Monday, September 27, 2010

TyL: Answering a Summons for Jury Selection

Oooooooooohhhhhh... the dreaded letter in the mailbox has arrived (technically about a month ago). I'm summoned as a potential juror. This will be one roundup mega-post because I can't really say much until I'm not selected and I suspect Day 2 will be quiet.

Day 1:
Arriving at the Toronto Courthouse at 8:30 AM, I check in at a table where things are set up the same way you'd see arriving at an Election: goto your call number, they check your summons letter against the list and cross you off as present, then you go sit down to wait. A lot.

Speaking of your Summons Letter: treat this like gold. It's your hall pass and the Court Officers aren't going to let you out of the holding pen to run around the building at all (to hit the bathroom or cafe; you're not allowed to tour the building in general), without you being able to hand it to them because they've both the need to track who's there so you're available when called for selection and make sure you come back. Surgically attach it to your hip because they're not going to just let you leave or go home because you can't find it.

Oh god. There's a prototypical 20 year old: "Here's how awesome it is to be a Juror!!!" orientation video. Kill me now...

People are notified that we'll be required to stay the next two days for selection and, if this would be inconvenient, they should let the Court Officers know and we'll let you delay. Many people take this offer up. I don't believe that's wise: we've lucked into a two day selection window as end of the week filler for the jury pools that came in Monday and have been depleted over the course of the week. Those opting out now will still have to serve later - you can only delay once selected not eliminate the calling for the most part - and next time they could pull that Monday crew where you're both here longer and far more likely to actually end up serving because you'll be running the gauntlet for the whole week. We're also told later by a Court Officer that Friday is almost always a gimme; fewer cases fill Juries Fridays. So, to be honest, if you pull a Thursday call, roll the fricken dice and see if you can get it done...

I nap while they process that queue and wake up around 10:15. At 10:30 we're finally called up to the courtroom where the Court Clerk details the case (it will be criminal, I suspect that's all I can say), and then the Judge runs through a list of conditions that will potentially disqualify you from his case should he agree. They are, in rough order:

1) Do you know anything about the case beyond that which you might have read in the paper/on the Internet? (Based on the details described before this process begins)
2) Do you know the defendant; his lawyer; the crown lawyers? (Whom the Justice will name)
3) Do you know the witnesses for the prosecution? (Whom the Crown will stand and then name)
4) Do you have problems understanding written or spoken English. (The Justice will test you to his satisfaction on this one if you try and use it)
5) Do you have a medical condition that would preclude you sitting on the jury. (You must approach the judge and describe the condition in detail, loud enough for the lawyers to hear, and he must agree to excuse you from this case)
6) If serving on the jury would provide you unreasonable inconvenience due to the expected time involved (You may only play this card once selection starts. We'll get back to this in a sec).

It's at this point where Jury selection begins and it's kinda a three stage process. First, two Triars are selected via random ballot. Their job will be to judge the fitness of a Juror based on their answer to an agreed upon question posed by Defence Council believed relevant to the outcome of the verdict.

Next, the Court Clerk will begin drawing groups of 20 potential jurors - in our case it was 4 - from a ballot spinner ticket style to ensure a random selection from the available pool. These groups will be escorted away for now. I'll pull the 3rd group: this puts me a fairly limited risk of actually being selected by and large because ~40 people will be seen before me and they only need 12 - though I'm unfortunate enough to have to risk actually seeing the rest of the process today. Anyone not in the 4 groups will be sent back to the holding room to be available for selection in other trials for the remainder of the day.

Oh, side note, one of the lawyers is blind and their dog is both severely well trained and old enough to be completely jaded by this experience now - it's not until the first batch of jurors gets near 10 deep that it bothers to lift it's head from it's slumber and shift under the table: going back to sleep.

Now that the basics are sorted, the third stage begins. The groups will be processed in order one person at a time, so you'll be placed in another room to sit and wait for your group to be called or be collectively told the jury has filled, you're no longer required and to return to the holding room. When your group is called, you'll be filed into a Jury room to wait for your individual call. Upon being called, the first thing the Court Officer will ask you as you enter is if you wish to play the Inconvenience card. If not, you will then be sworn in by the Court Clerk. Now, the Defence Attorney will be able to ask his question. Upon answering, the Triars must now both agree that you are fit, at which point the either of the Legal Teams have a limited number of times to veto (challenge) the selection as well. If they don't, you are part of the jury and replace one of the Triars for the next selection (As far as I can tell, the initial Triars get to leave and then they simply cycle people into the Jury seats until done). Otherwise, if the Triars don't like your answer/how you give it or the Legal Teams reject you, the Justice will dismiss you from the case and you return to the holding room to wait again. In this way, both the Jury Pool and the Legal Teams build the final Jury.

I'm asked one of the questions I very much expected to be asked upon being introduced to the case and my "No" is either quick, simple, or seemingly insincere enough for the current Triars to eliminate me in about 10 seconds. So, I'm excused from serving on the case. I'm not particularly wounded: those two ladies just saved me a week's unpaid work. Because they've gone through about 50 people at this point and - having stopped for lunch from 12:45 to 2:15 - it's now around 3:30 in the afternoon, I'm informed by the Court Officer on the way out of the courtroom that I'm released for the day but need to be back for 9:30 tomorrow to see if I'm required then.

One more kick at the Gauntlet then.

Day 2

Report in at 9:30 and sit down to wait. And wait. And wait some more... I start amusing myself seeing how many Trivial Pursuit questions I can get on the cards.

Around 11:30 they finally call my group to a courtroom where we're up for selection for another criminal trial - this time one dealing with issues near or at the top of the list of those you'd likely never want to have to hear testimony on short of cases that would make the Hague.

This jury selection goes differently from the one yesterday: there's no question this time so we're not shifted out of the room by group. Instead, the Jurors are selected by groups of 20 in the same manor as before, asked to report any of the same 6 issues from day one to the Judge for consideration of removal when called forth individually, and then the Defence or Crown are free to reject anyone they want. Many people run off issues that would preclude them from serving - this ends up being the primary reason they're removed from consideration as neither lawyer ends up being all that picky about those who say they can serve.

Unlike yesterday, 12 Jurors are chosen in the first 35 and then those of us who remain are run up to another holding room where we wait out the day in case a Juror still needs to be replaced before being released as the trial begins.

Service done; no one can be called again for another 3 years minimum.

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