My jury duty: “Get it right or an innocent guy goes to jail”

10

By Chuck Woodbury
ROADSIDE JOURNAL

I spent four days last week serving on a jury in Snohomish County Superior Court in Everett, Washington. It was the first time I served on a jury. It was one of the most interesting, stimulating, satisfying four days I have spent in a long time.

Early Monday morning I reported to the courthouse. I sat around with another 200 potential jurors and waited to be called to serve. But by early afternoon I was dismissed because all jurists for that day had been selected.

The following morning, back in the big waiting room, I was called to a courtroom along with 44 other potential jurors. The judge, prosecuting attorney and defense attorney asked us a lot of questions to determine if we were acceptable. Eventually they dismissed all but 13 people. I remained, juror number six. One juror would be selected later as an alternate and released.


The trial started late Wednesday morning. Both attorneys made their opening statements, where we learned the defendant was charged with 3rd degree rape. He was a nice-looking guy, mid-30s, well groomed, well dressed. He sat quietly, scribbling notes now and then.

The first witness was called, the 20-something woman accuser. She told her story, sobbing often, sometimes uncontrollably. I, for one, felt sorry for her. We were excused to the jury room a few times when she needed to gather herself. This happened many times during the trial.

I was anxious. “I need to get this right,” I told myself. What if I determine he’s guilty, but am wrong? An innocent man would go to jail! I learned later that other jurors thought the same.

The trial continued, one witness after another — several sheriff deputies and investigators, friends, and a forensic nurse who said on the stand that she is involved in about 400 cases a month involving child or adult sexual abuse. I was shocked.

Until midday Friday, more evidence was presented. We learned that throughout the alleged rape, the woman was texting her boyfriend. “Save me,” she pleaded. But he texted back that the relationship was over, good riddance to her. Still they texted — once a minute for the better part of an hour. During all that time she never called 911. I thought, and I think other jurists did, too, how could someone be raped while sending and receiving text messages?

Evidence was presented that she and the alleged rapist were smoking meth throughout the day. As the evidence stacked up, it increasingly appeared to me that the sex was consensual.

After closing arguments, we adjourned to the jury room to begin our deliberations. After two hours, none of us could determine “beyond a reasonable doubt” that a rape had occurred. “Not guilty,” was the only way we could vote.

After the judge read the verdict, as the defendant sobbed, we filed out of the courtroom and were excused — all to go our own ways. For almost four days we had been together, much of the time in a windowless, 250-square-foot meeting room, where we could not discuss the trial until the judge told us so. So we talked about kids, our dogs, our jobs, good restaurants, the weather. We laughed a lot, like friends.

And then, our duty completed, we all returned to our regular lives, unlikely to ever see each other again.

Now, almost a week later, I keep thinking about the trial, about the people, about how much I enjoyed concentrating on one thing for one week, not 20 different things at a time as I do running my business.

I will likely not get called for jury duty again soon. But I know one thing, I hope I get on another trial. It’s so stimulating, so interesting … and, at least this time, I felt proud later that I had done something good for my community. And, hey, I earned $10 a day! How ’bout that?


10 COMMENTS

  1. I also served on two jury’s when I was in my mid 20s but as jurors I feel we made the wrong decision. Long story short a homeowner sued a swimming pool company (small mom & pop business) for shoddy work. The attorney representing the homeowner was top notch showed the glossy pool brochure to us jurors and said this is what the homeowner bought. Pictures of the actual pool were ok but he kept pointing out lines weren’t straight, etc. Pool company justifies with rainy spring and delays and changes by homeowner. Home owner is dressed very neatly in Suit and tie and then breaks down on the stand crying that the pool company had left a live voltage cable exposed in the hole and his little son was playing near it. Pool company disputes this. Didn’t take us long to find in favor of homeowner. He got a free pool out of it plus any money he paid. 6 months later at the grocery store a few isles over I could hear a man using every 4 letter word and then a smack and then crying. As the man rounded the corner he was unkept, sloppily dressed and was pulling his small son behind him using loud foul language. This was the same man we awarded the case too. I shuttered and immediately thought we did wrong.

  2. It sounds like you made the right decision in the case. One thing that jumped out at me was the forensic nurse. 400 cases a month! I have to call bs on that one. If she works 20 days a month and only spends an hour on each case she would have to work 20 hour days just to see 400 people. Also an hour is no where near long enough to examine, collect, and document a sexual assault. Hopefully she was just misspoken.

  3. Your experience sounds similar to mine. I’ve served on 2 juries, one civil case and one criminal case involving a minor assault. There was never a “Perry Mason” moment and the defendants in each case did dumb things. We too found the criminal defendant not guilty but the entire jury wished we could have convicted him of criminal stupidity. Justice can be messy.

  4. In Florida I am excused from all jury duty because I am over 70 years old. I was never called for a jury in all the years before that.

  5. Im a foster parent for varying degrees of special needs kids, so the last two times I was summoned I was exempted as a necessary caregiver. Technically, I could be exempted as a sole proprietor business, too. So, when I’ve had a hole in my business and fostering schedules (such as they are ever predictable), I call the courthouse and volunteer to serve. You can’t select your case, and you may be held over longer outside the time you’ve chosen as needed, but it’s better than being summoned out of the blue when you’re busy!

    • Wolfe,

      Please tell me more about volunteering. I’ve never heard of doing that. I just thought that the only chance to serve was when you were summoned.

      Aside from this- don’t assume jurors are devoted to the trial…many will just be there to keep the seat warm and get it over with. Don’t ever get in trouble…a jury of “your peers” can be anything but.

      • I call the court, and say something like “I get summoned every couple years, and have some available time coming up. I’d LIKE to do my civic duty while easier, and understand I’m not picking the case…” Our court is overloaded and appreciates volunteers who aren’t throwing the case just to get out of Jury… not everyone values justice as much as we do.

  6. If you think a regular jury is interesting, get called for a grand jury. You sit and decide if the district attorney has enough evidence to actually go to trial. You see the heartbeat of your community laid bare. Rape, drugs and murder, it is all there.

    • I know what you mean there… if you want to never sleep again, try doing foster care. I can “kinda” understand the motive for theft, but the things some people do to young kids around here will recalibrate your scale for horror. There’s a lot of stuff you can’t even put on the news.

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