I’m retired two months, and the court has my number. “No worries,” I think to myself. I was the coordinator of Mock Trial for our county. I know TOO many attorneys and judges. They’ll throw me off in a second, and
I’ll be back to Retirement Bliss.
OK that didn’t happen. What did happen was that I ran into our friend and my husband’s former boss, Carlos Aleman, in the Jury Waiting Room – Room 202.
I got caught up on stories from his daughter’s debut at Georgetown University. I’m not quite sure what her major is, but she’s learning all about politics, economics, and wonderfully social studies/civics types of classes – AND she has to learn Chinese!
Then he got called away, and I saw teacher I knew, but she didn’t see me and besides we were watching a video about grand juries. I didn’t have a clue as to what was in store for me. Before I even had a chance to pull out my Kindle story of Tale of Two Cities, a serious woman behind a glass window called about 30-35 names, and lo and behold my name was among them. So up I went to the farthest room on the third floor, Department 10. I can’t tell you a THING about the case, but I can tell you a little about what it was like being on this Grand Jury.
All of us crowded inside the room. More names were called, and I stayed put. “NO WORRIES”, I thought. I speak Spanish. They threw me out last time because I
MIGHT understand what the witness said.
“Are you all of sound mind?” The judge asked. Nobody moved a muscle – not even a smile. “Nobody wants to admit to that. Is there anyone here who cannot understand English?” Several people raised their hands. The judge questioned each one individually, and dismissed them all. One man didn’t move. He REALLY didn’t understand English. Finally people motioned and waved goodbye. A big grin spilled over his face. He left.
My name was called. “NO WORRIES” I thought. I am best friends with a defense attorney. The prosecution threw me out last time. I took my place in the juror’s box. They called a few more names.
“OK, that’s 19. the rest of you are dismissed.” I was in shock. I looked around. The rest of the 19 were in shock. The video didn’t warn us about this. It just said how much fun it (the experience of being on a Grand Jury) was, and how much the jurors learned from their experience, and how they trusted the system now.
The judge looked at us, read some instructions, then said, “___ ___.” (no names here) “You are going to be the floor manager (I think that’s what he called him.) Who knew what that meant? Does any one want to be the keeper of the keys? The courtroom is locked at all times until YOU let the witnesses in. One juror finally raised her hand. “And now we need someone to be the court secretary.” No one raised their hand. I volunteered. Then the judge LEFT. Did you get that? The man with the black robe walked OUT of the courtroom.
WOW! Now what? There were two attorneys. One said, “I’ve never done a Grand Jury before.” The other one said, “YOU are in charge,” and looked at US. “You can determine your schedules.”
___ ____ took his/her place in the judge’s spot (the bench). There was a book up there that he could read from when one of the attorneys directed him. (Usually the judge directs the attorneys.) “Oh, and you (and the knowledgable one pointed to me) are going to have to move over here somewhere because you are going to manage all the evidence. But you don’t have to move yet, you can wait until after the break.” So I stayed put. We all got packets with the case. I got a binder with my duties spelled out. I’m in charge of taking roll. I guess a retired teacher can do that with no problem.
Then we started hearing witnesses. After the attorneys finished with their questions, we could submit our questions in writing – but NO TALKING! So we sat quietly and listened and watched. Still in shock. Was this really happening to us? We came back after lunch. More witnesses. One juror had to be home to pick up kids by 3:00, so we adjourned at 2:45. Everybody agreed to start at 8:30 the next morning.
It came SO early! I took roll, and noted the time when ___ ___ called the court to session. More witnesses. No lunch because a different person had to go on a trip, so we got out at 1:08. I wrote it down as prescribed by my job description. ___ ___ admonished us not to talk to anyone, ANYONE about anything regarding the case under penalty of perjury. We will be done on Monday. Our only job is to decide whether the case needs to come to trial, or in courtspeak “whether a criminal indictment will be issued.” That’s it. We don’t decide if the accused is innocent or guilty.
I looked up Grand Jury in Wikipedia. I know that’s not the total expert, but it was quick and interesting to note that ONLY the United States even uses Grand Juries, and only 21 of the states still employ them. Grand Juries got the name GRAND because they are big. Notice, we are a group of 19, not 12. That makes us just Grand as opposed to petit juries, or trial juries. Grand juries had a lot of business and were influential in public matters in the beginning days of the United States. Once public prosecutors came into being, the Grand Jury was not AS necessary to weed out “incompetent or malicious” prosecutions.
So on Monday I go back to do the mostly unnecessary work of weeding out a potentially malicious or incompetent prosecution, with the two prosecutors directing our GRAND group as to what to do. Amazingly, I’m OK with that.
Have you ever served on a Grand Jury? Does your state even use Grand Juries? Did you like the story of my experience, or was it as dull as sitting in a Jury Waiting Room?
- Demystifying Criminal Law: Who’s Who (blogs.lawyers.com)
- Queens DA Expects Grand Jury in NYPD Shooting of Unarmed Motorist (privateinvesigations.blogspot.com)
- Thinking about Law School? Consider Participating in Mock Trials (blogs.lawyers.com)
- And Then There Were Three: Third Grand Jury Refuser Goes to Prison (slog.thestranger.com)