I haven’t written in awhile. Hopefully, this will explain why.
It all started out innocently enough with a jury summons. “Please call in to the Mason County jury line from February 3-February 14.” Simple enough.
Monday was uneventful, but Tuesday I had to go in. The Superior Court case involved crimes against children. My stomach churned as they read the seven counts. No way did I want any part of this case. But then I thought, if decent people won’t be a part of a jury, who will? I steeled myself for all the questioning. We had a 2-hour voir dire to ferret out any bias.
“Is there anyone here with strong religious beliefs?” I cringed inwardly at the terminology, couched in such a negative framework, but raised my card with #27 on it anyway.
“Would you be able to judge fairly if witchcraft was involved?”
Um. I want out. What the what??
I was 2 people away from making that jury. I breathed a huge sigh of relief as I returned to work after 2.5 days of vetting, from 90 jurors down to 13.
Then I called in Friday. “These groups must report for jury duty on Monday, February 10: Group 502, Group 503….” Yep. I was back for District Court this time. I could not believe it. I’ve been summoned for jury duty nearly every year since we moved to Shelton, and almost got on a jury once. This was the most active the legal scene had been for me.
I showed up at 8:40 Monday morning and was handed a number: 1. Great. I knew, barring some extenuating circumstances, I’d be on this jury.
Thirty of us crammed into the smaller district courtroom. The defense counsel sat right in front of us and the prosecutor, with a state trooper, to our right. The case? A DUI. I had always considered a DUI and DWI as the same, but they’re not. A DUI means driving under the influence…of something. A DWI is driving while intoxicated. This was a drug charge.
I thought, this should be pretty straightforward. A huge man with the #2 sat next to me. He wore black overalls, a flannel shirt and no recent shower. I leaned away a little so I could breathe. Voir dire consisted of finding out if anyone had DUIs or DWIs. Lots of in-depth questioning there. Did anyone have close friends or relatives in law enforcement? Heck, anyone in law enforcement?
With district court, the judge takes into consideration the objections from both the state and the defense and assigns jurors. Judge S. called out 7 of us, yours truly included, to sit in the jury box. Number 2 made it as well. We sat down and then the judge gave us instructions.
“Huh?” The older gentlemen, juror 7, could not hear.
“Sir, can you hear me?”
Nope. Seven was given a listening device. It was hit and miss. Seven swapped it out for another one. Worked slightly better.
The judge went on. Have to follow the law, not your own bias, defendant is innocent until proven guilty, beyond a reasonable doubt.
We all filed into the jury room, a small locked room with an attached bathroom, both adjacent to the courtroom. The bailiff handed us notebooks to take notes. I gulped. Could I write legibly enough to use it later?
Juror 7 was taken out again. His hearing aids interfered with the listening device. The judge and attorneys asked him all the questions again as we cooled our heels in the small room. We exchanged names: W., the mountain man and #2, C., an amazing mother and fellow church member with friendship from Oregon days, R., an attractive woman in her 50s who works for the Belfair School District, O., a 50-something Mexican man who drives a forklift for Sierra Pacific, and H., a slender 20-something female veterinary student and transplant from North Carolina who works as a vet tech in Olympia. Little did we know how much time we’d be together.
W. liked to talk. A lot. By this time, it was 2:30ish. Juror 7 got excused since he could hear nothing and would be unable to serve on the case. And then there were six. The bailiff told us none of us could get sick. Since a DUI is a criminal case, we must reach a consensus. Gulp again.
We filed back into the courtroom at 3:00 p.m. Both sides made their opening arguments. From what I could glean, the prosecution’s case was all about meth, methadone and morphine in the blood sample from a Darryl Watters, pulled over on June 1, 2018 at around 11:00 p.m., originally for a broken taillight. He was also weaving within his lane. The defense’s argument rested on the time between the sample’s origin and the date it reached toxicology 20 days later, as well as the testing methods used by the state trooper and the toxicology lab. The blood sample sat around for months in the lab fridge, waiting to be tested. Hmm. Didn’t seem like much to go on, though I tried to keep an open mind.
The prosecuting attorney, Mr. W., was very young. He followed the procedure to the letter, asking permission to approach the bench and the witness before moving. The defense attorney, an older man named Mr. L., wore a pale gray suit. The hem of his cuffed pants frowned over the back of his tasseled loafers. He often spoke over the witnesses and objections.
“Counsel, let the witness answer.” “Counsel, let me rule on the objection.” The judge’s withering looks said it all.
It was rough. Over the next 4 days, we were in and out of the courtroom multiple times. The defense objected to the trooper’s testimony.
“Send the jury out,” the judge would intone. Over and over.
It got to be a joke among us jurors. I started to log our entering and exit times, just for fun. We considered placing bets.
Entered and seated at 1:39 p.m. Sent out at 1:42 p.m. Time elapsed: 3 minutes.
“Send the jury out.”
Entered and seated at 2:11 p.m. Sent out at 2:31 p.m. Time elapsed: 20 minutes.
“Send the jury out.”
Entered and seated at 2:57 p.m. Sent out at 3:05 p.m. Time elapsed: 8 minutes.
“Send the jury out.”
And on and on. Each objection had to be fully discussed with us out of earshot. It was nothing like TV cases. Reaching a half hour of questioning before the defense objected to either the witness’s conclusions, testing methods of the state trooper or the toxicology lab, or the state’s questioning proved a huge coup. It dawned on us that the original estimation of finishing by Thursday might be optimistic.
Meanwhile, hot topics in the jury room consisted of free speech, the right to own guns, and W.’s history. It was all O.’s fault.
“You’re a good storyteller. Give us more,” he said.
So W. did. W. had a high school education, but a voracious curiosity about things. He grew up on the streets of Tacoma and in the woods, shunted between an absentee mom and his Native American grandmother. At one point, he ran away from home and joined the carnival, where he became a student of human nature. Once safely ensconced with his grandmother and back in school, he learned all kinds of art, including jewelry making. In fact, he made his own dentures. He only wore them the first day, he said, because he broke off a tooth eating some of Safeway’s fried chicken. He pioneered some early computer programs and taught himself how to code. He trapped and fished on his property in Tahuya, property he purchased some 30 years ago. He told us nowadays he had to trap using scent and not bait due to new laws.
We heard about him picking brush on his property, stacking it into 2 piles. He felt something furry at his feet and thought it was a little dog. He shooed it home. It came back. Without really paying attention, he reached down to pet it and realized it was a little bear. Another time he was eating a not-so-tasty energy bar and a deer walked into his yard. He offered the remainder of the bar to the deer who took it right out of his hand.
Other stories weren’t so benign. He talked of his addiction to drugs and alcohol, even smoking. He kicked them all over time. His son was not so lucky and overdosed several years ago. He showed us his picture, a tall, dark-haired fellow, gone by age 31. W.’s pain showed in his eyes. Parents should not outlive their children.
But wait! There’s more.
“When I bought the property, it was isolated. Nobody around for miles. So I took advantage of the free Vitamin D. I went commando.”
Um. O. and I exchanged side glances.
“But then I started to get neighbors. I had to move my traps in closer and closer to the house. I realized when I sat outside, I needed to be on a blanket in order to cover up. Not for me, but for them. They would be embarrassed.”
Okay. C. and I shared a look across the table.
“You know, we all have the same parts. Two arms, two legs. I’ve always heard that we’re unique and special, but I don’t really believe that.”
I started laughing here and could not stop. What in the world? I laughed so hard I cried. I put my head down on the table. I did not snort, but I was close. The other jurors joined in.
“That’s good, that’s good, ” W. said. “Laughter is good medicine, even if it’s laughing at me.” His eyes betrayed his concern for my sanity. Well, at this point in our journey, it seemed appropriate.
All told, we probably spent 4 hours in the courtroom listening to testimony and questioning. Late Friday morning, we were encouraged to pick out a lunch choice from Domino’s, with deliberations over lunch. We nominated H. as the presiding juror, with her great understanding of test tubes and blood draw protocols, as well as methodical notes. We all gave our input. I explained how Washington state interoffice mail worked. W. kept pulling us off track with personal stories about his experiences.
“W.”, R. said not unkindly, “why don’t we let others talk?”
Couldn’t have said it better myself. From then on, he raised his hand before he spoke.
O. asked a couple of questions. We talked about how the combination of meth, morphine and methadone probably impaired his driving, and no legal limits exist for any of those. We wrapped it up just before 1:00 p.m. with a unanimous guilty verdict. Drugs do not spontaneously appear in someone’s blood, after all. We were back in the courtroom by 1:10 and all finished by 1:20. The judge thanked us for our “above and beyond” service and encouraged us to wait around, as the attorneys sought feedback on how to improve. I said goodbye to everyone and gave W. a side hug. He had cleaned himself up a bit over the week’s duration. He shared a lot of himself with us; sometimes that makes you feel vulnerable. I jetted out, glad to be free. After all, it was Valentine’s Day.
I considered all the forced time spent together. Despite the tedium, though, I enjoyed being with people whom I now consider friends, an unforeseen bonus. Sharing yourselves with others will do that, even when you are very different.