Serving on a jury in a criminal case is on my bucket list. I have always enjoyed courtroom TV shows and movies, especially when I learn something about the legal system. I'm a very rules-oriented person, and I find the judicial process fascinating. I think I would have made a decent attorney. Recently, I came very close to sitting on a jury. The following story recounts the events of September 24, 2018 to the best of my memory.
My two previous jury summonses resulted in me sitting in the jury pool waiting room for about four hours and then being dismissed because they didn't need me. Last Monday, after sitting in the jury pool for about an hour, my number was called. About 99 of us were led to courtroom 15A, where judge David Jones (no relation to the member of the Monkeys by the same name) (http://www.clarkcountycourts.us/departments/judicial/civil-criminal-divison/department-xxix/) dispensed justice. The range of numbers called was roughly 100 to 199. My number was 192, which I would later find out meant I was almost the juror of last resort. Apparently, they consider jurors in numerical order.
Before the court was a burglary case. I feel comfortable giving out case details, because it is all a matter of public record found at the website of the 8th Judicial Circuit Court of Clark County Nevada. Here are the facts of the case:
- Session Date: 09/25/2018
- Courtroom: 15A
- Department: 29
- Time: 10:30:00 AM
- Case Number: C-17-325192-1
- Judge: David M Jones
- Attorney: Lippmann, Daniel F.
- Party: AUSTIN, VINCENT CLINTON
- Location: RJC
- Attorneys for the State of Nevada: Samuel R. Kern, Michael Dickerson
- Attorneys for the Defendant: Daniel F. Lippmann (Court Appointed)
After taking turns up the elevator, they lined us jurors in order outside the courtroom and led us in one by one. The judge and other officers of the court stood as we filed into the room. After everyone was in, the judge asked us to be seated and then explained some courtroom rules and what we could expect to happen that day.
I believe the 24 jurors with the lowest numbers were placed in the actual jury box and the rest of us were placed in the spectator seats. The low-numbered jurors in "the box" got all the attention. The lead prosecuting attorney went first, and he said the State would be calling a number of witnesses and asked the entire room if anyone knew anyone on the list. He then read off a list of about 20 members of the Las Vegas and Henderson police departments. Then the defense attorney said he had no witnesses to call and asked if anybody knew the defendant. One juror was excused for knowing some of the police officers. This did not seem like a good beginning for the defendant. I could picture a parade of cops coming to the witness stand saying, "he did it." and nobody on the defendant's side. Strike one.
I don't want to get called a racist in the comments (but I probably will be), but let's just say that the racial component of the jury and defendant looked not much different than that in Too Kill a Mockingbird. At the time, I wondered why the defense attorney didn't argue that the sitting jury did not look like the "peers" of the defendant. However, a little research after the fact, shows that the right to trial by a jury of your "peers" is nowhere in the constitution. The word "peers" just isn't there. We get the expression from the Magna Carta, from which the jury system is based on, but the United States is not bound by that document. Again, I know I'm going to get called a racist, but to think that this wouldn't matter would be a complete denial of reality. Strike two.
To get back to the case, the lead prosecuting attorney asked everybody in the jury box, one by one, a few simple questions, which I believe were:
- What do you do for a living?
- Do you have any adult children living in Clark County?
- Have you served on a jury before?
- Have you, or anyone you know, ever been the victim of a crime?
- Do you have any friends or family members in law enforcement?
- Do you have any strong opinions either way about the police or justice system?
If anyone said "yes" to any question besides the first one, he went a little deeper for more details. To get through everybody at this step took about an hour. Then we took a break for lunch.
The line to the Capriotti's counter in the building was very long, so I found my way to Ameribrunch on Bridger Street, between 3rd and 4th. Not only would I recommend this if you're serving jury duty, but also if you want some decent sandwiches or light food when cruising Fremont Street.
After lunch, the defense attorney occupied the rest of the day with an in-depth probing of the jury. He seemed especially interested in everyone's answer to the prosecuting attorney's questions, which he wrote down, often attributing quotes to the wrong juror. His areas of focus were about being the victim of a crime, feelings about the police, and the verdict in cases of those who previously served on a jury. The judge said several times the defense attorney couldn't ask for the actual outcome of previous criminal cases, but asking if there was an outcome was acceptable. The defense attorney seemed extremely interested in extracting as much information as he could about these old cases.
Not surprising to me, the jury had four or five people who had been victims of burglary and their cases were never solved. Vegas, it seems, has a high burglary rate. A house I owned and worked from was burglarized and nobody was ever was caught. Some other members of the jury, when asked about the police, proclaimed their great respect and gratitude towards them. I think two members proclaimed to not like the police and admitted a bias against them. These jurors were dismissed. Meanwhile, those proclaiming their affinity toward the police still insisted they would fairly listen to both sides.
The defense attorney seemed a bit exasperated that things were not going his way. It seemed to me. a jury teeming with police-loving victims of burglary who never saw justice served was being built. The defense attorney asked each individual, over and over, if he could render a "not guilty" vote if he believed the state didn't prove their case. Everyone said "yes." He didn't seem to believe them. At one point he said, and I'm paraphrasing, "I remind you that at this point, neither side has submitted any evidence in this case. That said, if the judge asked you to render a verdict right now, how many of you would say 'not guilty'?" I was shocked that only one person in the jury box raised his hand. Strike three.
Evidently every other juror and alternate were already convinced of his guilt before the actual trial even got started. I thought "innocent until proven guilty" was common knowledge -- the basis of our criminal justice system. They say it at the end of every episode of Cops. I don't know about the rights of the defense attorney, but I would have asked the judge to throw out everyone who didn't raise his hand to that question. Maybe he did. Sometimes the attorneys approached the bench to speak privately with the judge. The conversations were drowned out by a static noise played at those times. However, he kept trying, one at time, to get the jury to admit a bias, but every one of them kept a good poker face and maintained they would be a fair juror.
Eventually, around 5:00 pm, the judge excused everybody who wasn't in the jury box, including me. There is a rule in Nevada that you can't hold someone for jury duty more than a day unless he is selected for a trial. Let me remind you that they called about 100 jurors into this room. Counting the 24 in the jury box and about six selected to replace those who didn't feel they could be impartial and one very pregnant woman, that would mean the court made use of only 30 of us. The other 70 just sat there wasting our time. The woman next to me kept sighing and looking at her watch. The man two seats away from me was texting through the whole thing, despite signage in the room and being told numerous times that cell phones were not allowed. I read an entire book (skimming parts) and solved the 5x5 Rubik's Cube at least a dozen times, neither of which I believe violated any rules.
This over-calling of jurors bothers me and is part of the reason I'm writing this article. I can see playing it safe and asking for 50 jurors, but 100? This was disrespectful of the time of half of the group, including me. Speaking for myself only, I don't mind serving my obligation for jury duty. In fact, I want to. I just resent my time being wasted. This is the third time it has happened. At least this time I saw the inside of a courtroom.
Getting back to the case, it came as no surprise to me when I looked up the verdict later. Here it is:
9/27/2018 -- Disposition
|2||INVASION OF THE HOME||Guilty|
|3||INVASION OF THE HOME||Guilty|
|6||INVASION OF THE HOME WHILE IN POSSESSION OF A FIREARM||Guilty|
|7||BURGLARY WHILE IN POSSESSION OF A FIREARM||Guilty|
|9||GRAND LARCENY OF FIREARM||Guilty|
Sentencing is scheduled for November 15 ,2018.
That's the long story of my day on jury duty. The summary -- if you're ever charged with burglary in Las Vegas, take a plea.