Tuesday, October 22, 2013

I, The Jury, not


i reported this morning at 8:30 am to the nevada county courthouse for jury duty. the last time i had jury duty was in 1966. i did get a summons 2 years ago but was excused as i had just begun chemo treatment for colon cancer.

today's case was a bit unusual. it was a civil proceeding to determine if the county could show beyond a reasonable doubt, the standard for criminal cases, that a woman was seriously enough disabled by mental problems to be put into a conservatorship by the county. i was not among the first eighteen called from the jury pool. the rest of us, maybe 35 or 40, watched and listened to the judge and opposing attorneys question the eighteen. after one prospect was dismissed for cause and seven more dismissed without prejudice by the attorneys their places were filled from the pool. one of those called was robert mack. as i pondered whether i should ask if the name was actually roger mack a man from somewhere behind me walked down to the jury seats.

in due time several of the replacements were dismissed and i and others took their places. robert mack and i exchanged smiles as i took my place. the judge immediately asked me if robert and i were related. i said not. the judge and the attorneys asked our new group fewer questions than they had asked the others. maybe they were tired. i guessed that one of us might get dismissed for cause. didn't happen. she was dismissed peremptorily, as were several others i had suspected would be. the attorney for the woman seeking to not be placed in conservatorship used his final peremptory challenge to dismiss me.

there was considerable conversation between the judge, the attorneys and the prospective jurors during voir dire about psychiatric treatment, psychotropic drugs, marijuana, and the nature of a conservatorship. the juror dismissed for cause said that she didn't see psychiatry as sufficiently grounded in science. i thought that was tactful.

i did already know that the questioning of prospective jurors is called void dire. i did not know till just now that it means "to speak the truth" in french. and how did that creep into our law system, based as it is on english law?

the judge and both attorneys impressed upon us that the woman in question entered the courtroom assumed to be competent. i liked that. i was impressed that they also thanked us often for being there and repeated their commitment to a seating an unbiased jury.

i had time to examine my own thoughts about involuntary conservatorships. here was a woman, described by the county counsel as kind and sweet, who was willing to sit in court and be judged by strangers because she wanted to run her own life. over there were presumably kind, well-intentioned professional helpers who were going to testify that she was incompetent to do so. to feed, clothe, and house herself. i assumed that they would have to include testimony about her actions as well as about their assessments of her mental state.

my other two experiences on jury duty were easy in comparison. in sum, if you don't want to read the other post, the murder verdict was easy because there was no real evidence. the civil trial was even easier. the state's agent was stingy. while i was fully prepared to serve on this jury i am relieved that i will not have to make that decision.

18 comments:

  1. there's a lot of latin in the law, or derivatives of latin -- probably that is how "voir dire" ended up in use. (in texas, they pronounce it "vore dyer" instead of "vwahr deer.")

    that would be a tough case. there must be strong evidence or the county would not be seeking a conservatorship -- the standard, as you say, is really high for proving someone needs one. but those protections are there for a reason, so you can't be deprived of your decisionmaking because just because someone else doesn't like your decisions.

    we went through the conservatorship process to protect an ill and very vulnerable relative, earlier this year. her dementia is now so advanced, and she is so thoroughly unable to provide basic care for herself, that it was clear to everyone (including her lawyer) that there was no alternative. but that case you were called on -- well, it is good those strong legal protections are in place, to be sure.

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    1. it is also only for one year.... at a time anyway.

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    2. true. someone with mental illness or a drug problem or something else, they might improve in a year.

      it's not moving in that direction with our relative, who is only 55, but her neurological condition began years ago, and is progressive and incurable. there is kind of a swath of destruction behind her from all the awful decisions and outrageous behavior as the disease progressed -- and now... now she's in a pretty rapid decline, cognitively and physically.

      her mother is 84 years old, and mad as hell that we didn't march into court 5-6 years ago and yell "she's nuts! lock her up!" but we couldn't have gotten a conservatorship then.

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  2. hard stuff, roger. i have been involved in this as a family member trying to protect an elderly, sick relative whose body was giving out while dementia was taking over. even then, it was hard emotionally. so painful to remove basic rights from anyone, even when it is to protect them and care for them. psychological health and competency can be tricky. people who've gone on shooting rampages while otherwise appearing to be living "normal" lives, not drawing much attention to themselves until they are headline news, are but one example.

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    1. yes. dementia does make the whole thing harder.

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  3. I had a spell of that once, I was called to do two weeks but as luck would have it I was sent home and not called in to serve, though I did get in for the picking. I still may be called up again yet as here we get two shots at Jury Service

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    1. we can be called again after some number of years.

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  4. excellent courtroom reporting, Roger. How was the inside of that cool old bldg? The justice system's workings are really quite complex and interesting (to me). The one jury I served on took their responsibility seriously, and I was impressed with their thoughtfulness and thoroughness. Pretty good for rounding a few souls off the voting roles.

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    1. well, it is an old building and the county has been trying to get funds to renovate it or build a new one. the courtroom was very nice.

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  5. Wow, that is hard. I can't imagine what it would feel like to have my competence debated in legalize and have total strangers decide if I could still take care for myself. I am old enough to really feel for that woman.

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  6. I've never been called for jury duty. I've received several summonses but have always been dismissed before I had to report because it turned out they didn't need the jurors or the case had settled out of court. My wife has been summoned and reported several times, but has never been selected. She believes that it is because she has a Ph.D. and teaches critical writing, and she believes that the lawyers don't want someone who "thinks too much." I don't know if that's why she has never been selected, but if that is the case, it's a shame that someone who is thoughtful and critical doesn't have a chance to have a say.

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    1. i think lawyers do a lot of intuition and guessing for their peremptory challenges. at least the ones i watched here.

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  7. I have always wanted to serve on a jury, and now that I have the time, I am too old (according to them.) I have also heard that attorneys don't want people who think too much, or too clearly. I'd like to think I'd not be called for those reasons.....LOL

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    1. i could have opted out for being over 70, no other excuse needed. going anyway seemed like the right thing to do.

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  8. I served on one trial back in the '80's. It was not a very satisfying experience. I have been called since, and was an alternate on one trial. I was called for federal court jury duty once, but wasn't selected. I'm thinking it's about time to be called again.

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    1. may your next jury duty be a more positive experience.

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  9. I've been summoned to jury duty several times, but have never spent a minute on a jury, or even in jury selection. I wouldn't mind doing once, just to see what it's like.

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