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.


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