Serving Jury Time in Tucson: Drama & Duty

What is it like to serve on a jury in Pima County’s Superior Court? Having just done my duty for the first time, it was the high drama part that surprised me.

My jury experience started with a summons to appear for duty on September 25, but with no time of day given. For that information, I was instructed to login to a Pima Jury Duty Website after 3:30 P.M. the day before my report date.

I reported for duty at the courthouse at 8:30 A.M. and was greeted by a sea of very diverse people. We were all assigned to one of four groups, 45 people per group, and squeezed into a large first-floor room awaiting instructions. Orientation consisted of a well done, 15-minute patriotic video about jury service in Arizona.

I waited five hours—fortunately I brought a good book—before my group 122 was asked to follow the bailiff to the courtroom of Judge Carmine Cornelio on the fourth floor. After waiting for 30 more minutes, 18 members of our group were identified and asked to take seats in the jury area. The rest of our group, which included me, was asked to sit in the visitor’s section and listen to the proceedings.

After everyone was seated, the judge reported that this was a criminal case, identified the defendant and her attorney, the prosecuting attorney, and read the charges. He explained that in this case—a potential three-time DUI conviction—some people may be excused based on their biases. He asked several well-thought-out questions and solicited each potential juror’s opinion. His professionalism, sense of humor and respect for everyone was remarkable given the fact that several people rambled on about their personal beliefs, not able to answer his questions.

Just another juror deciding someone’s fate…


As the judge did his Q&A, both attorneys wrote on sticky notes the names of potential jurors they liked or disliked. The judge was also doing some weeding on his own. After he’d excuse a potential juror, he’d call someone sitting in my section to take the vacated jury seat. Finally my name was called. The judge had excused 20 people before he asked those seated as potential jurors where we lived in Tucson, did we have bumper stickers on our cars, what were our hobbies, etc. Some of the answers disqualified more people. At 4:40 P.M. the judge asked the bailiff to find ten more people awaiting assignments on the first floor. He conferred with both attorneys, and reported that more people needed to be screened. The group seated as potential jurors—18 people—should report to the courtroom at 9:30 A.M. the next day; the ten new people in the visitor’s section were asked to report at 8:30 A.M.

Before the day started, I thought jury duty was a significant inconvenience. Now I had second thoughts about this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

On my second day of jury duty, I waited outside the courtroom for 30 minutes before I took a seat in the visitors section, along with 22 potential jurors. The judge said that we had all been prequalified to serve as jurors, but only nine of us would be called. I wanted to be one of those jurors. Then the names were called, “Juror number one is Casey, number two Andrew, number three Aaron, number four Don, number five Jade, number six Rachel, number seven Caren and number eight is Sherri.” That’s when I knew my name would not be called. But as I dejectedly prepared to get up and go home, I heard, “The ninth juror is Richard.”

As I walked to take my seat, I was light-headed. After sitting down, I felt surreal, having miraculously dodged another uneventful day in the life of a 68-year-old retiree. The jury was given a 20-page booklet with instructions on what we could and could not do during the trial and emphatically admonished not to talk to anyone, including fellow jurors, about the case until after the trial was over.

The responsibility of making a good decision, the correct decision, was ever present on my mind throughout the trial. After two days of hearing evidence, the judge reported that the case was now in the hands of the jurors, giving us a 22-page booklet with specific instructions. But only eight people would make the decision. The judge explained that one of us was serving as an alternate and would not participate in the final decision. Knowing I was juror number nine, I thought I’d be the one to go; not what I wanted. He then stated that the alternate juror would be determined by lots. His clerk reached into a box, picked out a sheet of paper, and read, “Sherri.” I wanted to serve to the very end and breathed a sigh of relief.

Once settled into the jury’s deliberation room, we voted for Aaron to be our foreman. There were four counts against the defendant and on each count there had to be unanimity for a conviction. Aaron carefully read each count. Based on the relevant facts in this case, did we believe the defendant was guilty, not guilty or were we not sure? It didn’t take long to reach a unanimous decision—guilty on all four counts; a tough decision, but the right one. However, that was not enough. He thought it prudent to have each of the jurors explain why he or she had made their decision. In so doing, I learned a lot about my fellow jurors, their rational thinking skills and the wisdom of the jury system. While it may not always work, my guess is that this system is one of the bright shining stars of the U.S. Judicial System.

Comments

  1. Dan Dykstra says:

    I used to have a bumper sticker on my pick-up that said: HAVE YOU HUGGED YOUR GLASS INSTALLER TODAY? Would that have disqualified me? Ha.

    I’m also 68 but have never been called for jury duty yet but it appears to be a privilege and an honor. Good job Richard.

    BTW, what is the pay scale?

    Dan

    • Dick Kelly says:

      Dan, your bumper sticker would have probably given you status as the number one juror. Now if you had a MADD sticker or I hate cops, I think you would have been excused immediately. Interestingly, no potential juror said they had a sticker on their car. One potential juror, when asked why he didn’thave one, said that he liked having a clean car.
      The pay was not that bad. I received a check in the mail today for $57.36 and that included mileage, which was 75 miles in total.
      And Dan, I do consider it a privilege and an honor

  2. Norine says:

    Dick,

    That was interesting. I’ ve never served on jury duty and it was fun to see how it works. It probably would have been a less desirable thing to do if you were not retired.

    Say – did this open up any desire to write a mystery novel next?

    Norine

    • Dick Kelly says:

      Norine, I think I will let Grisham do that. I will tell you that I am currently working on a trilogy which will be called, “Looking for the Truth — It’s Not at Mama’s Club.” This will not be a mystery novel but the sober truth and the good humor of folks that figure this out on their own.
      PS Are you surprised that the Detroit Tigers finished first in their division? When Helen and I saw you this summer, it did not look like they had a chance.

      • Norine says:

        Dick,

        The Tiger’s have an awesome team, but it was a little concerning that they would reach first in their division. It’s going to be fun to see how they do now!

        Norine

  3. John F - Flagstaff, Az says:

    Dick,

    Thanks for the insight on your experience.

    I’ve never served on a jury and I’m 57 years old. As you probably know, while Jehovah’s Witnesses can serve, most choose not to and try to get excused from their civic duty because of religious reasons. Yeah I know, but that’s what they say.

    Since leaving them 13 years ago, I’ve been called up twice, but have been excused because of pending surgeries. One was a DUI and the other a major drug case with potential of 2-3 weeks. I would have loved to have been on that one. Hopefully, they won’t give up on me and call me again.

    John – Fellow Former Bethelite (1975-1976)

    • Richard Kelly says:

      John F, thank you for your comment and I hope that you get your jury duty experience in the near future. It definitely has its own dynamics and one that I will not forget.
      I was also grateful for the eight other jurors, all very classy, intelligent people. Some people have told me about their jury experience with one stinker in the bunch which made the deliberation portion very frustrating.

  4. Kurt Leininger says:

    Dick – well done! I’ve always found it a worthwhile experience, the few times I’ve been called. The first was the only time I actually sat on the juiry, as an alternate as it turned out (Oakland, CA, 1982). The case was very interesting, and I was impressed by learning howtheringent requirements on the prosecution to prove guilt. (Yes, I was disappointed to not have been in the jury delibation room.) The verdict was not guilty, on the charge of soliciting an act of prostitution. The police had a female “plant” who conned the guy, but they couldn’t prove beyond a reasonable doubt that it was the same guy, or maybe the same street location, or something like that. (I thought the guy looked and acted guilty, but it couldn’t be proven. And I was ambivalent about it being a crime in the first place – probably why the defense attorney wanted me on the jury.)

    My other 2 or 3 times in the jury room were here in Chester Co., PA, but the only time I was actually seated among the jurers, the case was settled before the trial began.

    My deepe\st impression of the beauty of our system is the “melting pot” of potential jurors who cobble together rational decisions that keep bad people from perpetuating their crimes. If you haven’t seen the classic old movie “Nine Angry Men”, please do so! It has several excellent acting roles, Henry Fonda being most paramount.

    Best to you and the lovely wife – Kurt

  5. Melissa says:

    I was just going to suggest 12 angry men (not nine). Great movie.

    I was one of the folks examined one for a drug trial with five defendants. I really wanted to serve. They asked us what magazine subscriptions we got and when I said watchtower they rejected me from the pool. I hope to get another try someday now that all we get are food and garden magazines!

  6. Dick Kelly says:

    Melissa, you have come a long way. Knowing you today, it is almost possible for me to imagine you in your former watchtower-state-of mind. People can change and rid themselves of life-sucking dysfunctional religious beliefs. You are living proof of that and one of my heroes.

  7. Dick, I have always wanted to be called for jury duty, but it hasn’t happened yet. Since you were 68, there is still hope for me yet! As far as bumper stickers go, I think you know what mine would say IF I had one.




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