Why I’ll Never Get Picked for Jury Duty

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I remember when I was young, and my parents would get their jury summons in the mail. “Oh man, this is the last thing I need,” Mom would say.  Dad got out of it, being an ex-cop.  Growing up, I realized most people avoided their civic responsibility.  Wasn’t this illegal?  It sounded like fun to me, sitting in the court room with all that excitement, seeing all the evidence, aiding in the decision of the defendant’s verdict.

I got summoned for jury duty in Ventura County when I was 18.  I was excited.  I was serving my country, or at least my county.  Dad told me to bring a book, “you’ll be doing a lot of sitting around.”  I sat on a cold wooden pew, gazing out the window, reading my book.  At 4pm, a woman came out, “Thank you for your participation, you are now released.”  Wow, just like that.

I escaped jury duty for another 14 years, until I got another summons in September 2000 – a murder trial in Marin County.  The defendant was right there at the table, 5 feet away from me.  He didn’t look like the murdering type, yet  I looked at him as if he was already guilty.

I filled out a jury questionnaire form.  The trial was set to begin on October 11th.  Phew, I had travel plans to New York City then.  They excused me.

A month later, my father was arrested for the murder of his strip club business partner.  The tables had turned.  My mom, sister and I sat through the jury selection for his trial.  These strangers were going to hear intimate details about my family and decide the fate of my father’s life.  His current sentence was the death penalty.  Dad’s million dollar attorneys hired a jury specialist.  “Believe us, it’s money well spent, she has a great track record,” they assured us.

The jury specialist wrote up a specific questionnaire to weed out any riff raff.  I was blown away by the magnitude of excuses people had for getting out of jury duty – couldn’t understand English, acid reflux, a sick relative, work wouldn’t let them serve.

A doctor with a private practice said no one could cover for him.  Out of all of these yahoos, I figured at least a doctor would be more professional.  “Do you take vacations?”  the judge asked.  “Of course I do,” said the doc.  “Well I’m sure you must find a way to get coverage then, right?”  “Yes I do.”  In the end, the specialist didn’t pick the doc anyway.  Republican.

The foreman selected for Dad’s jury was a young woman.  She reminded me a lot of myself.  We’re in good hands, I thought.  I smiled at her a couple of times.

Sadly, my father was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison.  As Dad’s verdict was read by the forewoman, my sister cried  hysterically as the reporters snapped photo after photo of us.  I could barely see with the flashes.  The judge thanked the jurors for their time and dismissed them.  Mom, my sister and I sat there.  The jurors scurried by us as quickly as they could, with their heads down.  So much for money well spent.

Last May, I received a jury summons in New York City.  I told my friends, “I got a jury summons, I’m so excited!”  “They’ll never pick you because of your dad,” most said.   Why not?  I wasn’t completely defendant-sensitive.  Hell, I thought O.J. was guilty!

I was scheduled to report for jury duty on July 22nd, 2009.  I had nightmares of my dad’s trial.  I couldn’t sleep.  The morning I arrived for duty I had butterflies in my stomach.  I was the perfect candidate – smart, educated and knew the importance of being an unbiased juror.

I sat in the jury room as we waited for our names to be called.  I looked around –  people were talking, laughing, on their blackberries.  I wondered if anyone else had a family member in prison for murder.   I overheard people talking about how they get out of jury duty.  I wanted to beat the shit out of those ignorant fools.

The court official came back out to read another list of names.  I held my breath.  “Woods, Laurel” she announced the last name.  I grabbed my things and walked outside.

We were led to the court room and sat down.  The judge was there, with the defense attorney, the prosecutor, and the defendant.  The judge gave us instructions, “I’m bringing you up to the jury box in three groups.”  I was in the second group.

The judge began by discussing the case, a drug deal, and our roles as potential jurors.  Drug deal?  Piece of cake.  The judge and attorneys asked the group questions and dismissed some of the jurors.  My group was next.

The judge went around to each of us, asked us our occupation, group affiliations and highest education.  Pass.  Next, he asked about prior arrests, or if we knew anyone in the NYPD or D.A.’s office.  Pass.

The judge asked the group if anyone knew someone that spent or was currently spending time in prison or jail.  My heart stopped.  Some guy raised his hand, “When I was in college a guy in my dorm was arrested for a DUI and spent 2 nights in jail.”  What a moron.  “Do you think this will affect your ability to give this defendant a fair trial?”  “No, I’m good.”  “Thank you,” the judge responded.

“Anyone else?”  I raised my hand.  “My father is serving a life sentence in prison.”  Every head in the room turned around to me. The court room had gone silent.  I could hear the crickets clear out in the Bayou.

“What is his conviction?”  The judge fumbled his words.  I paused, “Murder.”  Another bomb dropped.  People turned their heads around even more, as if they were stretching at the end of a yoga class.  “Where is he serving his sentence?”  “In California,” I offered.  “Do you feel that your father’s conviction will prevent you from being able to give this defendant a fair trial?”  “No, I do not.”  “Thank you.”

Next the attorneys each had a chance to ask detailed questions. The defense attorney singled me out right away.  “Were you involved at all in your dad’s trial?”  “Yes.”  All of a sudden, I had flashbacks of being cross-examined by the bulldog prosecutor during my dad’s trial.  He tore apart every phrase I had uttered in my testimony, trying to put words into my mouth. I had quickly learned to never offer more than what you’re asked.

“Can you elaborate?”  She asked.  “I sat through my dad’s jury selection, and his trial.”  “Every day?”  “Yes.”  I was visibly shaking.  “Did you have to testify?”  “Yes.”  I could only respond yes or no.  “And you still feel that you can give my client a fair trial, given your dad’s situation?”  “Yes I do.”  “Thank you,” she looked at me unconvincingly.

After both attorneys finished, the judge read out the names to be dismissed.  I wanted to be selected more than anything.  “Laurel Woods,” my heart sank.  Everyone stared at me with a look of sadness.  I gathered my things, stood up, and walked out of the court room.  Everyone else was trying to get out and I was trying to stay in.  I felt rejected and was emotionally exhausted.  They’ll never pick me.

Now, I’m a huge proponent for jury duty.  Friends and co-workers tell me how they’re trying to get out of it and I proceed to rip them a new one, “Could be YOUR dad’s trial.”   I’ve been permanently branded by my trial experience.   I’ll never get picked for jury duty and I’ve accepted that.  No one in my family will.  And that’s too bad.

If only I had told the attorney my thoughts on O.J…

Next time I get a jury summons, I’m showing up to court with a tee-shirt that says “Pops In Slammer” so I can cut to the chase and save us all some time.

***Also, See Nathan Thornburgh’s post commenting on my post here:

http://www.dadwagon.com/2010/09/15/more-about-jury-duty/

14 thoughts on “Why I’ll Never Get Picked for Jury Duty

  1. THIS IS BRILLIANT!!
    You need to get film rights girlfriend!
    Love
    Cxx

  2. you have a gift Laurel – truly you do…and I want to thank you for this timing as I am CURRENTLY on “call” for Jury Duty this week. Even with plans hanging in limbo to go to Las Vegas this week, I WILL NOT shirk this responsibility. I have NEVER served and actually would really like to. You have certainly put the responsibility into perspective…it could be one of our family members and we would WANT people who WANT to be there..not someone looking for an easy way out.

    I’m glad that this blog appears to be an outlet for you….after all these years it must feel good to get it out and not feel so alone.

    Think of you often..sending my love!! xoxoxo

    I agree – film rights in the works???

  3. Great post. Your storytelling has so many layers to it– great writing

  4. Your blog is great, Laurel (although I feel bad for saying that, as I’m sure the events you’re recounting weren’t easy to go through). Nevertheless, your retelling of it is wildly entertaining. If “Shit My Dad Says” can get a book and TV show deal, you ought to be able to come up with something. Not sure if that means you gotta break your blog posts up into Twitter-sized chunks or what, but I’m sure there’s a way to catch the viral wave. I’ll do my part and repost. 🙂

  5. You would have a much better chance getting picked for a civil jury. Most lawyers don’t ask about family members in prison in civil cases and I’ve even been involved in criminal cases where that never came up. Great piece.

  6. I love your writing Laurel! You brought me right there into the courtroom with you, really great writing. Have you considered writing short stories or writing a book? You have such a colorful life and are able to tell your story so well!!!

  7. I love that you remain so spirited in the face of these painful events, Laurel. Thanks for this entertaining and poignant blog!

  8. I do have a family member in prison – my daughter – criminal assault and burglary. 12 years. I have just been called for jury duty. I have served many times in the past, and actually liked it, but this time, I don’t feel that I can serve, no matter what the case is. I am rather angry over everything that has gone on with my daughter’s case. The money we spent did not help at all, because the other parties involved had more money. And, the police searched my house, even though my daughter has not been there (even to visit) in several years. They seized some of my own personal belongings – items I probably will never get back, and that I can’t replace. Cameras, computers etc.. I don’t want to serve at all – as I have lost all respect for the judicial system. I don’t even want to appear at court. So, there is no such excuse in my state. Would writing a letter work when I send in my juror response?

  9. My brother was convicted of first degree murder. Everyday when I leave my house I have horrible paranoia that someone will come up to me and say something about him. I have and I don’t ever say anything back, how can I. He did what he did. Now my family has to pay for what he’s done out here. I don’t know about your story if it’s real or not but it sucks… to be on the other side. You hardly ever think about the families of killers. You probably think they’re childhoods were shitty. We always were together on trips, had family game nights, but none of that matters now. There are things that the actions of my brother has ruined for me but he will always be my brother despite whatever he is

  10. Hi there, sorry for my late reply but thanks so much for reading my blog and sharing your story. I hope your family is ok. It’s a hard process to go through as a family.

  11. I actually have been chosen for jury duty my second time around for a gun charge. I agree with you it is an honor and our duty as Citizens to serve on a jury

  12. You know what…..maybe YOU like jury duty but not everyone wants to do it. I dont think anyone should be MADE to do it if they prefer not to. I have done it and I think the system is a joke. So…..don’t act like everyone should do it if they are called. I worked in the system and it’s very flawed and NOT because people like me no longer want to do jury duty. There are usually a bunch of liberals on there and I can’t stand to hear that speak. Something’s should be cut and dry. You take a life, you go to prison. We don’t need some damn attorney to sway things there way.

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