Yesterday I reported for petit jury service for the Fort Bend County courts in the county seat of Richmond, Texas. This is the 4th time I’ve been called for jury service in Texas, but the first time at the county level.
The county has grown so much in the past few years that the court system has had to add organizational measures to deal with the reality that multiple courts are spread across buildings and a large number of jurors are needed in any given week. You first report to a jury assembly building where everyone is gathered in one spot and an associate judge and his clerks weed out anyone that cannot serve, with the intention that it is better not to waste the courts time later with a juror who cannot actually serve. Once the weeding out has been completed the clerks’ computer randomly picks people for the various courts. You are called out, put in your proper spot, and then walked over to the appropriate court by a bailiff.
I was juror number 59 out of 60 in the pool of jurors assigned to the 434th Judical District Court presided over by Judge James H. Shoemake. Once we arrived he gave us detailed instructions on what to expect over the rest of the day and introduced to the term voir dire, which is the process of examining the jurors themselves so that both sides of the case can pick the best pool of jurors for the trial. It was a sexual abuse of a minor case so you could feel the discomfort in the room after we were told of the charge. Luckily during the voir dire phase you are not actually told any more details of the case other than what the charge is, possible punishment ranges, and who the defendant is.
The prosecution then began their portion of the juror examination. The style of the assistant district attorney was to ask leading questions to get the jurors to talk. Questions such as: if you were to believe the testimony of the accuser beyond a reasonable doubt and she was the only witness, would you be able to make a decision one way or the other? Of course this led to half the juror pool debating and relating life stories rather than just getting to the point of the matter: yes, I can be impartial, or no, I cannot. This lasted for a little over an hour and then we broke for lunch.
Once we came back it was the defense team’s turn. The head lawyer was an older guy that had been in the Richmond area most of his life and been practicing law there for almost 35 years. His style was completely different: act the typical southern gentlemen and question each juror individually and have friendly banter with every one of them. He went through the first 40 or so jurors before finishing up at around 3pm.
After that we were all sent to another court room to sit and wait for the juror selection process to continue. That took until 4:45pm during which several jurors were called down for further questions. Once we were pulled back into our court by the bailiff the judge announced the juror selection by number. After that, the rest of us were free to go.
In some respects I would not have minded sitting on the jury. It would have been an interesting experience to be on an actual criminal jury and this case was expected to be finished by the end of the week. I’m sure I’ll be given further opportunities in my lifetime to go through it again.
When you get called up, don’t forget to bring a book. There’s a lot of dead time to fill.