Jury Duty. A Privilege? A Right? or a Real Experience?

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Lancaster County Courthouse from an Old Post Card

I was called for Jury Duty this week.  My husband was called last week.  Now we’ve lived in Pennsylvania for nine, count them, nine years and never been called and all of a sudden we’re both called at once!  He didn’t get picked for a jury; I did.  He loves jury duty; I don’t.  Isn’t it funny how the cards are dealt?  I do have a medical excuse from jury duty which I’ve had a number of years.  Since I have not used for only God knows how many years, do you think I could find it?  Nope!  But what are the chances I’d get picked for a jury?  Pretty good, it seems!

I reported for Jury Duty at the designated time, 7:30AM!  Early for Linda?  You Bet!  But I did it and was among the first to arrive.  Others drifted in as late as 8:30!  What don’t they understand?  and why exactly did they expect me to give up my good, easy escape aisle seat for them?  Just not going to happen!

We were all given our “Juror” buttons and instructed to have them visible at all times.  (turns out that’s a good thing if you want discounts at local eating establishments!)  After watching a short film about Jury Duty, Judge Madenspacher came in and gave us a short talk about what to expect if we got chosen for a jury.  He took questions, from “what’s the difference between Civil and Criminal court” to “How long until I get my check for serving?

Juror Button ~ Ticket to Court Room #2

Juror Button ~ Ticket to Court Room #2

Juror Selection:  Since we all had our Juror number assigned on our Jurors Summon, we were split into groups according to that number.  I was in group one since I was Juror #21.  There were approximately 75 people in this group and we marched, in numerical order, into Courtroom #2, for Jury selection.  It was here we got our first glimpse of the defendant who was sitting with his attorney.

Judge Madenspacher explained the case and what our duty would involve and what we were not to be concerned with.  We had all filled out a Juror’s information sheet with questions such as “have you ever been convicted of a felony?” or “Are you or any member of your family employed in law enforcement?”  and Judge Madenspacher asked us questions about our answers.  I felt that my answer to the law enforcement question would disqualify me, since my son-in-law is a Correctional Officer.  The only question I was asked is whether he was local!

After the Judge asked questions, the attorneys asked theirs.  The juror elimination then began, with the attorneys swapping forms back and forth.  The juror numbers were then called.  It appears they worked from the top of the stack since all jurors were called from the first two rows!  When they called the number next to me, I knew, yes, I knew, I’d be next!  and I was.  Both women on either side of me were called, and on down the row!

Trial Begins:  With jury selection complete, the rest of the prospective jurors were dismissed and we took our seats, according to juror number, of course.  My seat was in the middle of the first row ~ and I’m a back-row person!

In the courtroom were the Jury, the Judge, the Court Reporter, the Bailiff (who would become the jury’s closest friend for two days) a member of the County Recorder’s Office, Judge Madenspacher’s Law Clerk, the defendant and his attorney, the Assistant DA (prosecutor), one witness and three members of the Law Enforcement community.  Nobody else ~ no audience, no family member of defendants, nobody else!

Background of case: Megan’s Law Registration violation.  We were not to be concerned with the original charge that made it imperative he register for the list.  According to the law, you must register within 48 hours of changing residences.  Sounds easy enough, doesn’t it?  You’ll soon find out why it was not as easy as it sounds. . . . 

Opening Arguments:  The Prosecuting Attorney for the Commonwealth introduced his case and what he would prove and who his witnesses would be.  The Defense attorney said he would wait and have his opening argument before he produced his witnesses.  

Then it was Showtime!

Witnesses for the Prosecution:  The first witness was a Trooper with Pennsylvania State Police who was in charge of Megan’s Law Registration.  She appeared with a pile of paperwork and a copy of the statute for Megan’s Law.  She never referred to the statute and the paperwork seemed to be in no order, so she spent a lot of time sorting through it!  She did answer the questions, however, eventually.  The need for sex offenders to register was emphasized at this point in the trial.

The second witness was from Dauphin County Corrections who produced documents the defendant had signed signifying he was aware he had to register within 48 hours of change of residence.

The third witness was from Dauphin County probation who also produced documentation signed by the defendant.  Her testimony was adamant until the Defense caught her on where she was CERTAIN the interview with his client took place (courthouse vs prison.)

The next three witnesses were the defendant’s ex-landlord, Postal employee of his previous town and a law enforcement officer.  They all kept hammering that nail into the defendant’s coffin.

Defense Opening Argument and WitnessesAfter a lunch break the Defense took the stage and started with his opening argument.  He did create some doubt in my mind; he was good!  The two witnesses he called were the defendant and the Chief of Police from a neighboring community.

The defendant was not asked questions but chose to give his side of the story and why he thought he did not have to register.  The Chief of Police verified one small part of his story.  The defense rested at this point and we were dismissed for the day. 

Tuesday, closing arguments would begin and the jury would begin deliberation. Should be a short day. . . . .

A Panel of His Peers:

Day two was when the real fun started! Jury Deliberation! After closing arguments by both sides we received our instructions from the Judge and the Bailiff escorted us across the hall into the Juror’s Room. For all intents and purposes, a nice room, with comfortable chairs, a large table, two rest rooms (one had no light so only one was used), paper, pencils and of course the exhibits that were introduced into the trial. The bailiff provided us with our drinks of choice (from the cafeteria, of course) and then it began!

Twelve Jurors: Four men and eight women. Out of this group, two men and three women could not be heard over the other seven people. The others were so loud that the Bailiff appeared several times to tell us to hold the noise down! In the order in which we sat:

  • Woman ~ louder than anybody in the room, also the most stubborn. We learned that the last time she was on jury duty she addressed her wedding invitations during deliberation. She had made up her mind and anybody who did not agree with her were basically not understanding it!
  • Man ~ young man, quiet, took notes and when he spoke everybody listened. If you did not agree with him, he understood.
  • Woman ~ educator, had gas (badly) the first day. She, too, was loud and opinionated, but she smiled when she looked down at you.
  • Me. Sat next to #3 and because of her first trait was anxious for the trial to come to a conclusion. I tried to speak on several ocassions but gave up. I’ll get back to that later.
  • Woman ~ young mother who also tried to speak on several ocassions but just gave up and sat back and watched after awhile.
  • Woman ~ and this one was unique. She had “enhanced” her upper torso with augmentation and a very large colorful tattoo just in case you missed the size! To make sure you saw it, she wore garments with deep V’s down the front. We learned her son had been in prison, her boyfriend, his mother and five other people were living in her home and she was the only one who worked. She was our jury foreperson. She volunteered right off the bat.
  • Woman ~ older than me, no upper teeth, tattoos on both legs and a pack and a half a day habit. She was nervous all day, and adamant about her decision in the case. She was our final hold out, but it appears gave up because she really, really needed a cigarette.
  • Man ~ He should have been the jury foreman. He seemed to be level headed, took charge of the deliberations and tried to get everybody involved. He was probably in his 30′s, clean cut and had the respect of all.
  • Woman ~ quiet, also a smoker, but not to the extent of juror #7. She was also firm in her decision, but would listen to others.
  • Man ~ all we knew about him was that he was a retired postal worker who had issues with the Post Office and he took the bus into town for jury duty. He spoke infrequently and could have gone either way on the decision.
  • Man ~ truck driver. He spoke quite a bit and seemed to analyze everything. He seemed to understand both sides of the issue.
  • Woman ~ probably in her 20′s, piercing in her nose, nicely dressed and opinionated. She was not an equal to juror number one, however.

Deliberations: There were three counts of Megan’s Law Registration Violation against the defendant. Everybody agreed he was guilty on counts one and three. Count two was different, and it wasn’t because he wasn’t guilty, it was because of the way the law is worded.

Megan’s Law Statute in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania defines “residence” as the place you reside or intend to reside for 30 days or more. It also states you must register your change of address within 48 hours. The defendant had left his previous residence to move into a trailer park but when he arrived at the trailer park he was informed he couldn’t live there. He was looking for another place to live and was arrested there 2 weeks after leaving his prior residence.

Those jurors with the guilty verdict were going on the 48 hour clause, those with the not-guilty verdict were going with the “intent to reside for 30 days or more.” Juror number one’s contention was he changed his address when he vacated the previous premises. My contention was he had no new address to change it to since he had no intent to live in the trailer park for 30 days or more. Yes, I was one of the three dissenters. I was not, however, the final hold-out.

Our instructions had included the words “Innocent until proven guilty” and “beyond a reasonable doubt.” I used those words in making my decision. In my heart of hearts, I knew he was guilty, but it was not proven in this one count.

After 2 hours of deliberation, the youngest person on our panel announced that she was going to be so disappointed in us if we were dead locked on this. Why can’t we all just say guilty? She was afraid if we returned our verdicts with two guilty and one no decision, they’d throw out the guilty pleas. I said that would never happen, but she had all ready cast doubt with some of the other members of the panel.

We went back into the Courtroom on two different occasions, asking the same question, worded differently, and got the same answer. On the second visit we informed the judge that we had reached a decision on two counts but seemed to be deadlocked on one count. He asked us to go back and try again and meanwhile he’d send a lunch menu in for us. We were to report back to the Courtroom at 1:30.

The Verdict: We finally convinced that last hold out to vote “not guilty” on the final charge, ate our cafeteria, white bread sandwiches and were ready to rock ‘n roll at 1:30.

At 1:30 we lined up and headed back to court. This time there were people in the courtroom. There were at least 4 people sitting in the audience section, people we had not seen the whole time during the trial. The decision was read and the judge told us he’d be in to talk to us in a few minutes. We walked back in and waited.

The Judge: He came in with his Law Clerk and they sat down. He then started explaining why we had made the right decision. The law was ambiguous at best. He explained that the 30 day residency was put into place to cover the fact that everybody went on vacation now and then and hotels can’t be considered a residence for that purpose. Thank you very much! I tried to explain this and was shouted down. They told me that didn’t apply to Megan’s law!! I have never considered the Marriott my residence no matter how long I’m staying there!

He also agreed that the prosecution did not prove the charge in this particular instance. Thank you very much! The judge had validated the opinions of us three dissenters! Did any of those with the opposing viewpoint say anything? Of course not!

He also said that two guilty verdicts and one count deadlocked was something that happened frequently and was not a big deal. The defendant’s sentence was not going to change and he’d be sentenced in the same courtroom in about a month. Thank you very much! another one of my points validated!

Did I earn my $9 a day? You bet I did! Would I serve again? In a New York Minute! It’s a right, it’s a privilege

. . . and it’s a real experience!

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