Saturday April 17, 2004

Summoned to Appear (part 4 of 4)

I was Summoned to Appear for Jury Duty this past Monday, April 12. The story begins here, continuing with part 2 and part 3. The fourth and final installment is below. ]

I headed out of the elevator, checked a sign board that said 8D was at the far end, and headed down to the courtroom. I arrived as the bailiff was saying "This doesn't look like 30 people". I said "It isn't; they're behind me; the elevators were really slow." The bailiff (a woman with long crinkly blonde hair and a Sheriff's office insignia) agreed that slow elevators were normal.

Then everyone else came in and took a seat and the courtroom clerk took roll. One woman was missing. So, the courtroom clerk called downstairs to the Jury Assembly room clerk who called over the PA system and...

Meanwhile, I sat waiting, looking around the courtroom. It was a nicely appointed courtroom with lots of wood paneling. The jury seats were grey swivel chairs, apparently well padded. The "audience/observation" area had flip-up seats like a lecture hall. It was a large room but only 3 rows of observation seats so everyone would be near any action.

The defendant(?) sat at a table with, presumably, counsel for the defense, occasionally talking in undertones. The other lawyer, a woman, sat at the other end of a long table. Both lawyers wore blue suits. The defendant wore a long-sleeved, buttoned white shirt, no tie, something unidentifiable in his shirt pocket, and a mohawk haircut.

Eventually, the missing juror arrived. Then "All rise" and the judge came in. The courtroom clerk said "Raise your right hands" and we were all sworn to be truthful. Then we all sat back down and the judge began to tell us the background of the case.

Apparently this was neither a civil nor a criminal trial, but a trial to determine if the length of stay in a mental institution should be extended for the "respondent" (not "defendant"). In 1987, Mr. Luther, the respondent, (he with the mohawk) was tried on charges of discharging a gun into a residence. The jury at the time found him not guilty by reason of insanity and Mr. Luther was sent to the state hospital in Napa for psychiatric treatment. He was now due to get out, having served the original period of his sentence.

Apparently, people found not guilty by insanity can be sentenced to a mental facility for up to the maximum length of time that a guilty finding might sentence them to prison. However, at the end of a prison sentence, a convicted prisoner is free to leave. At the end of a mental hospital sentence the doctors may request up to two years of extension to the sentence. And, two years later, they can make the same request again. The case for extension goes to a jury to decide. I was beginning to wonder why a jury should make this sort of decision rather than an informed medical board of enquiry.

Then the judge said "You probably want to know how long this should take" and told us the trial had, technically, already started but had to be suspended because one of the attorneys became ill. They had already chosen several jurors. Today they planned to choose the rest.

There would be testimony from four witnesses. The trial was expected to last no longer than the current week. Jury deliberations were, of course, beyond anyone's control, but would probably take a day or less. The trial should be over Friday at the earliest, perhaps as late as next Monday or Tuesday.

Then the judge asked that anyone who would suffer "extreme" hardship by being involved in a case of that duration please raise their hands and he would speak to each person individually in his chambers. I certainly wouldn't suffer extreme hardship on a one week case, so I didn't raise my hand. Eleven of the thirty people did raise their hands and were asked to move over to the jury box, where they would be taken into the judge's chambers one by one.

Most of the people claiming hardships were allowed to leave, directed out the back corridor from the judge's chambers. One young man (the one I had found sleeping in the car next to me early that morning) was told to come back into the courtroom and choose a date to come back, in the summer. Apparently he is a student.

One man claiming "extreme hardship" was sent back to sit with the rest of us, his claim denied. I was, secretly, pleased by this. The gentleman in question had been very confident, on the way to the elevators, that he would not have to serve because he was self-employed. Methinks he over exhibited his confidence to the judge and the judge decided his business wouldn't fail due to one week of jury duty. The man didn't look nearly as confident (or as smug) when he came back to join the rest of us.

The bailiff came back and asked if there was anyone else who would suffer hardship. A young woman tentatively raised her hand (apparently having decided to try). She was taken to the judge and then returned; no hardship.

By now it was 10:45. Time flies, and all that. The judge and counsel were still out. One woman who claimed hardship had not yet had her claim decided; she was out making a phone call.

About this time, Mr Luther, the respondent, returned to the courtroom, sans lawyer, and sat at the table where he had been sitting before. Shortly after he sat down, it became apparent that he had not quite returned to the same planet.

He began muttering, staring, and making sharp head jerks. He appeared to be talking to an imaginary friend, not in English (possibly in Klingon). He was making an excellent case for himself as being totally fruit loops. At one point, the bailiff said "Mr Luther, just settle down".

I thought, "That's it, I'm out of here. No way can I be fair or impartial; Mr Luther is quite clearly non compos mentis. Mr Luther is not ready to rejoin society any time soon."

The remaining "hardship" claimee returned and was sent to sit with the rest of us. The bailiff went to the judge's chambers for a few moments. Then she came back and asked all of the potential jurors to go out of the courtroom for a few minutes and mingle with the jurors from last week (but please do not discuss the case). We went out into the hallway and I stood at the window and looked out at the view.

A young woman standing beside me, also looking out the window, sighed and said "Great. I get to waste my spring break on a trial for a crazy man." I said "Well, if you find a more polite way to say that, you will probably get off. Lose "waste" but keep "crazy" when they ask you if you can be impartial." She smiled.

They called us back into the courtroom and we all sat down. The judge and counsel were back but Mr. Luther was no longer present. When we were seated, the judge said "Ladies and Gentlemen, this case has been resolved." I thought, "Really. Hmmm."

The judge went on to say "Mr Luther has decided to withdraw his request for a trial and has decided to re-enter treatment. Those who were with us last week will have noticed a significant change in Mr Luther's behaviour."

Apparently, according to the judge, this sort of thing is not unusual. Faced with the prospect of a jury to rule on his case, many such respondents make their own decisions to continue treatment and not stand trial. As far as I am concerned, Mr Luther made the right decision. I guess, in the words of Lucy Van Pelt, the fact that he realized he (still) needs help indicates he is not too far gone.

So, that was that, and we were free to go. We had served our purpose. Before I left the building, I headed down to the Jury Commissioner's office on the second floor to pick up the paper that verified my appearance as summoned. Then I went back to the parking lot, got in my car, and drove home.

Later, thinking back over the events of the day, I had a realization. If the attorney had not been taken ill, there would not have been a 4-day postponement in jury selection. The trial would have begun and, quite probably, ended before this Monday. If that had been the case, could Mr Luther have held out long enough to win his case? Observing his obviously "unusual" behaviour in the courtroom on Monday, the question disturbs me.

Summoned to Appear (part 4 of 4) ( in category Trivial Pursuits ) - posted at Sat, 17 Apr, 20:51 Pacific | «e»