Having just suffered through a month of jury duty, I feel compelled to express my shock and dismay at the current Santa Barbara court system.
To begin with, it took three entire days to seat a jury of 12 peers. There is something wrong when that happens. Members of the jury pool were not allowed to state at the start if they had legitimate reasons to be excused. Therefore endless hours were wasted, listening to over 100 individuals going through the motions of sitting in the back, waiting to be called, eventually being called, and working through their list of questions, then finally being allowed to state “I live in another state,” or “I leave for Europe tomorrow,” or whatever the legitimate excuses were. What a time-suck for everyone involved.
In this digital age, how is it not possible to at least slightly amend our jury selection process? For example, when renewing one’s driver license or when voting, one could update one’s “jury selection records” stating a) if they have been or know someone who was raped/attacked/whatever, b)where they live, c)what their occupation is, etc. All the standard questions lawyers ask during voir dire. That way, a random jury pool could be selected for a particular case and people who would be automatically dismissed would just not be called for that particular case. That may not be the perfect solution, or indeed even a possible solution, but there certainly must be ways to modernize the system and stop wasting taxpayer and civilian time.
At the start of my service, the jury instruction room showed us a video letting us know how great jury sitting could be. No actual instructions, such as “no reading while waiting in the courtroom,” where to be/not be during breaks/lunch (a few jury members were subsequently yelled at for reading or being in the wrong place even though never informed it was the wrong place), etc. Nothing practical, just a video about how great this entire experience could be. Lies, by the way.
Personally, I watched as days went by and almost every jury pool person asked to be excused from the case, and I decided that I should not come up with an excuse (I have a few valid ones) but just do my civic duty so that the defendant could actually have the speedy jury trial to which he had a constitutional right (oh yes, too late at this point, but that was beyond my control). After I was placed on the jury, I realized that I would never, ever do this again. The disrespect paid to the jury members, the disrespect paid to the defendant and the victim, the disrespect paid to the jury members’ employers – all of this was untenable.
A trial that should have/could have lasted two days dragged on for a month. I don’t know if the lawyers were unprepared or incompetent so I will go with the former. I can only assume that the District Attorney’s Office is overworked, but it is not a fair judicial system for the victim if the prosecutor appears confused, unprepared, and doesn’t know what he/she is doing. In all my free time/boredom, I spent one day timing the prosecutor: From the time the prosecutor first questioned a witness, through the witness’s response, until the next question formed by the prosecutor, 52% of that time was from the point after the witness had finished responding until the prosecutor had sifted through papers and formulated another question to ask. So, over half of the time was silence as we waited for the prosecutor to figure out what to do next. Appalling.
How is it that the lawyers can’t stipulate certain facts at the very beginning of a trial? We (the jury) listened endlessly to certain facts (where/when/who) that were never in contention. Hours on end were wasted in this fashion.
The court habitually underestimated basic items (compiling jury instructions for example) with which they should, by now, be familiar, causing the jury members to spend countless hours standing in a hallways, unable to use a restroom or walk outside and use a cellphone, etc. This is wildly disrespectful and a waste of civic productivity. It would not have been difficult for a bailiff to come out and alert the waiting jury that it would be another 45 minutes, 30 minutes, whatever, so they could attend to their basic needs. (To use an example: The jury spent two-and-a-half hours more than expected standing in the hallway, unable to move, for the compiling of jury instructions. How could something so basic be so miscalculated?)
The amount of lost productivity by the 14 sitting jury members (including alternates) in their jobs/homes/lives was grossly unnecessary. The fact that the court was insensitive to this can only lead to future civic-minded peers refusing to serve, as well as victims and defendants not receiving fair trials.
If I could figure out a way to sue all members and associated members of the Santa Barbara Superior Court for a)stealing my time, b) assaulting my senses, and/or c) fraud, I would. Assuming I could get 12 people to sit on the jury.