A Scene From Jury Selection

Different places do jury selection differently.

The old place had the jury come into and out of the room. Come in so we can talk to you, send you out so we can talk about you. Come back in so we can talk to you again. Send you back out so we can decide who we want and who we don't. Come back in so we can tell you whether or not you're wanted. Send you back out so we can pick the rest of the jury. Come back later for the trial to start.

The new place lets the jury stay in the courtroom. The attorneys walk back and forth up to the judge's bench to whisper - loud enough for the court reporter to hear it, quiet enough for the jury not to hear.

The new place cares more about the potential juror's privacy too. In the old place, the jurors would answer questions about their prior arrests, their family members' arrests, the crimes they were the victims of, in front of the entire courtroom.

In the new place, the jurors come up to the bench to do the whisper thing, for just about anything. It takes a lot of time - juror comes out through the box, approaches, we wait for the court reporter to get set up again, the juror does the whisper thing. Without years of practice, none of them has quite mastered the fine art of whispering just loud enough. So we spend a few minutes saying, "A little louder... no, no, a little quieter..." We listen, the juror goes back to their box,
and we do it all again with the next juror.

The whole routine is a little ridiculous.

On top of that, the prosecutor is absolutely clueless about jury selection - he has no idea what he wants, or what he doesn't want, so he just goes on little tangents, doing these whispering conferences with potential jurors that either he obviously doesn't want, or who obviously can't serve (e.g. "I'm pregnant, and I'm due next week, I don't think I can serve." I just say okay. I'll consent to her being excused "for cause." The prosecutor whispers, "Let me ask you a few questions. You said your husband is a teacher? What grade does he teach?" What does it matter? Let the poor lady go home and have her baby! Why are you trying to make jury selection take all week?)

But one potential advantage of the whisper conferences is that you really get up close and personal with the jurors. You get to see the little details - the name brand on their clothes, the stains on their shirt.

Last week, one potential juror approached to whisper his reason why he couldn't possibly serve on a jury. He was old, bald and pasty pale, dressed all in black.

Up close, I could see the dark circles under his eyes. Even closer, I could smell the sick smell of alcohol on his breath.

"Judge..." he started.

"That's ok, I think I've got the picture," the Judge tried to interject, crinkling his face at the man's breath.

"I can't possibly serve on a jury," the man continued. "I work nights."

"Wait. Because you work nights?" Now the Judge was confused and annoyed. He was going to excuse the man, figuring he had an alcohol problem, maybe he would say he needed to be at rehab or go to meetings. It is a disability, after all. But now, the Judge suspected that this man was just trying to get out of jury duty. "You can take a few days off from work like everyone else here."

"Well, the thing is," the man tried to explain, "I work nights as a grave digger. I've been a grave digger for 40 years. I've been working nights, I haven't seen the daylight in 40 years. I can't even be awake during the day anymore. It makes me sick. Absolutely sick. To even see the the sunlight." With that, he covered his eyes with one hand, and held a hand over his stomach.

"We could pull the shades in the courtroom," the prosecutor tried.

The Judge was holding his hand over his nose. "I don't really think closing the blinds is going to be enough. Sir, you're excused."

The man walked back to the jury box to collect his belongings. The prosecutor walked back to his table. I walked back over to my client. As soon as my butt hit the chair, I heard the Judge say, "Counselors, approach again."

Up again, we walked back to the bench for the hundredth time that day.

"Counselors," the Judge said, "I don't even think they have grave diggers anymore. I think they use backhoes or something."

Ummm... really? He called us back to tell us this? Does it matter? The guy was obviously an alcoholic vampire. I've been doing this Catholic Mass routine all day of sit down, stand up, approach, go back, sit down, stand up, approach... and you want me to approach to discuss backhoes?

I looked at the prosecutor, expecting him to share my exasperation.

Instead, he looked at the Judge, and nodded very gravely, "Yes, Your Honor. I understand. Thank you."

And, with that, we went on to the next juror.


  1. "Yes, Your Honor. I understand. Thank you."

    Hear it. Learn it. Live it.

  2. Yes, thank you for imparting the sacred knowledge of how graves are dug. I will forever be grateful.

  3. Someone still has to operate the backhoe. I would call that guy a "grave digger," even though he doesn't do it by hand anymore. Still, funny story.

  4. The don't ever ever offend the judge no matter how goofy, stupid, assinine, insane, he or she acts.

    Best mantra ever.

    I think I will say it instead of "have you lost you M*(&(&)!)% MIND?"

    yes. Yes I will.

  5. Be happy the judge doesn't make you kneel down, stand up, kneel down -- then it really would be a Catholic mass routine.

    Having been involved in hole digging (foundations, not graves) -- while the bulk of the work is done by backhoe, final cleanup is probably done by hand shovel.

  6. The new place cares more about the potential juror's privacy too.

    This tech problem was solved long ago: the church confessional. It's odd that none of those involved thought of installing similar structures in court buildings.