Thursday, March 06, 2008

Why I Spent My Birthday in a Courtroom

Most of the time, people want to do something fun for their birthdays. Think Disneyland, or your favorite restaurant. But guess where I spent my birthday? At the Orange County Courthouse, where I got summoned for jury duty.

The Orange County courthouse in Santa Ana. (03/04/2008)
The Orange County courthouse in Santa Ana. (03/04/2008)

I've had some bad birthdays before, but this takes the cake. The hell started early. You MUST CHECK IN BY 8:00am, the paperwork sternly warned. Since I'm one of those people who allows only enough time to get somewhere, I was scrambling. I seriously screeched into the parking lot and ran my fat ass all the way to the courthouse one block away. I was out of breath and about to pass out, but I made it in the nick of time ... and would you believe they didn't even start until 8:45? Thanks for that!

Although I'd never been summoned for jury duty before, I heard from my friend Tom that they typically open with a motivating speech emphasizing the importance of being a juror. Seriously, he said it was truly inspirational (think the D.A. speech in ABC's The Practice). Believe it or not, our judge opening statement was funny! She was literally telling jokes up there. Out of the hundreds of people in the room, I was seriously the only one laughing! Humor, anyone?

This judge gave a really funny motivational speech. (03/04/2008)
This judge gave a really funny motivational speech. (03/04/2008)

Later they began the long process of assigning individuals to different courtrooms. That took a YEAR! But eventually I was told to report to the courtroom on the 10th floor immediately after lunch. Once there, Rusty the Bailiff herded us into the courtroom.

Next, each prospective juror had to tell the judge and attorneys your name, your occupation/employer, your spouse/domestic partner's occupation/employer, and finally whether you have any family in law enforcement or in jail. I answered honestly, explaining that I have at least three cousins in law enforcment and another three cousins who have been incarcerated. They basically canceled each other out.

The wonderful room where I spent my birthday morning. (03/04/2008)
The wonderful room where I spent my birthday morning. (03/04/2008)

Although I didn't really want to be there, I definitely felt some civic responsbility to at least be honest about my answers. It wasn't a financial hardship for me (work pays for jury duty time). I didn't have kids or elderly parents that were dependent on me. And I certainly don't lack English comprehension.

What annoyed me, however, was how some people would clearly stretch some truths to get out of serving. It actually really started to annoy me after the first dozen or so people were excused. As it turns out, I was one of the 12 jurors selected.

Restricted area, jurors only. (03/04/2008)
Restricted area, jurors only. (03/04/2008)

I was annoyed, but I changed my tune when the judge informed us about the nature of the case. It was a very sobering moment when he said it was a sex crime involving a minor. When I heard that, I definitely felt an attitude shift. I mean, I have younger siblings, and if the tables were turned, I would certainly want it to be taken seriously. So I did.

The next morning, the court case officially started. I'm not going to mention names or details, but essentially the case surrounds a 16-year-old female surfer. She was part of this surfing group of friends who would hang out at the beach during the summer. One of the people in this crowd was an older guy, maybe in his early 40s. Apparently, in the surfing community, it's pretty common for people of all ages to hang out with each other.

Loved this picture of a stamp in the jury assembly room. (03/04/2008)
Loved this picture of a stamp in the jury assembly room. (03/04/2008)

The older guy owned a van that he would park near the beach, and one afternoon, the girl complained of shoulder pain and asked this guy to give her a massage. So they went into his van where he proceeded to massage her back — with no one else around, of course.

This is where the stories diverge. She said he unhooked her bikini top to massage her back. He said she unhooked it. She said during the massage, he pushed her bikini bottom to one side and exposed her, stating something like, "I'd tap that." He stated that he may have accidentally touched her bikini bottom while he was massaging her lower back, but that it was unintentional. Ultimately, one of her friends showed up and interrupted the session before it went further.

The trick to surviving jury duty is to bring a good book. (03/04/2008)
The trick to surviving jury duty is to bring a good book. (03/04/2008)

As a juror, I definitely found the guy's story unconvincing. The smoking gun in the case was the phone call the police prompted her to make, which was recorded. She indicated in the phone call what had happened, and he began pleading with her not to get him in trouble. If he had genuinely felt nothing inappropriate had happened, as he later claimed, why would he plead with her over the phone to not report it?

It took about a day-and-a-half to hear all the evidence and witnesses. In deliberation, we all agreed that the girl may have liked the attention he gave her. She may have wanted the massage to go further, but likely changed her mind when the reality sank in. Regardless of the girl's intent, the fact remains that he was an adult male who should have known better than to go to a private place with a minor female who, by law, cannot give consent.

View from the OC Courthouse 10th floor. (03/04/2008)
View from the OC Courthouse 10th floor. (03/04/2008)

Case closed. We unanimously found him guilty after about one hour of deliberation. It definitely wasn't the crime of the century or anything, but certainly the guy should be held responsible for his actions. After the verdict was read, we were sent on our way. It was definitely a birthday to remember!

1 comment:

beastandbean said...

Love that Jury Duty postage stamp. And that book you're reading looks so interesting, who got you that? :)