Thursday, August 13, 2009

Inside the Legal System by Christine Duncan

This week, I had something no red-blooded mystery author would want to miss, a chance to look inside the legal system in the form of a jury duty summons. Except as the judge of the case that I was (almost) selected for remarked, there is a reason why there has never been a T.V. show made about jury selection.1

I'm not sure I agree with his implication that it was boring. Maybe, if you're going through it every day. But I spent the morning engrossed and I'm pretty sure that having recently gone through the process, that I could write a scene or two on the process should I need to, for my work in progress. I do believe on hands-on research!

The logic at the civil trial I was looking at was all too apparent. I knew that the prospective juror who declared he was having his own problems with one of the litigants (a company) would never make it to the jury. It was obvious that the company's lawyer wished that particular guy never made it out of bed that morning, although to be fair, it wasn't the guy's fault the lawyer wasn't paying close attention when the matter first came up. "So you've had this problem for five years now, but it's been resolved?" asked the lawyer.

"No," barked the juror, having just explained that very thing.

"But you're satisfied with the company's actions in its attempts to resolve the matter?" asked the lawyer.

"Not at all." he said, bending his head toward the mic.

"But you could be impartial toward the company?"

"Of course."

Yeah, right.

It was just as clear that the woman who declared straight out that she was biased toward the company was never going to make it past the other attorney, although he managed not to ask any self-incriminating questions.

I didn't know court could be so funny. The benches they make the prospective jurors sit on, on the other hand, are not at all humorous--but I'm sure my heroine's complaints about them would be in the cozy I'm writing. She tends to be out front about creature comforts.

I was impressed with the other prospective jurors as a whole, not including the snarky woman who had been chosen for jury duty five, count 'em, five times before and made it clear that though she believed in civic duty, it must be someone else's turn by now.

And I was impressed with the judge, a man who declared openly that he'd been married forty years and still found his wife the best thing since sliced bread.

Next week, I go to have my fingerprints taken by the FBI, no less, in connection with a government job I'm trying for (no, the job is not with the FBI, I'm just a lowly bean counter type. But apparently the government wants to know exactly who is counting its beans which seems like a good idea, I guess.) Now if jury duty was this interesting, that experience should be down right fascinating. Who knows where my book will end up going with after that?

1 But then I wondered, is that true? Surely, I remember something about the people who help select jurors? There was something a while back, giving us all a glimpse into what lawyers are thinking about and the logic behind jury selection. I remember it only because I had not realized before seeing it that there was an actual profession helping lawyers size up juror candidates.

Christine Duncan is the author of the Kaye Berreano mystery series. Book two, Safe House will be released later this summter.


Morgan Mandel said...

I was fortunate both times I served on jury duty. I didn't want to be selected and no one in my group was. We first watched a movie about the process, spent half a day reading and talking to other prospective jurors, then were told we could leave.
Oh, I didn't mention I handed out bookmarks to a few people who were reading, as well as the women I went to lunch with across the street.
Can't miss any opportunities for promotion.

Morgan Mandel

Christine Duncan said...

I like that, Morgan. I will remember to do that next time.

Mark Troy said...

My experience with jury selection is that it's unrelenting boredom. For another view of the inside of the legal system, check out my son's blog where he writes about being in a holding cell. It might make for an interesting scene in a book. Just be thankful someone else did the research.

K.M. Weiland said...

I had jury duty earlier this here, and it was pretty dull stuff. I went hoping to discover a few things I could file away for later reference, should I ever write a court scene, but other than the bare bone of the process, I didn't come away with too much.

Earl Staggs said...

I've never been called for jury duty. Maybe it's because my objectivity is questionable. I carry a noose and a sign saying, "One Strike and You Hang."
Too bad. I wouldn't mind sitting through it at least once.