying there wasn't one in the Bay area, but this one was upstate South Carolina. Hate to think there's been more than one, but when you think about the money that a theater pulls in, you wonder why there aren't more.

  25. Allison Brennan

    Hmm. I lived in Virginia in late 1991/early 1992. I wonder if I heard about it out there. That's a tough case emotionally. I have a friend, an older woman, who was so excited she was on a jury, but after the case she wish she'd never done it. It was sexual abuse of a minor (two sisters) and after the fact she couldn't sleep, she was having health problems, and cried all the time. I felt awful for her. And her personality changed, from always happy to always sad.

  26. KarinNH

    I'm late to respond but thought I'd throw this in:

    I once served on a jury where the defendant acted as his own lawyer. Bad idea. Horrible, rotten, stupid idea! It was painful to watch.

    But being part of the jury deliberations was a fascinating process–I learned a lot about how other people think.

  27. Dan Smith

    I made it on jury duty last year. My day job is medicine and my fantasy job is writing. I thought either one might disqualify me. The judge got real creative and asked us about our hobbies and I proudly mentioned I was working on a novel. What kind? A crime novel, of course. Were there firearms used in the book? Yes, sir, I proudly revealed. I made the cut and as it happened, the case involved a weapons charge. It's often easier to put gangbangers in jail on weapons charges if they get careless about hiding them, since witnesses to the shootings are few and far between. This time the state had a good circumstantial case against the defendant and we convicted him

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