Paloma Faith’s “Just Be”: My new (waltz) jam.

Grand Jury Duty: The Scene

The grand jury room I served in featured a vaulted ceiling and a large rectangular conference room table in the center. The chairs were rather nice—well-padded leather—but the arms had suffered from rubbing on the underside of the table. The foreperson sat at one end, the testifying witness sat at the other, and the rest of the jurors sat three to a side. The DA would either sit on one side next to the witness and unbalance the entire table, or would wander around the room while asking questions.

The alternate foreperson and recorder both had fixed seats, as well, to the immediate right and left of the foreperson (respectively). I suspect the rest of us could have moved around from day to day, but once we had a spot we stuck with it for the entire term. I sat in the center of the side that the DA would sit on, with my back to the window. Good for focusing on cases; bad for enjoying the day.

In one corner was a TV, used for displaying photos and for teleconferencing with witnesses that live goodly distances away. In another corner was a coffeepot that had obviously been neglected for years, as well as a water cooler that actually saw some action. There was also a locked cabinet where the official recorder’s notes for each case (as well as documentation of the jurors’ final overall vote) were stored. I’m not sure how long notes are held, but the one time I got a glimpse inside it looked like there were a lot of them.

In the center of the table were binders with basic instructions to the jurors, a pile of notepads and pens, and bound copies of the Oregon Revised Statutes criminal code. The binders were written in plain English, save for the amazingly-cryptic Oregon Sentencing Guidelines Grid included as the very last page.

This paragraph contains the sum total knowledge I have of that sentencing grid. The letters across the top classify how much of a bad-ass you have been in the past; the numbers along the side classify how much bad-assery you are accused of presently. The resulting grid, along with some tea leaves and chicken bones, give you an idea of how long a sentence you’ll face if convicted.

The ORS criminal code is surprisingly readable, much moreso than most legal text (or the sentencing guidelines grid). Take, say, Assault IV. The required elements are clearly spelled out, as are the ways that it might turn from a misdemeanor into a felony. Any definitional questions you have are addressed in the general definitions and definitions with respect to culpability.

That isn’t to say that there isn’t any nuance to the law. In the general definitions, a “dangerous weapon” is “any weapon, device, instrument, material or substance which under the circumstances in which it is used, attempted to be used or threatened to be used, is readily capable of causing death or serious physical injury” (emphasis mine). As one DA explained it, a pool of water could be considered a “dangerous weapon” if one person is holding another person’s face down in that water; a wall could be one if one person is bashing another person’s head into it.

The DA did clarify, however, that one’s fists—regardless of whatever kung-fu training you’ve received—cannot be classified as dangerous weapons.

This Harper Lee thing sure looks like elder abuse playing out on the national stage. If so, Lee’s lawyer ought to be disbarred (if not charged) and Harper Collins ought to be backing away from that book deal with a fierce quickness.

Naze Nani Grand Jury Duty

The purpose of the grand jury is to act as a check on prosecutorial overreach. An assistant district attorney (ADA, though I’m going to be lazy and type “DA” from here on out) will present their case, and the grand jury is supposed to decide if, in the absence of any defense, they would find the defendant guilty. The entire argument is biased and one-sided—and it’s meant to be. If the DA cannot make their case in even the most favorable light, then they have no business taking it to a courtroom.

I know that a certain recent national story has suggested that grand juries weigh “all” the evidence, or other nonsense. That’s completely against everything I was told.

Note that the DA doesn’t necessarily present their entire case. They can (as you might expect) omit details that aren’t favorable to them, but what I didn’t expect is that they can also omit details that further condemn an individual, if they think the facts they’ve presented are sufficient.

Only felonies have to be presented to the grand jury, though the DA has the option of presenting misdemeanors if they want to do a test-run of their case. I’ve heard that this is because, historically, felonies were offenses where the defendant could potentially face death as a punishment. (Not all felonies are presented to the grand jury, either, though I’m not entirely certain about which ones are not—plea deals, maybe more? In those situations, the DA files an information.)

Historically, grand juries were independent investigative bodies that could open their own inquiries into potential crimes. The modern grand jury I sat on now just has an annual duty to visit the Children’s Farm Home and verify that all seems to be well there. My term did not coincide with that annual visit, thankfully.

Portland federal grand juror charged with breaking code of silence: this is exactly why there will not be any saucy details about my time on the grand jury. Sheesh.

Intro to Grand Jury Duty

A grand jury summons looks almost identical to a petit jury (the type of jury you would see on TV) summons. The experience, however, is just a little different. I imagine the details will differ from place to place, so assume that everything I write about my jury duty experience is prefaced with “in my county” or “in my experience.”

I can’t discuss the particulars of any case I heard, so don’t expect any saucy details.

When you show up, you’ll eventually be shepherded into a courtroom, where seven jurors and two alternates will be selected at random. Those people will then furiously try to convince the judge that the burden of serving is too great for them: “I am the sole caretaker for my deathly ill mother,” “I am the lynchpin preventing the complete destruction of a small business,” etc., etc. The judge will excuse people who have convincing reasons, and otherwise take into account any specific days that you know you will be unavailable. (So long as an alternate will be available on those days, all is well.)

HOLY CRAP will a lot of people have excuses. I was the three-thousandth* person called to replace an excused juror. [*underestimation] When your name is called and you stand up to walk to the jury box, those who remain will shy away from you as if you’ve spontaneously developed a contagious disease.

Aside from being a convicted felon, I don’t know that there’s much else you can do to not be put on the grand jury. There is no qualification test, or any questioning about how you feel about the police, the law, or what-have-you.

Once a jury is selected, two names are drawn at random from the seven jurors: the first will be the foreperson, and the second is the alternate foreperson. (One other juror is later selected to be the official recorder, but that’s determined among the jurors themselves.) The judge then swears you in, and that is the last time you will step foot in a courtroom. The grand jury actually meets in the District Attorney’s office, which in my case is the third floor of the county courthouse. My term of service was two months, meeting every Tuesday and Friday.

It was a long two months.

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