Friday, June 22, 2007

A Jury Duty Experience

In my fourth call for jury duty within the last twelve years, this was the third time that I had made it to the panel for a trial. I wasn't slated for the jury, but let me back up a bit.

I arrived at 8:00 a.m., went through the usual routine to get into the courthouse. A young woman came up to the front of the room to instruct us through the orientation process. Then, one of the judges spoke for about 15 minutes. He stated that our being there wasn't a waste of time, how important our service is...blah...blah...blah!

Next, we viewed a video of all these smiling, former jurors who were explaining how exciting their jury duty experience was. I'll have to take them at their word. So far, I haven't made it to that point.

After all of the orientation instruction and the judge's speech, I settled down to finish reading my book. I didn't pick the best place to sit because two guys were watching (more like blasting) the history channel which just happened to be an episode about Attila the Hun. The description of all the blood and gore started to get to me. I was ready to move to the quiet room section, when the moderator came up to the podium and announced that 65 people have been chosen to go to Department 22 for a case.

Again, we waited. Once we got into the room, I was seated in the audience portion of the courtroom. Twenty-four people were seated in the jury box area.

Lovely...

It was already 11:15 a.m. and the lunch break was approaching. I knew that if the case wasn't settled by the lawyers through plea bargaining during the lunch hour, then we would all have to come back after lunch. Blah!

Once seated, I noticed that I was approximately 10 people away from going forward to the jury box area if, and when, any potential jurors already seated there were dismissed by the judge, prosecutor, or defense attorneys.

I wasn't enthusiastic about this case and there are several reasons why. The first reason was because the charges against the defendants were almost identical to those where our good friends and their son were the victims. I thought that if I had gotten up to the immediate jury panel, I would most definitely be dismissed once I revealed this fact.

The second reason was because of what I found out during the process of questioning.

Now, I know that I will probably get blasted by the liberals who read here for saying what I am about to say. So be it.

As the judge was giving instructions about this case, he mentioned that the jury panel should not allow the fact that the two young men (obviously of Mexican descent who are in need of, and utilizing, interpreters throughout the trial via an earphone system) to be used in judgment against them. He also said that the fact that one defendant is in prison garb should not prejudice us towards him.

The description of the charges involved the theft of a vehicle to commit a robbery at another residence.

Both before, and after lunch the long process of the judge asking questions of the jury panel continued. Later, one of the defense attorneys stood up and gave a little speech, then questioned a few of the jurors about their negative experiences concerning theft of vehicles as well as any other type of theft or crime that they had experienced.

It was interesting, though. The defense attorney worded her question during her speech (regarding that the defendants are to be viewed "innocent until proven guilty") in a bit of a startling way. Those whom she chose to answer that question outright were almost "trapped" into proclaiming that the two men are innocent.

However, when the prosecuting attorney stood up to speak to the panel, she emphasized the fact that the defendants are to be presumed innocent. There is quite a difference. And so, the lawyering began.

The lawyers on both sides took turns dismissing potential jurors. At one point, juror #2 wanted to know if he could ask the judge a question. The judge allowed it. He asked, "since these two men do not speak english and need interpreters, I wanted to know if I'm allowed to ask this..." The judge saw his hesitation and told him to go ahead and ask the question. The juror concluded, "are they illegal?"

Oh. My GOSH! You could just see the tension rise in that courtroom! Of course, being liberal California, the judge would not answer such a question and went ahead and shared ten minutes worth of gobbledy-gook about how the jurors are not to see such an assumption as "relevant" to this case. Frankly, I just tuned him out at that point.

O.K. Now you can call me a bigot. Call me intolerant. Call me an illegal alien basher.

I don't care!

What I see is a broken justice system.

If these two were illegal aliens,(which is probably most likely) the first thing done should have been immediate deportation! NOT take up the time of all of these people!!

I sat there wondering what the cost was to our state to try these illegal aliens. What was the cost to the potential jurors (besides a day of sitting around doing nothing productive) for being there? What was the cost to their employers for having to pay them while they are not doing anything productive for them? What was the cost for the jury panel that was ultimately chosen for this trial which was estimated to continue until next Wednesday?

Back in the original jury lounge area during the orientation session, there was a moment where the moderator discussed a cost-saving measure brought forth by Gov. Arnold. Apparently, the formerly archaic method for government employees to be paid for jury duty was cumbersome and time-consuming, so they changed it. Big wow! How about the fact that trials for illegal aliens is cumbersome, time-consuming, and expensive for our state and all the individuals involved?

When I got home, I told my husband about the brave man (who said he has been a public high school teacher for 33 years) who had the guts to ask if the defendants were illegals. I told him that I was sitting in the audience pool of jurors, wondering the same thing!

Yeah. Juror # 2 was dismissed by the defense attorneys. No big surprise there. But I just wonder what all the rest of the 65 potential jurors in that room thought? Did they just shrug their shoulders about it or were they concerned, or even outraged seeing the huge expense that these two men are costing our state?

And, this is just one trial against two men.

Think of all of the criminally charged illegal aliens who are appearing in courtrooms across California.

Think of all of the criminally charged illegal aliens who are appearing in courtrooms across the United States.

O.K. I'm done with my post. What do you think about this?

Let those darts of disapproval fly. I've got my defense shield up.

9 comments:

limpy99 said...

If they are illegals, generally speaking they'd be subject to deportation after the resolution of their criminal charges.

It doesn't make sense on the face of it, I admit. After all, why waste time with a trial when they're going to be tossed out afterwards regardless of guilt or innocence of the crime?

The explanations I can offer is that if their crime involved an individual, (assualt, armed robbery, something like that), the victim may very well get a sense of closure from the trial process and seeing these guys put away. Second, I'd rather know where these guys are for the next 10-15 years, as opposed to just dumping them over the border and then having then hop the fence and come back at their first opportunity.

And by the way, the guy that asked if they were illegals was more than likely looking to get out of jury duty. As an attorney who does trial work, I cannot tell you how many people I've heard say outrageous things because they know they'll be out of the jury pool and on their way home.

Sue Gillespie said...

Your opening paragraph says, "This blog is dedicated to defending the tenets and values of Biblical Christian faith. We need Christian Culture Warriors who are willing to share our worldview and stand up for Jesus Christ in our present circumstances. He is our Savior, Lord, and King, and His love needs to be shed abroad in our hearts and in our world - now."
How does your reaction to this court case reflect your Biblical Christianity? In other words, do you imagine that Jesus' first interest in this case would have been their citizenship in one or another earthly kingdom? Do you think Jesus would have asked the question the other juror did?
I'm not saying that these men, if they were illegal, should not be deported -- I'm just interested in why your politically conservative point of view on this should be considered part of your biblical Christianity, because I don't actually see any connection at all. I think Jesus would actually challenge us all, thief, judge and jury, to consider whether or not we had citizenship in heaven, and whether we are acting like it.
I appreciate your sharing your story - I just want all of us Christians to sort through our strongly held opinions in the light of the gospel.

ebsfwan said...

1. If they are illegals and commit a crime you are advocating that they just be deported. Wow. Let's go to America and commit crimes - if we get caught we'll just be sent back home. A rather shortsighted policy one might think.

2. If they are in the country illegally is absolutely irrelevant to their guilt or innocence for the specific crimes they are being charged with.

3. Jury duty is one of the duties of a good citizen. Your attitude shocked me a bit I must admit. I've always thought you stood for higher standards than most.

Christinewjc said...

Hi Limpy99,

Thanks for your response. Since you are an attorney, I'm sure that you know about the law in such instances far better than I.

I'm a bit confused, though. Why should the U.S. courts have to go through the expense of trials for illegal aliens, when they will ultimately be deported anyway? It seems backwards, to me. By "resolution of their criminal charges," do you mean after they have served time if found guilty?

I suppose it would be a "to good to be true" idea to deport them back and then have them tried there.

If we would just finish building the double fence (that Congress agreed to, and apparently funded several years ago) then crimes like these would be much less. Having that fence up would limit the ability of repeat offenders crossing the border a second time.

The current amnesty bill being debated in Congress is just terrible. I have heard so many better solutions to the huge illegal immigration problem.

The guy that asked about the illegals was interviewed quite extensively by the judge. His answers made him appear to be willing to be a juror in the trial. His question to the judge came as a kind of "after thought." At least that is the way it seemed to me.

Of course, the defense didn't like the fact that the question was even brought up. That is why they dismissed him. If I recall correctly, the two defense attorneys had a little mini-conference with each other for about five minutes before dismissing him. The judge had explicitly said that the two defendants immigration status should have no bearing on the case. But I'm sure that the defense attorneys perceived the guy's question as hostile towards their case.

Christinewjc said...

Hello Sue,

Welcome to Talkwisdom!

When I originally started this blog, my entire focus was mostly on Biblical Christianity. I soon realized that it might be good to also include blogposts about every day events and political problems, too. Sometimes, I even include personal stories. This was one of them.

The fact that some really good friends of ours had a similar incident happen to their son's car (while one of the two illegal alien thieves got away) and it was such a trying and terrible experience, perhaps I am a bit prejudice towards such a case. Hey...I'm only human. And, I'm entitled to my own opinions.

I wouldn't go so far as to claim to know what Jesus would say or do in such a situation. The Bible is filled with incidences and situations where we are to follow the law. Trouble is, if original law regarding illegal immigration had been followed, our courts would not be overrun by these cases time and time again.

The truth is, I didn't do anything wrong. I did my civic duty by reporting for jury duty (instead of inventing an excuse like many others probably did). Perhaps my opinions are incorrect (in your eyes), but I was trying to convey my thoughts on this case, and in doing so, I also thought about the hundreds, if not thousands of similar cases that are out there; mostly because of the lack of border security. It is almost 6 years since 9/11 and our border still has not been secured! I think that this is an awful state of affairs for our country.

Christinewjc said...

Hi Ebsfwan,

No. I wasn't advocating just deporting them. I wish that we had better arrangements with the Mexican authorities so that criminals could be deported and tried there; at their country's expense. But I suppose that wouldn't work too well. Any witnesses would have to cross over the border to testify.

I'm waiting for Limpy99 to clarify his point about them being "subject to deportation after the resolution of their criminal charges."

One thing that I had forgotten to mention. During the judge's speech in the jury lounge, he mentioned that feedback from jurors, and potential jurors is often quite helpful. He explained that sometimes the lawyers are able to plea bargain the cases so that they don't have to go to trial. In this case, an agreement was not reached. When we returned from lunch, we were all waiting for more than 1/2 hour while the lawyers tried to come to terms. Apparently, they weren't able to do so and thus the jury selection continued.

Some of the jurors and I in the hallway conversed about the fact that sometimes the defendants get scared when they are in the courtroom during jury selection, and decide to make a plea. Perhaps this happens quite often. I don't know.

You wrote:

"2. If they are in the country illegally is absolutely irrelevant to their guilt or innocence for the specific crimes they are being charged with."

That was exactly the argument that the judge presented after the potential juror asked the question. But post 9/11, it seems to me that much more should have been done by now to prevent millions of illegal immigrants from crossing the borders so freely.

Your third point was answered in my comment to Sue.

limpy99 said...

Christine, Ebsfwan already answered the question as to why we should have trials even when illegals are going to be deported anyway. Hypothetically, let's say an illegal alien commits a murder. Surely you don't want the authorities to just toss them back over the border and forget about it? No, they go through a trial; if they're found inncoent, they're deported after a separate hearing with INS. If they're found guilty, they're sentenced, serve their time, then deported after an INS proceeding.

"I'm waiting for Limpy99 to clarify his point about them being "subject to deportation after the resolution of their criminal charges."

I don't practice immigration law, but my understanding is that illegal aliens, if caught, are subject to a hearing before an immigration court and deported if they are indeed in the country illegally. But if they are subject to criminal prosecution for a separate action, then the criminal proceeding takes precedence, based on the logic described above. Again, my understanding is that less serious offenses are dealt with by a mild sentence and usually a deportation procedure follows immediately. A more serious offense has the sentece carried out here, with deportation proceedings following whenever that sentence is completed. If there's an immigration attorney outt here who'd like to either correct me or supplement, I'd be glad to hear it.

Also, there is one point I meant to make last week and forgot. The question, "are these guys illegals", is a red flag to attorneys and the courts. It indicates that the questioner is making an assumption about the defendants based on their race. The defendants' statis as citizens has nothing to do with their crime; the juror must be able to focus only on the crimes charged and the evidence that supports or detracts from that. Any attorney who did not disqualify a juror who asked such a question is, in my opinion, committing malpractice, and any Court that left them on the panel is committing a reversible error.

Incidentally, there's nothing worng with asking that question either. As an attorney, I want to know if someone has those thoughts and cannot commit to being fair and impartial. While that question may open a person up to criticism, and while I might disagree with the sentiments behind it, I will never criticize anyone for giving me an hoenst answer as a prospective juror.

Christinewjc said...

Limpy99,

A couple of questions.

First, the man asked the question specifically because the two men could not speak English. Is that a racial issue?

Second, I would think (perhaps you know more about this) that because of the judge's admonition to "disregard" such a consideration in the matter at hand (which did happen), that wouldn't the individual asking the question (as well as all of the perpective jurors who also heard the question) be able to remain on the jury despite asking such a question? (sorry about run-on sentence..in a hurry)

Cella Bella said...

To your last question addressed at limpy99: Why would you think that a judge simply telling you to disregard a question or statement would make it so? You don't think that if the judge told you not to think about pink elephants, that would be able to, do you? The research done in this area shows overwhelmingly that people (juries and judges alike) cannot disregard statements or evidence that has been excluded once they know of it.

A question like that does indeed leave a taint on all who heard it. All the audience wonders now, are they illegal? Many people are prejudiced against illegal aliens, and that prejudice dilutes the presumption of innocence that all people before the court should have. There are thousands upon thousands of legal immigrants in this country whose grasp of English is enough to get them by in their daily life but which is not good enough for them to follow courtroom proceedings. Were you told that they did not speak any English, or simply that they needed an interpreter for the trial? Is it not just as likely they did not know what words like “prosecution,” “voir dire,” and “sustained” mean than it is that they didn’t speak English at all? Would it not be easier for anyone to have their criminal trial in their native language, regardless of their fluency in English? Those who can follow well enough in English don’t request an interpreter because the research supports the theory that those needing an interpreter are more likely to be found guilty.

I’m not saying that the juror who asked the question was so biased. But I also don’t think the judge’s lecture was for the benefit of the asker. More likely it was for those prospective jurors, like yourself, who had decided that these men were “most likely” illegal and thus, would prefer to get them off the streets no matter their guilt or innocence.