Jury Duty Recap

July 14, 2023

Prior to 2023, I had never received a jury summons. This seemed odd to me, given my eligibility for over 30 years and that it is supposedly a random process. It was something I'd mention here and there as friends and colleagues received their summons, but always with a little superstitious hesitation.

Lo and behold, a summons arrived in the mail in February 2023, with an April appearance date. I had just started a new job, and I was imagining things would be in full swing come April, so I chose to use my one deferral opportunity to move it to July.

This ended up being a good choice. The intensity of starting a new job had waned by July, and my team was running on all cylinders. I could disappear for a week (hopefully not more!) and it wouldn't disrupt the flow of progress too much.

I nervously checked my status the Friday prior to my assigned week. There was a chance that I'd be excused at that point, but it wasn't the case. My instructions were to check again on Monday at 11am to see if I was assigned. Sure enough, I was. The instructions this time were to report to the courthouse by 12:30pm on Monday, so I needed to just have some lunch, pack up, and go.


Arriving at the courthouse was mildly confusing. I should have done a little more homework beforehand to understand the parking situation since there was not an explicitly labeled juror parking area, but I did that in the parking lot when I arrived with the help of Google.

I found my way to the Jury Waiting Room, which in Santa Cruz is in a portable room behind the courthouse. The room was full when I got there - about 30-35 people were waiting. After checking in and scanning my paperwork, I had a seat. The guy working there looked familiar (maybe he was a server at a restaurant too?) and handled everyone's questions with calm and helpful patience.

After about a half hour of sitting in a little chair, they showed a welcome video to everyone. This was about 15 minutes long and reviewed the role of a juror and important rules that come with the responsibility, as well as the layout of the courtroom. After the video ended, it was about another half hour of sitting, then we were to walk into the courthouse.

Entering a courthouse is a bit like entering an airport. There is security at the entrance with x-ray machines and metal detectors to walk through. This seems reasonable, given the conflicts that bring people to the courthouse.

All 35 of us were instructed to sit in the audience section of the courthouse. After a short wait, the judge (lovely lady), clerks, and lawyers from both sides introduced themselves. They also introduced the case itself -- with the defendant being accused of DUI.

The judge then instructed one of the clerks to choose 18 names at random from the pool of jurors in the room to move from the audience area to the jury area. Lucky (?) for me, I was one of the first 18. This began the process of selecting the jury for the trial.

We started with standing up one-by-one and stating our name, occupation, spouse's occupation if applicable, number of kids, and their ages. It's so interesting being in such a cross section of the community like this. There were people from all walks and stages of life -- from UCSC students to a retired exotic dancer. The judge asked a few questions to try to suss out extreme circumstances that would excuse jurors. For example, one of the university students drove from Vallejo (he claimed it took 4 hours) since that is where he was living during the summer break. He was dismissed.

The lawyers then took turns asking the prospective jurors questions more relevant to the case, for instance if anyone had been affected by drunk driving in the past, or looking for peoples' attitudes toward police officers. There were a few people dismissed through this process, mostly because they expressed an inability to be fair or follow the rules of how a decision would need to be made. One guy was fairly argumentative with the lawyers and was dismissed.


The lawyers weren't as polished as what you see on TV, and things overall moved very slowly. We got through the first 18 people halfway through Tuesday (we started on Monday), and the remainder of Tuesday was filling in the rest of the actual jury from the people who weren't part of that first 18. There was a bit of a hiccup when it came out that the defendant was observed to be talking with one or more of the prospective jurors during a break. This is a big no-no and I think there were a couple jurors dismissed for that.

At the end of Tuesday we had our 12 jurors and two alternates. I was to be one of the jurors.


Wednesday began with opening statements from both attorneys, which lasted all of 5 minutes. We then heard testimony from the CHP officers who made the arrest. Part of this testimony was reviewing the dash-cam and body-cam footage from the officers when they made the stop. Another hiccup came when we were watching the video footage, and the defense lawyer abruptly objected to continuing. Presumably there was an exchange between the defendant and the officers that he didn't want us to see, and he successfully got that part cut short.

It was interesting to me to hear the police officers describe the situation and how they went about doing their jobs. In this day of everything being recorded, they have to execute their jobs flawlessly, since a small mistake could lead to a case dismissal. I think the video footage is a huge win for officer and public safety. Police who are not in favor of this equipment perhaps should consider an alternate career.

Interestingly, only one of the officers had a body camera. When asked about this, he said that there was no budget for all officers to have them, but they could pay out of their own pocket to get one if they wanted it. This seems like a pretty sad state of affairs!

Both officers seemed totally professional in their approach, and seemed like eminently respectable people.

Wednesday ended with the second officer still on the stand, still to be questioned by the defense attorney.


As I write this Thursday morning, I'm actually kind of excited about what will come next. My hope is that we wrap up the testimony for the trial today and then get to move to the Jury Deliberation Room. The jurors who were selected all seem like rational, reasonable people and I look forward to hashing out the facts of the case with them!

Thursday was another day of unpredictable waiting and very interesting information. The morning started about 30 minutes late for no reason that I could see. Everyone was present, but there was this delay.

We started the day with finishing the testimony of the CHP officer who arrested the defendant. There wasn't much interesting content there.

This consumed the actual hour of court time before the lunch break, so we took our break until 1:30pm.

I came home and made a really delicious salad with spinach, arugula, fresh shredded beets and carrots, onion, pepperoncini, pumpkin seeds, and my favorite feta. Lucky me there was a good amount of lemon dressing I had made earlier in the week. It was a great salad.

Such a good salad.

Back to court with my usual 10 minutes early arrival, just in case parking was an issue. No problem as usual.

The rest of the day was spent questioning an expert in breathalyzer equipment. He was the senior scientist at the DOJ lab overseeing the measurement equipment the CHP uses. It is his responsibility to train new scientists and police departments on the proper use, care, and maintenance of the equipment. It was very interesting learning facts around how the body processes alcohol and at what rates. It was also interesting to get some insight around what kinds of impairments present themselves at what blood (or breath) alcohol content levels. Fascinating stuff.

With each witness, the judge gave us the opportunity to write questions for the witness down on a piece of paper. The bailiff collected the papers and brought them to the judge to discuss the merits of our questions with the lawyers. The judge would then ask the witness the questions that passed muster on our behalf. Each time, the judge would praise the jury for our "engaged" and "insightful" questions.

This jury seems like a great group. Everyone is sharp, paying attention, and not flirting with any of the courtroom rules. I'm really looking forward to the deliberations tomorrow. If I could lead it and predict the outcome, we'd be out of there in less than 2 minutes.

I think this was the DA's first case. She was obviously over her head and struggled with basic pronunciation of names, and many times asked nonsensical questions. It seemed with the line of questions that she was listening to the testimony half the time. Luckily there was always someone (presumably more experienced) sitting next to her, so they could coach her through her questions. The judge was kind and patient in the circumstances too. I wish the new DA well in her career journey!


We got started about 10 minutes late this morning. There's never an explanation. The day began with the judge reading deliberation instructions to the jury. These instructions covered general behavior, e.g. not talking with anyone but the other jurors, and only when all jurors are present, as well as details around the three charges the defendant was facing (DUI, DUI with blood alcohol > 0.08, and DUI with blood alcohol > 0.15).

The remaining hour before the lunch break was consumed by the DA rehashing, in pedantic detail, repeating herself several times, the facts of the case. It was like having to watch a corporate compliance training video on 0.25x multiple times. She misstated facts left and right, as well as showed a general lack of cognitive ability to stitch information together. She went off on a tangent around the possible effects on blood alcohol content of diabetes, which yesterday's expert debunked, so I'm really not sure why she used her time for that.

The DA wrapped up just before lunchtime. It's a short drive home, so I chose to come home and eat rather than trying to find something downtown. Lunch was nothing to write home about.

Back to the courthouse with time to spare, and assume the waiting position for the courtroom to open to us. We were let in around 1:40pm.

The closing statement from the public defender was appropriately brief. This was a pretty clear case, and I think he knew it would be a miracle if his client was acquitted, but he made a heartfelt effort to try to sow some seeds of doubt.

After a few more instructions from the judge, we were shown to the Jury Room by our superstar bailiff deputy. He was always such a pro through the whole week.


The jury room was a room just large enough to hold a circular 12-person table. There were actually two en suite bathrooms, water, coffee, and even hot chocolate. The room was uncomfortably echoey. I think conversations would go better if there was some sound absorbing tiles on the walls.

Our bailiff reminded us that our first job was to choose a foreperson. I had been thinking about this moment since I was sure I was going to be on the jury. As we sat down, a couple people asked at the same time if anyone wanted to be the foreperson.

I raised my hand and looked around, surprised to see nobody else with their hand raised. I offered my interest in doing the job, but also that I was happy to yield to someone else. Nobody else spoke up, so I gave some reassurance to my fellow jurors that in my career I've had lots of experience brokering discussions like we were about to have, and I pay special attention to making sure all voices were heard. I'm happy to have this skill and it makes me eager to do jobs like this.

It was interesting getting to know the personalities in the group. People are always so distinct in their ways. The group didn't need much leading to get the discussion started. I did my best to find balance between the people who wanted to talk at every opportunity and those who weren't. We soon exposed a few questions or doubts from the jury that needed clarification. So we wrote them on slips of paper and buzzed our bailiff to come collect the questions and take them to the judge to get answered.

The roundtrip on our three questions was approximately an hour. During that time, we had exhausted all deliberation and had moved on to just socializing and running through hypothetical answers to our questions to make sure we would have a definitive answer once the answers arrived.

We had to move back to the courtroom to hear the answers to our questions. The movement between courtroom and jury room and back is carefully moderated by the bailiff to make sure nobody escapes or sneaks in.

We received somewhat clear answers to our questions, and with some additional discussion we arrived on a general agreement on what was what. There were some procedural questions (i.e. did the police follow the right process when arresting the suspect) as well as a clarification of blood alcohol content vs breath alcohol content numbers (spoiler: they're the same).

The question came up about how to vote. I voiced that I thought we should do a silent vote and tally the results. This helps ensure each person's true feelings come out and are not influenced by what the rest of the group is doing. Lots of nodding from around the room, except for a gentleman who didn't see the need to do it that way because "we're all friends, right?". I very much understand his point of view, but had to use my foreman hat and let him know that it's possible not everyone is of the same mind. He was a super nice guy and he brought some spice to the room. Great group.

The Verdict

I read the votes aloud. It was nearly unanimous. One vote had obviously added a "not" after initially writing their "guilty" verdict. After the votes were fully tallied at 11-1, I jokingly looked at the woman across from me, who I wrongly assumed was the dissenter, and said "ok change our minds". In hindsight, I wish I had thought through that more, since it could feel antagonistic or even offensive to someone. I should have just simply asked "ok who would like to share something about their decision?" or something softer.

Once the not-guilty voter revealed herself, she immediately backpedaled and offered to change her vote. There was some pressure in the room to wrap things up -- we literally had 10 minutes before the court closed for this final phase, or else we would have had to come back on Monday. Nobody wanted to come back Monday. But she said she just put that on there in case someone else did too, and she was happy to change her vote. The room was appropriately sensitive to this, encouraging her to vote how she wanted to vote. I reminded her that we didn't have to have a unanimous decision. It was one outcome for the accused person to be found not guilty.

But she insisted on changing her vote and clearly stated her new vote of "guilty". To be honest, I was personally motivated to carry the guilty verdict back to the courtroom. It was abundantly clear that the guy was driving himself and some friends while absolutely shitfaced drunk (> 0.20 bac), and he was just being a lying punk trying to get some revenge on society by taking our time and resources to have a whole jury trial happen because he's not yet a man who owns the outcomes of his actions. Guilty.

We pushed the button to summon our valiant bailiff, so that we could tell him we were ready with a decision. As the foreperson, I filled in the three verdict forms, proud that I could have this extra responsibility. The deputy came in and we did our final coordinated and corralled walk back to the courtroom.

We entered the room and took our now very familiar seats in the jury gallery (I was number 6, which luckily afforded the most legroom of any other juror seat). The judge asked the jury if we had elected a foreperson. I raised my hand and the judge (lovely lady) smiled.

Just like on TV, she then asked, "Has the jury reached a verdict?"

Without hesitation and delivered as good as any extra on Law & Order ever did...

"We have, your honor."

Naaaaailed it.

I then handed the verdict forms to the bailiff, who handed them to the judge, who looked them over and handed them to the court recorder to read aloud. I wasn't looking directly at the defendant while they were being read, but I did have him in my field of view and could see his reactions. He was obviously disappointed, dipping his head low into his hands. I'm kind of shocked he held on to any hope. Perhaps our extra questions gave him that glimmer of hope.

I was happy to hear the words "guilty" being read. In my opinion, the accused is a person who needs to learn some important lessons on respect - of himself and of others. Hopefully whatever the punishment is for the crime he committed serves as a lesson and source of growth.

The judge thanked us, and then excused us from the room. I gave her a nod and a thanks on the way out, as well as some words of appreciation for our awesome bailiff.

I gave a fellow juror a ride to her car afterward, and it was nice to talk with her a bit about things not related to the case.

Overall I'm glad to have gone through this experience. I gained some more understanding and respect for what police are asked to do, learned quite a bit about the science and biology of alcohol, and felt like I could make some positive difference in this community by helping to enforce these important laws we have to discourage drunk driving. The price was a week of my time, sometimes waiting for unusual amounts of time, and enduring overly-repeated and sometimes inaccurate information. I'll look forward to the next time I get to do this.