Posted by: hannah jo | May 20, 2011

Doing My Civic Duty

I was a juror last week — again. Attorneys love librarians. I know now that if I get called up to serve, I’m going to be picked. During jury selection last week, one of the attorneys even asked, “Where’s my librarian?!” in an eager way, kind of like a kid who hears the ice cream truck in the neighborhood and wants to know exactly where it is. In this case, I think my librarian experience actually did help.

One of the things I routinely do in my job, although I’m sure most of the public isn’t aware of this and it certainly wasn’t ever covered in library school, is write up incident reports. These are reports we send to our Security Department, detailing incidents when the Rules of Conduct are violated. Some of them are relatively minor — repeatedly falling asleep, repeatedly eating food in the library, or using someone else’s library card to get additional time on the computers. Some are much more serious — threatening other patrons or staff members, assaulting other patrons or staff members, stealing or damaging library property, showing up drunk, refusing to leave, and using drugs on library property.

When one of these violations occurs, we have to write up an incident report. This is not a simple task. You need to think about what happened and describe it objectively. You need to make sure your own adrenaline rush or anger or fear don’t cause you to write it up in a slanted or inaccurate way. These incident reports are used to dole out consequences, like being excluded from the library for a certain period of time, and can potentially be used in a lawsuit. It’s critical to get the facts straight and to report them in an unbiased way. One of my co-workers is a professional writer, so his incident reports are always top-notch. He captures the dialog and actions in a page-turning sort of way, while still staying true to all of the facts. A recent report of his described a defiant patron who raised his fist on the way out after being asked to leave the library. Probably not a critical fact, but very entertaining to read, for sure.

I have gotten better at writing these reports because, frankly, I’ve gotten a lot of practice and also because I’ve learned what kinds of facts our Security Officers need. One thing I’ve learned is that witnesses who saw the same event don’t necessarily remember the same things. We often differ on physical descriptions of people, what we remember hearing people say, and timelines of events. So, when I got called up as a potential juror last week for a domestic violence assault case that primarily revolved around conflicting witness accounts that also didn’t synch with the police report, I was the perfect juror. I totally understand how that can happen and don’t assume that what anyone says after a frightening event is necessarily wrong or right. It’s true for them, but maybe nobody else.

One thing that I really like about serving on a jury is the way you get to know other people rather intensely in a short period of time. Our trial lasted three days and our jury included just six people (instead of the usual 12 that I am used to) — four men and two women. All white. All well-educated and doing okay financially. In other words, very different from the people directly involved in the trial. So, is that a true jury of the defendant’s peers? I don’t know. I did get to know and come to respect and like all of the other jurors. I’m proud to say that I think we were fully present during the trial and took our jobs very seriously. That didn’t prevent us, though, from ending up in a mistrial. We were a hung jury, split down the middle with 3 guilty votes and 3 not guilty votes. We all knew we wouldn’t budge, so we ended up disappointing the judge and the prosecuting attorney. I suppose the defense attorney was somewhat unhappy, too, but she was probably relieved that her client wasn’t found guilty. I would be shocked if the case is tried again. Ultimately, the evidence was weak, poorly presented, and full of contradictions.

It’s interesting that everyone who spoke during the trial was female — the judge, the two attorneys, the police officer, and the two main witnesses. The one person we never heard was the defendant — a young African-American male. He had no voice in the process — not during the trial and not on recording of the 9-1-1 call that we listened to multiple times. I suppose his attorney was his voice and she did an admirable job of defending him, much better than the prosecuting attorney who appeared to be fresh out of law school and a little unprepared, but his silence was still very noticeable. I wish I could talk to him and find out how he is.

I told a friend of mine that I had been a juror on a domestic violence case that ended up with a hung jury and she automatically said, “You voted guilty, right?” Whoa. I can’t even begin to tell you how much that upset me. It made me realize how quickly so many people jump to conclusions when they hear words like “domestic violence.” In fact, I was one of the three jurors who voted not guilty. I took the juror instructions very seriously and literally and the prosecutor had not proven the man’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. I had lots of doubts. I knew I could not look the defendant in his eyes if a verdict of guilty had been stated. I would not have slept well after that. When I’ve been on juries in the past, I felt very confident in my votes and stood up to them even when, in one case, the defendant came charging at us jurors after the trial, screaming at us and had to be held back by his attorney.

This time, though, I knew that the prosecution failed. Fortunately, one of the other jurors was a paralegal and felt exactly the same way I did. Based on his experience and training, he knew we couldn’t deliver a guilty verdict. Another juror, a very impressive young man with lots of energy and smarts, agreed. The three of us entered the deliberation phase sort of assuming that everyone would agree that the evidence was lame and that we would quickly decide on a verdict of not guilty. So, it was interesting to find out that the other three jurors saw it very differently. I respect their views. I understand their stances. I just disagree. That’s the beauty of a multi-member jury. Disagreeing is an option. I know I disappointed the other female juror who, like my friend, probably assumed I would vote guilty because of the subject matter and my gender. But, I couldn’t do it and I slept fine that night.

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Responses

  1. I’ve never once been called for jury duty, and I would so like to! You and my mom have been repeatedly, though. Go figure. Of course, when I read ‘hung jury’ I had to smirk at the naughty mental image; maybe they can sense my immature personality.

    Seriously, though, good for you, Hannah! If ever I am called I hope to do as admirable a job as you.

  2. Assuming you voted guilty is quite an assumption! Did the person who assumed you voted guilty know if the defendant was male or female? I can’t imagine that all domestic violence incidents are perpetrated by males, or that all domestic violence incidents are between a male and a female. Good thing it was you on the jury and not this other person!

    • This more insightful comment is also from Joe, sharing my computer.

      -Lori


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