Mike Photo

Jury Service

I received a jury summons. I was very happy. This is like an invitation to a birthday party - but with a threat of a fine if you don't come and no presents.

For me to serve with pride says that I love both my country and its system of freedoms.

It also says that I'm not 'Mentally disordered under the Mental Health Act 1992.' Nutters can't serve.

When you arrive at the court you are taken into a big room where names are ticked off, then you all watch an instructional video. At its conclusion the presenter says "If you do not speak English, this will be repeated in Maori".

He got as far as "If you do not speak English" when someone yelled out "You're the defendant"!

The room laughs.

Glad to see that we have all arrived with an open mind.

Entertainment is then provided with a nice man drawing potential jurors with bingo balls. Like lotto. My number came up and with the others in my smaller herd, I moved upstairs to the court room.

I already felt like a winner.

Now there is another draw. This is to get the final twelve.

But before this the charges are read. A sex case. A nightmare.

They roll on and on.

The accused was charged with 21 counts - most of them representative. Meaning one count could represent a year of abuse.

For fucks sake! Cut a deal. Its not like the jury are going to come back from their final deliberations and say "We were not convinced by the first twenty, but we are wavering on this niggling 21st count"...

You are going to lose, pled guilty save us all some time and horrors.

Still the charges go on... I find my self noticing that the seam in the defendant's jacket provides a crosshair directly over his upper spine. Right where I would put the suppressed 9mm round if I wanted to drop him quick and quiet.

The charges go on. People in the court shake their heads and sigh.

Finally they stop. Time to pick the jury.

When their name is called, that person walks from our group to the jury box and sits down. The lawyers have until their ass hits the seat to challenge them. They have the power to lose a number of undesirables. The prosecutor if he thinks they look like liberals - the defense lawyer if they have 'Hang 'em high' on their T shirt.

This is very suspenseful. Like watching people get 'voted off the island' on that Survivor show.

If my name is called, I plan to wait until the defense attorney takes a drink, then make a dash. If he tries to say "Challenge!" he will choke. Then again, because I'm in a wheelchair, I have technically already sat down. I'm a legal loophole.

I can roll along chanting "I'm gonna fuck him up" and there is nothing they can do.

In the end, the spots fill up. My name is not called.

The jurors are asked if they know anyone involved with the case. Apparently you can't let people off because you know them.

They are also advised not to discuss the case with anyone and especially not to talk to anyone involved with they case.

The final decision as to guilt must be based solely on a careful examination of the evidence. Also on if the accused looks shifty or not. No 0900 psychic lines.

My now smaller herd returns below to join the others who were not selected for a different case. I would have liked to be responsible for sending the sex monster away but at the same time I'm grateful to avoid hearing the details and keeping my soul intact.

Next time I win both the bingo call for a new trial and a jury position. Now I know how actors feel when they get an audition.

We swear on bibles. Non believers can 'make an affirmation'. Not 'I am a good person and have the power to stop smoking'. To tell the truth.

They say you judge someone in the first few seconds of meeting them. We are told we have to wait right till the end.

This case was actually my second jury service.

My first defendant, a year before, was a doorman accused of assault on another off duty bouncer about fifteen times his size. Unless he left a trail of bread crumbs to lure him into a confrontation, he was getting off.

Although we did discuss finding him guilty just to irritate the smug defense lawyer.

One bar girl was called as a witness. She was asked: "When did you first notice the accused?" The witness replied "Oh right away. He was a spunk".

Yes. She was blonde.

As jurors, we get our own little room. They give us nice biscuits and cups of tea. No matter how many you eat, they are always replaced. We tested this.

You are paid $25 per half day....and your weight in biscuits. We asked the bailiff to pass the Judge a cookie and a note saying we thought he was nice. We are told that this is against the rules.

The fore person is allowed to submit questions on our behalf. We discussed it and decide that "Are you nailing the stenographer?" would be inappropriate. That said, we would be less distracted by them holding glances too long if we knew.

Hearing evidence is an agony. Because the words are being typed as they are spoken, the lawyers talk in frustrating haiku so she can keep up. They are then interrupted regularly with "Hold on" and "Can you repeat that"? They talk sooo slowly. It's like a retard with a stutter trying to explain something important to you. For DAYS.

It makes you long for the breaks so you can hear people speak at normal speed.

Basically imagine twelve people in stadium seating watching dictation taking place. It is incredibly hard to keep concentration.

They should alternate between evidence and interesting facts.

"Do you see the attacker in the court today?" Then: "Did you know that Tarantulas can grow up to a foot long?" Anything to keep us awake. You are not allowed to sing.

A security guard sits beside the accused. We estimate his age at 85. Also his weight in pounds. He was less security, more of a helpful bellboy for the court. The poor man kept drifting off to sleep. Leaning forward. We kept waiting for him to roll towards us.

He would wake at the last possible second then jerk up right again.

The accused must have been told to avoid eye contact with us and to look sorry. Or was shy.

Ours was a very sad baby shaking case. The defendant claimed the baby was sitting on the couch when the dog jumped up, knocking the baby and causing the injuries sustained.

The mother later testified that the dog was so old it needed minutes to go through the elaborate process of scaling the couch. She couldn't remember the last time it had jumped for any reason.

The defendant then changed his story to "I was throwing the baby in the air and dropped it". That's enough to hang him right there.

It reminded me of an episode of 'Get Smart'. "No? Sorry Chief. All right then... Would you believe..." We didn't.

Then comes the expert testimony.

One witness was cross examined by the defense: "Could the child's injuries not have been sustained much earlier? On another day" He replied "They could have. But you would think the caregivers would have noticed the child was now blind. Unless the fact that it was now permanently unconscious concealed this fact".

Nice. I'm guessing that he had done this before. He had very sad eyes.

With the exception of one woman who I believe was a nutter, the jury got along very well.

There was a gregarious older gentleman who suggested the "Ladies bake and bring a cake". This caused great irritation to them and amusement to the rest of us young enough to understand what was happening.

The women were now greeted with "How are the cakes?" each morning.

One lady brought in a bag of lollies from her friend's work. I took the opportunity to launch the Smarties from the spring of a clipboard that I had been given - while the others tried to catch them in their mouths.

This is what juries do when you think we are weighing the evidence.

We toy with the idea of saying "He is SO guilty" just as the door closes so the court can hear.

We ordered pizza.

It dragged on.

We ate biscuits.

It dragged on.

Although absorbing information, I only make obvious notes when a lawyer says something irrelevant and unimportant. I combine this with a face that says "This evidence has changed everything".

This throws the lawyer talking and makes his opponent check the transcript feverishly and uselessly for something important he missed.

This amuses me.

The court pays transport costs and with my car in the shop at the time, I used taxis. A good way of learning about other cultures and seeing parts of the city in no way conducive to reaching the High Court.

I find myself looking forward to this twice daily adventure. But not as much as the biscuits. Never the same type twice. Careful records must be kept by someone to ensure rotation of brands.

If a trial runs long enough for all biscuit types to be exhausted, if a style needed to be repeated, I imagine the case is then abandoned.

At this stage of our case, we are all sure a guilty verdict is the right one, but are still open minded.

I have heard that it's a bad sign if the jury looks at you on returning with their verdict. That usually means guilty. Also bad if they if laugh and throw things at you. Make the 'cut throat' gesture. Or mouth "You are fucked".

Personally, I think the court should have a little fun reading the decision. Tease it out.

"Have you reached a decision?" "Not.... gonna waste time. Guilty. Guilty of loving this system of justice. But we find the defendant... Roguishly handsome. Also guilty".

After several days of evidence we were told that the defendant had pled guilty at the last second. Cheating us of giving a verdict. Where was our closure? Some of us swapped numbers to keep in touch.

I suggest we all meet for lunch one day and judge people passing. This is agreed.

We ate some last cookies and left.

It was now up to the judge to take some time and then decide an ineffective sentence. I made a note to check this in a few weeks.

The case was quiet effecting, I still cant watch parents handling babies without wanting to yell "Fucking watch it ! They are fragile".

That said, I recommend that you try jury service should you get the opportunity. It's a nice way to get to meet 11 other people. Kind of like a big 'table for six' singles night, but with someone taking notes.

You just have to pretend to listen to two people who take turns talking to you.

"Blah blah 'Murder weapon' blah blah".


Mike Loder, 2007