My experience with Jury Duty

On or about 8-Jan-2010 I applied for and was granted annual leave by my employer for the period covering 22 to 26-Feb-2010. All I wanted to do was plonk myself in fron of the TV and watch the Olympics on Channel 9 in Hi-Def. On or about 9-Jan-2010 I received a Summons to Jury from the Department of Justice for the period covering 22 to 26-Feb-2010. Talk about rotten timing. There was no real way I could get out of it: my boss, in granting annual leave, had already decided that he could do without me that week; and even though I live further away now, I only work down the road from the court house and I make that trip every day so I couldn’t claim it was a hardship to get there. So I resigned myself the the fact I was needed to serve, and just accepted it.

So, Monday rolls around and I turn up bright and early as ordered to the new-ish Perth District Court, an impressive building built across the road from the older courts. By my count there were a couple hundred people queuing up to get inside, most with Summons in hand.

After showing the Summons to the guards at the door, we queued again for the metal detectors, and then invited up to Level 2 where we wound up queuing outside a larger room labelled something along the lines of “Jury Congregation” room or “Jury Lounge”, I can’t remember exactly. Before we entered the room we had to get our identification number. Jurors are no longer known by name, but rather by number to preserve anonymity. My number for the term of service was 5o0. The guy in front of me was 1067. I don’t know if that meant there were more than a thousand jurors serving that day or not, but when I did finally get into the Lounge it seemed like there were at least that number of people there.

I took up a seat at the front, near to the TV which was showing the Olympics. I knew that the big CAN-USA hockey game was being played right at the minute but Perth has a delayed telecast so I figured I was safe. There was some Ski Cross action, and some Short Track happening too.

At around 9:30 they turned the TVs off, and some Court worker came on providing us with a general run down of what we could expect from our service this week. In broad terms, we would split off into groups of 30 or so and attend a court where we may or may not be picked by random ballot to serve on a jury. We may or may not be “Challenged”; if so, we would be invited to sit back down and would take no further part in that case.

Indeed, within another 20 minutes my number had come up and I was with a group from which a jury would be called to serve on a sex case. We went up the elevators and were herded into the actual court room, walking past a few nervous and distressed looking individuals which I guessed had some interest in the case. We were invited to all sit in the gallery and await His Honour. The judge’s chair was at the front of the court room on a stage so that it was raised higher than any other seat. In front of him were sitting the Court Orderly (who handled evidence, paperwork and such) and the Judge’s Associate. . The accused man, who was all of 18 by my estimation, was sitting in the dock on the right side of the room along with a security guard trying to look innocent. The defense lawyer and a couple of his helpers were sitting on a desk in the middle  of the room closest to the accused. The prosecutor was sitting at the same desk, but closest to where the jury would sit on the left side of the room

His Honour finally entered; we stood, bowed and were invited to sit.

He gave us some preamble thanking us for answering the call to serve on the jury and then invited the Judge’s Associate to read the charges aloud to the accused and ask him for his plea. The language was a bit ‘Ye Olde English” in style. “John Edward Jones, being known by that name you are hear-by charged … What say you?” I can’t remember the exact words but what he was charged with was three counts of sexual penetration of a child older than 13 but younger than 16 on Australia day last year. That might have explained some of the people I saw waiting outside the courtroom when we were going in.

The judge then instructed us to indicate whether we knew the accused or any of the witnesses which were to be called, something which prevent us from performing our duty as jurors impartially. He invited the prosecution and the defense to call a list of witnesses, many of which had the same surname. Probably family of the accused or the victim. Nobody said they knew any of the names so we carried on.

The Judge then invited the Judge’s Associate to assemble the jury by calling random numbers from a ballot box, which she did. My number did not come up. One man whose number did come up approached the Judge and asked to be excused on the grounds that he was an employee of a sexual trauma counselling service. The defense lawyer sensed, I think, that the Judge was not going to let that fly so she challenged him and he was excused.

After the jury was chosen, the Judge invited the Court Orderly to swear in the jury. We could either read out an oath (I swear by Almighty God…) while holding a bible, or read an affirmation (I do solemnly swear…) without holding it. Of the 14 jurors chosen (yes, 14) it was about half and half.

The Judge then excused the rest of us from the court room which wasn’t a bad deal: I wasn’t too keen to have to sit through a sex case. We were herded into a second court room where we found a man accused of entering a premises uninvited and assaulting the occupants of the premises. He looked pretty bad-ass, but plead not guilty to the charge. This case seemed pretty interesting, and I would not have minded serving on this jury but I was not chosen for this one either and those that were left were herded back down to the Jury Lounge where we were told that our services were no longer needed for the day, but we were to report back on Wednesday. Joy. I went home and long story short I found Canada lost 5-3 to US and A.

So, Wednesday rolled around and it was pretty much the same as Monday but with less people. I was chosen along with a group of 30 others, and the first one we attended was a man accused with four counts of “receiving stolen property”, or simply “receiving” for short. It didn’t seem like a very interesting case, and I was hoping I would not get chosen again. But my number was called 5th. There were two challenges but not against me. I was stuck with this one.

Just like in the other courts, we were sworn in and the others invited to leave. The young accused man sat in the dock and nobody was in the gallery. The judge invited us to retire to the “Jury Deliberation Room” which was through a door behind us and choose a foreman, which we did fairly quickly. Nobody volunteered except for a young lady who was then addressed as “Madam Jury Foreman” by the Judge when we returned to the court room. So there were four matters on the indictment, and we needed to consider each matter separately.

It’s an understatement to say that the rest of my experience was the most tedious thing I had done in a long time. It’s not anybody’s fault, really… it needs to be done and it needs to be done in the right way, but this is no consolation for how mind numbingly boring this case was. No witnesses were called: instead, the prosecution lawyer read out 2 statements from each of  4 different owners of 4 different business premises in Welshpool. The first statement from each was along the lines of “On the morning of August 8 2008 I found that my premises had been broken into and that a bunch of stuff had been stolen”.  The “bunch of stuff” was a long list of mostly performance car parts. The second statement from each was along the lines of “The stuff which was found is indeed mine and was stolen from my premises”.

We then watched a video which was taken by the Police when a house was “raided”. Staring in the video was the accused man, and a police officer who was asking a lot of questions. The video lasted about 90 minutes. The script started and stopped and mostly went like this: “What is this here?” to which the answer was usually “I dunno, I think it is stolen”. This video was edited, a cut down version of events without inconsequential irrelevant stuff we didn’t really need to know. It had been approved and agreed upon by both the prosecution and defense lawyers and was labelled “Exhibit 1″.

The gist of the video was this: the items which appeared on the statements which had previously been read into evidence as being stolen were all inside this unit which was raided. The items were either in book shelves, on kitchen benches, or in various drawers. When questioned, the accused man said that he was the only one living here for the last three days (the items were stolen 30 hours before) with the exception of a young 14 year old girl who turned out to be his girl friend (that may be a matter for another court case completely!). He was the only one with a key. He woke up that morning and found a pile of stuff on his lounge room floor so he tidied up and put things away in shelves and drawers. When questioned about this miraculous appearance of goods, he indicated that it had not simply appeared there. “The boys” had brought the goods around and they were going to “fix him up” with some money. When asked about where he thought the goods came from he said “I think they are stolen”.

So, to me it was not a complex case by any means. The prosecution said that a list of items was stolen, that the items were found in the possession of the accused who knew that they were stolen. First the prosecutor and then the defense lawyer were invited to address the jury and make their case. In short, the prosecution thought they made a strong case for conviction against the accused for recieving stolen property: they’d established that the items had been stolen, that they had been recovered and that they were in possession of the accused. The defense conceded everything. Yes, the items were stolen. Yes, it was the accused man who was in question (identity was not an issue), they were in the house occupied by the accused, and yes the accused man knew that the items were stolen. The issue of contention was did he actually “receive” the goods. The prosecution lawyer had already defined “receiving” as including “being in possession of” things… etc etc. There was some script he was reading from. It didn’t matter that he intended to keep the items for himself or not, he argued. They were still,  by definition, in his possession and control and he knew they were stolen. The defense case was that the accused did not actually take possession of the items via some other definition he had come up with. It seemed a pretty week and tenuous argument, but credit to him he sold it pretty well.

This finally brought us to the end of the day. The Judge invited us to reconvene on Thursday.

Thursday came around, and by way of the Jury Lounge we were herded again into the court room where the Judge was now to explain the law and how it applied to the case. He summarised the arguments for the prosecution, all but one of the elements of which were uncontested by the defense. He summrised the argument for the defense. This all took about half an hour. He instructed that we were to retire to the Deliberation room and, after considering the evidence we reach a decision on each of the charges detailed in the indictment. We were not to discuss anything or speculate on anything except the evidence how it related to the indictment.

This is where my tale changes from a simple travelogue or documentary to an introspection how stupid people can be given the chance.

I thought we’d take about 15 minutes all up, allowing a few minutes for chit chat as, even though we’d spent most of the previous day together we hadn’t really had a chance to speak to each other. My estimation of 15 minutes was out by an order of magnitude. And but for my intervention we probably would have spent another day in deliberation.

One guy, who I shall refer to as Clouseau, wanted to see part of the video again, particularly one part where a certain item is found in a certain place. I don’t know what he could get out of watching the video a second time that he didn’t get the first time, but fair enough. Let’s put it on. But then another guy, who I shall refer to as Sherlock, says he wants to watch the whole video again. He wanted to try and piece together the timeline of events according to the words of the accused throughout the video. I wish that I had piped up at that point and said “No”, but I just sat back and nodded with everyone else. We put the 90 minute raid video on again and Sherlock was furiously taking notes the whole time. He must have taken 20 pages of notes, and kept flipping back and forward in a mad flurry of activity. At the end of the video, he summarises that “His story doesn’t add up!” I asked Sherlock how he thought his exercise related to the matters on the indictment. He ummed and ahhed and sheepishly conceded that it did not.

At this point I think it was pretty obvious I was being seen as the bully by everyone else. I had rather abruptly shot Sherlock down in his moment of glory. I didn’t really care. We’d been deliberating for 2 hours and had not gotten anywhere. I asked Madam Foreman if we could take a vote or a show of hands on our decision if he was guilty or not. We voted on the first three matters by show of hands, and the result was that we all thought he was guilty on each item.

But before the fourth matter could be voted on Clouseau said he wanted to see that one part again, the part he wanted to see before. It took another five minutes but we queued it up and watched the policeman ask “What’s this? Have you seen this before”, to which the accused man said, “I don’t know, I havne’t seen that before”.

Clouseau got excited and stopped the video, smacked his hand on the desk, snapped his fingers and rather proudly exclaimed, “He just said he hasn’t seen that before!”.

At this point I was thinking “Yeah…. And?” The accused had said that about every item, but without fail he had changed his answer when questioned to “Yeah that’s from the stuff the boys brought around. I’m pretty sure it’s stolen”. So I asked Clouseau to continue the video for another 10 seconds. Sure enough, this item status had been upgraded from “haven’t seen it before” to “it came in last night and is stolen”. Clouseau looked at me with daggers in his eyes.

You see, Clouseau and Sherlock had taken their roles too seriously. They’d watched too much TV shows like LA Law and thought they were going to bust the case wide open, to great acclaim.  At least, that’s what I think was going on in their little minds. Who knows for sure?

Again, before we could vote on the last matter another woman, who I shall refer to as Granny pipes up with this:

What about the tow rope?
The tow rope?
Yes, there was a tow rope on top of the fridge.
Uh, yeah. I think there may have been. What about the tow rope?
Well if he has a tow rope, that proves his car isn’t working and he couldn’t have done it!
You are so dumb that I want to perform a mercy killing on you.

OK, so that last part was in my head. But even after all this time, after the prosecution and the defense and the Judge had asked us to consider only the evidence and how it related to the indictment Granny didn’t understand that he wasn’t accused of  actually stealing the goods. Only with receiving them. Besides that, she had already revealed that she thought he was guilty of the first three matters! Why bring this delusion up now? Maybe she was hoping someone could turn the channel back to LA Law or something. I just sat there with what I’s sure was a look of utter disgust on my face, but that’s OK because I’m a rude bully. During our second viewing of the video Granny would just start talking about the most bizarre irrelevant stuff:

It must be hard, sometimes.

You know, with all this stuff going on, and that.
Uh, yeah.

I think we were all chosen for this case in particular because we’re all impartial.
We were chosen for this one completely at random.
I’m very impartial you know. I don’t mind Americans.
Uh, yeah.

After her tow rope comment she started blithering on about someone she knew who once saw a tall man looking at a bin near her house, but bully that I am I cut her off and asked if we could vote on the final indictment, which turned out to be a unanimous “guilty”. I repeatedly pressed the little button to call our handler and get us the hell out of there.

It took only another 15 minutes for us to assemble and for Madam Foreman to do her thing, and say one word to the Judge: “Guilty”. The Judge thanked us and we were finally able to leave. I got home as fast as I could to watch a replay of Canada beating Russia 7-3 in the quarters.