September 3, 2008

The Judicial System is alive and well in Los Angeles County

I was enjoined to participate in our criminal justice system recently. That is, I was called into jury duty at the San Fernando Court House of the County of Los Angeles California. And guess what? I was one of the first jurors to be seated. I was juror number 7.


I was told to report early at 8:15 AM, which didn't sit too well with me. But I did it. Fortunately, I kept the grousing to myself and I didn't splash my sour mood upon the clerks. The reason I was so dour, yes — ill-humored, is because I couldn't get the O. J. Simpson case out of my head. That case left me with a very bad opinion of our justice system and the police department appeared to me to be planting evidence. That's just my opinion.

Around 9:00, we were as a group of sixty-two, given a roll call. All who were summoned were present and accounted for. We were told that jury duty is part of our duty to our country – and they are right! It is a mandatory participation as US citizens!

A sitting judge came down to give a brief talk on our responsibilities as US citizens and a brief history. He also spoke of the scope or magnitude of the job as it relates to getting together 12 jurors and I think 3 substitutes to actually listen to the "facts" of a case and decide on one's innocence or one's guilt – this is a HUGE responsibility and one that shouldn't be taken for granted or brushed off as unimportant. One is deciding on another's life and what will happen to that person afterwards.

Apparently, The Superior Court of Los Angeles County tries the most cases than any other county in the U.S. There are 50 court houses, 431 judges, 5,400 other people employed by the Court. And the amount of prospective jurors that are summoned is 3.1 million citizens per year!

Also, the clerks answer one's questions rather succinctly. They, the Judge and the Clerk, even defined the terms they use when we were oriented. And they were all friendly and business like in manner. Quite professional!

Yes, I forgot about O.J. and I got interested in the process.

So 62 of us were ordered to report to a Courtroom.

We inundated the elevator system and rode to the forth floor.

After more waiting, the court clerk came out and invited us in.

As we took our seats in the gallery, we were confronted by the Judge (the Honorable Judge Harold Giss), the prosecution (whom I won't name) and the defense lawyer and his client. I noticed that they were all somber as they faced us. I could understand why. This is a person's life we are expected either to change or to allow him to remain free.

However, it was Judge Giss who, after consulting the Prosecution, began educating us on what to expect and how long the case would take. The Judge was constantly educating us on the process and our comportment.

Judge Giss constantly defined legal viewpoints and words that gradiently brought us as a group up to speed on specific legal procedures. My interest grew even more as we proceeded.

We were told that we were going to be chosen at random and that those who were chosen were to take specific seats. We were to sit in a six pack. A six pack is a group of six jurors. There are three rows of six packs.

I found Judge Giss to be quite fair, as he worked hard at keeping us impartial and willing to look at the facts of the coming case. Both the Prosecution and Defense were quite friendly and professional. There was no effort to prejudice the jurors one way or the other.

A prospective juror is questioned by both the prosecution and the defense, and is either chosen as a juror or thanked and excused. The process is known as voir dire. I realized it was quite a job obtaining a sitting jury.

In particular, I was precise in my answers during voir dire. It was quite a vetting procedure.

Apparently, the Prosecution and the Defense get to question sixty-two prospective jurors in order to obtain, I think, a total of 15 jurors.

I was excused toward the very end of the voir dire process.

But I came away from the experience with a much better understanding of our justice system here in the United States. And I, in particular, grew to respect Judge Harold Giss to a great degree. He inspires hope for our society. He's a true friend to all the people of the United States. Although, I didn't get to sit, I will do my duty as a U.S. citizen when called upon. And I will do it to the best of my ability and as impartially as I can.

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