May 13, 2009 | Ever since I moved to California in 1986, I have been on call for jury duty every year, with maybe one or two exceptions. While I lived in the Bay Area I never had to actually go in, and was always dismissed part way through the week via the telephone call-in system. Since moving to Riverside County, however, I have had to go in every single year. A couple of times I've been called into the court room, but the jury panel was filled before they got to me. Another time I sat in the Jury Assembly Room until 4:30pm before a judge came in and announced that the defendant had waited until the beginning of jury selection to decide he wanted to make a plea bargain, and that it took all day to iron out the details.
Today another matter. When they first started calling people to go to the courtroom, they were going in alphabetical order, and I hoped I might escape, but soon the room was three-fourths empty and they were down to the WXYZs. "Paul Williamson."
About 60 of us crowded into the courtroom and the jury-selection dance began. The judge told us very little about the case, except that the defendant was charged with possessing ammunition that he was not permitted to have. I later inferred from some of the questions and examples during the voir dire that the circumstances probably involved being on parole for some gun violation and getting caught with prohibited ammunition, but that's my inference.
In contrast to the other time I was called into the courtroom, they dismissed prospective jurors right and left for this case. Of the first eighteen chosen for consideration, they dismissed at least eight. Of their replacements, they dismissed another six. Then I was called for my turn. They dismissed another bunch, and replaced them. During the next round of dismissals I was moved from the row of six in front of the jury box itself back into seat #11 of the jury box.
Finally, after they had called another batch of people, I was dismissed in the next round: "The Defense would like to thank and excuse juror #11, Mr. Williamson."
The most remarkable thing about today's experience was what some of the prospective jurors said (or didn't say in one case). Frankly, the thought that I might be so unlucky as to be tried before a jury of some of these people scared the bejesus out of me.
Another interesting set of questions centered around whether jury members could find someone guilty, even if the case were proved "beyond a shadow of a doubt," but they felt the crime wasn't really all that serious.
I was perfectly fine with this concept while I was being questioned, replying that you have to follow the facts wherever they lead. But then while questioning someone else later the People's attorney introduced a hypothetical: Suppose the legislature enacted a law making it illegal to wear a blue tie. I've been charged with wearing a blue tie and am even wearing a blue tie to my trial. If it were proved that I had worn a blue tie, could you find me guilty?
The person being questioned gave the "right" answer: Yes, indeed, she could find him guilty. The longer I thought about it, however, the more I was itching to have them come back to me and give me another crack at a similar question. I had my little speech all worked out: "Even if the legislature, in its infinite capacity for stupidity, were to pass such a law; even if Mr Albright (the Deputy District Attorney) flouted the law by wearing a blue tie, even to his trial, I would not pronounce him guilty because it would be a supremely silly law without any redeeming societal justification. There are other silly laws on the books and enforcing it would result in a grave injustice, and the pursuit of the law should not result in an injustice."
Damn, I never got to make my speech.
Nevertheless, at 3 o'clock in the afternoon, long past the time I was convinced it was my lot to be on this jury, I was thanked and excused by the Defense, right after the lady who insisted that where there's ammunition there's guns.
Oh, yes. It was Juror Appreciation Week so they gave us all a free mechanical pencil and a sticker.
Last updated on Jul 26, 2016