15 Things I Learned on Jury Duty

You would think my tales of a week as a juror in the Clark Count Nevada legal system would be a salacious tale of criminals and the underbelly of Las Vegas.  I suppose I have that version of the story in me somewhere, but to be perfectly honest, the snippets of people and the process are far more fascinating to me. So, rather than go into the details of the murder trial (a relatively inaccurate report of the case can be found on KNTV), I figured it would be a much more worthwhile venture to offer you some of the pithy observations/life lessons from the courthouse, cause if BuzzFeed has taught me anything, it is that we all love an arbitrarily numbered list of pithy observations, amirite?

1. The chairs in the jury holding tank in the courthouse are the single most comfortable government institution chairs I have ever encountered. They look green and are potentially filled with dust and disease, but the risk to your health is well worth the comfort they provide.

2. The initial jury selection process is one of the single best testaments to just how many horrifying people exist in the world.  They brought in 80-85 people as prospective jurors and well over 60 of them were people I wouldn’t trust to watch over a potted plant. For the first two hours of the day, I dreamed up scenarios of what I would do if ever wrongfully accused of a serious crime. Most ended in me running away to another country.

If you want an example, here is one of many: A man seems to not understand the difference between murder and manslaughter.  The judge is trying to explain it to him. The man tells him, “I know what manslaughter is. I’m a butcher.” A few seconds of awkward silence later he adds, “It is when you drain the blood of like a pig or a goat.”

Dude, come on, the word has “man” in it.

3. If you are to believe all of the mothers in Nevada trying to get out of jury duty, a disconcerting number of families in Southern Nevada apparently do not have any families in town, do not have any family friends, and none of their children have any friends.  These women are all also hyper-fearful of the concept of a 17 year-old kid babysitting their spawn for two hours.

4. If you ever find yourself at the Clark County Court House, check out Anthony’s, the pizza place across the street from the front door. They even have endearing but abrasive servers a la Ed Debevics.

5. If you are a reasonably sane human being and you make it into the jury box, it is going to take an awful lot for you to not end up on the jury.

6. You will experience mixed feelings about being selected for a jury. On the one hand, it is a giant inconvenience.  On the other hand, if you were ever accused of a crime you didn’t commit wouldn’t you want the judge and attorneys to pick 12 people like you to determine your fate?

7. If you are male and an attorney in Clark County, there is a surprisingly high probability that you wear your hair in a ponytail on the regular.

8. There is indeed a more awkward situation to get the giggles than at a funeral.  That situation arises if you are possessed by uncontrollable fits of laughter during the closing arguments of a trial in which a person is accused of brutally killing another person. As you convulse and start tearing up, I advise  pleading “allergies” and thinking of the most unpleasantly sad things you can come up with.

9. When you have to listen to a finite number of people orate for several days on end, there is really no speech pattern or strange habit you don’t pick up on. I thought it was just me, being that I am 1) a speech nerd and 2) that person who notices (and hates) everything, but it quickly became apparent that everyone else on the jury had noticed the same thing.

10. If you ever see Jerome T. Tao’s name on a ballot for any sort of judge role, vote for him. He is remarkably good at his job.  Both patient and fair, he is a judge I would trust to preside over any case I am ever involved in.

11. Despite our ability to successfully accomplish this at the Southwest Air gates at the airport every day, it is apparently too much to ask 50 adults to line up in numerical order.

12. Even when you get down to the much more manageable group of 12 jurors and two alternates, the officials of the court will still not trust you to walk in the room and find your chair. They will make you line up in order every. single. time. 

13. Our specific case taught me that there are still people aplenty in this world who think it is a good idea to add someone you are not married or blood-related to on your bank account.

14. Once the trial is over, a couple of things you wouldn’t expect to happen will happen.  If you serve for several days, the judge will very likely come back to the jury deliberation area and thank you for your service.  He will also answer any questions you may have about the process.  Judge Tao was surprisingly candid with his answers, which was really cool. He told us some of the evidence that got suppressed, gave his opinion on the best verdict, and gave us more insight on the jury selection process.

Then, you get to talk to the attorneys, should they choose to talk to you.  They answer questions, but they also will ask you for feedback about how they did.  If there was ever any doubt that image is everything, most of this feedback will be about how it is weird that they hold the lapels of their suit when they speak as opposed to things like, you know, evidence, lines of questioning, burden of proof.

15. I was truly surprised at how much this case was about what wasn’t being said versus what was actually being entered into evidence. They give you a little notebook to take notes in (they aren’t allowed to leave the courtroom) and mine was filled not with notes, but with questions.  In fact, once we got to deliberations, a good chunk of the discussion was throwing out theories and explanations to the many unanswered questions.  

There were many parts of the experience that were more similar to Law & Order and 12 Angry Men than you would expect, particularly the time we spent in deliberations.  What was the most jarring and unexpected part of this trial though was watching information unfold as if it were the plot of “Memento”; you think you have a version of the story and then, suddenly, something comes in out of left field that throws your version of the story in total disarray.  It makes the process of figuring out what happened that much more difficult.  This was the part I was most unprepared for going into this. It was also the part of the process that was the most taxing on an emotional and mental level.  It is more than just weighing two versions of a story. It is having the pieces of two different puzzles all jumbled together, and even if you manage to wedge these pieces in together, the big picture is a messy one and one that will always leave you with a certain number of lingering doubts.