Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Trials, Tribulations and Nonverbals of Jury Duty

By Alan Tuerkheimer
The directional markings to the courthouse were not exactly big and bold, but it was clear where all of the traffic was heading on a recent morning – straight into the Maywood Division of the Cook County State Court. Surrounded by a prison, a law firm that could have doubled as a key manufacturer by night, and some curvy quiet roads off of a gas station, I proceeded to the juror holding pen, also known as the room for prospective jurors.

Watching people, reading the newspaper, and hearing prospective jurors sigh is what got me through the next 2.5 hours. I could actually see them sighing with frustration without hearing a sound – concerned looks on their faces, apprehension in the way their shoulders hunched down, and back-and-forth nervous fidgeting/pacing among others.

We did see a brief video by Lester Holt on the importance of jury service but it didn't resonate with potential jurors who appeared to be mostly asleep. Mock jurors never had it so good. What is this guy’s (Lester Holt) local connection? I don’t recall seeing him with a moustache. Most people seem to know what they are getting into but there is a range of coping. Some are remaining pleasant (hey it is a 17 dollar check), others perturbed to be there, while most just sit and pass the time away reading or playing on their cell phones. After talking to a few (on the way out) I realize that some people have served before, or at least showed up for jury duty. They had more of a “grin and bear it” attitude compared to the newbies…newbies appeared half annoyed, half concerned, and half interested in finding out their fate. Okay change that to thirds. I think and hope deep down some were looking forward to being part of the process, although this sentiment was not palpable throughout the wait. Some were smiling and looked upbeat. Will the man in the next row stop snoring? is exasperating to the masses to say the least.

Only one woman who asked the jury clerk 3 questions in 5 minutes and tried to get on her good side conjured up the notion of Stockholm Syndrome for me. This is, in psychology, a term used to describe how hostages express positive adoration toward their captors, even in the face of imminent and uncertain danger. This woman appeared nervous but seemed content by what she must have thought was a lifeline to the jury clerk. Most jurors find jury service positive and rewarding, especially if they do not believe the attorneys were condescending, repetitive or manipulating. I remember thinking I hope if these potential jurors get let go they do not think this is what jury duty is all about. I can just see them going home after waiting for a few hours and telling their spouse, “You would not believe how boring jury service is.”

I waited and waited, and when I was looking forward to at least experiencing a voir dire, one of the bailiffs informed everyone that two of the cases up for trial settled and one opted for a bench trial. I wanted to know more. Prospective jurors scurried out of the assembly room as if being called to come on down on The Price is Right. Time to invert my steps out of the courthouse.

1 comment:

TJ said...

I'm glad you didn't get selected for a 3 month trial!