As October came closer, I knew something important was going to happen.
I searched through a stack of papers and sticky notes on my desk and found my jury duty summons.
I’ve covered court cases and harrowing scenes before but the prospect of being on a jury made me nervous.
What could be the case? Would it be more like “12 Angry Men” or “Matlock” or reality TV? What about my family? Can I make our schedules for school, work and jury duty mesh?
Years prior, I was summoned but there wasn’t a need for jurors so my concern was moot.
But, I phoned in the Friday (Sept. 28) before and learned I needed to report to the Clallam County Courthouse in Port Angeles as group No. 2, which would be the first grouping of jurors.
When I told my editor Michael Dashiell I had jury duty, he and I both assumed I’d be back in a few hours.
Would they want a news reporter on the jury? We thought not.
Spoiler alert: they did.
When you come into the courthouse, depending on the case, you form a line and check in with the bailiff who organizes you by group and juror number.
I was No. 5 — my old baseball number — which is insignificant but when on a jury you tend to have a lot of time to think about random things.
Once lined up and after some time passed (a recurring theme), potential jurors go into the courtroom in numerical order where the prosecuting and defending attorneys and the defendant await you.
Being No. 5, I sat nearly front center where the attorneys walked left and right in front of us asking random questions to narrow the jury down.
Various county staffers later told me the questionnaires potential jurors answer in their summons play a big part in who is selected.
The judge and attorneys will repeat some of the questions from the form, such as “have you been on a jury?,” your connections to law enforcement/ Clallam County Jail, and if you know the defendant.
Since our trial was a theft case, there was some questioning about the definition of intent too.
You are encouraged to raise your hand to answer questions and give your reasoning if you choose.
We were asked about any potential conflicts of interest, to which I raised my hand revealing I was a reporter.
Judge Erik Rohrer didn’t seem to think it was an issue stating that Sheriff Bill Benedict had served before. Attorneys asked me a few follow-up questions but they didn’t object.
Ironically, the defending attorney poked fun that I could write about my experience, which I hadn’t planned on doing.
So upon selection, the first 13 jurors, myself included, went to the juror chairs as the attorneys determined who to keep.
For the few minutes we sat there, I still assumed I’d be out.
But four other people were excused bringing in new people, including Juror No. 7, whom I knew from the Sequim business community.
Earlier, Rohrer told us not to take offense to being excused because it could be for an array of reasons.
How you’re summoned is completely random, courthouse staff told me.
In county documentation, it states you’re chosen from the state’s software with mailing information on every Clallam County resident who is registered to vote, and holds a driver’s license or identification card.
If you don’t send in your summons’ questionnaire, then you’ll be required to fill another one out upon registering the morning of the jury selection.
Attorneys receive the cards the day of the trial to help make their selections for the jury.
County staff said if you fail to appear for jury duty, they’ll send out a “Failure to Appear” notice asking you to reschedule.
If you serve on a jury then you won’t be summoned again for at least 12 months, county staff said.
When questioned by the attorneys and judge, several people in our groups said they had served on a jury before.
County staff said it’s not uncommon for people to get called more than others despite the random process.
How many people are summoned depends on each case, staff said.
Summons go out two-three months in advance, and if you don’t respond timely, a second summons will go out.
During the trial, each juror is given a pen and a pad of paper for notes.
This is where I felt like a pro.
Quotes, evidence, questions all went to paper. However, your notes can be used until deliberation, so when you sit in the jury room, the note pads stay in your chair untouched. They’ll be destroyed after the trial too.
The goal is for the jury not to discuss things until deliberations begin once the trial ends.
So breaks in the jury room were spent sharing personal stories or getting to know one another.
Some of us went on to our cell phones, but I attempted to do reading for work.
There’s not much to say about the jury room, at least in Superior Court Room No. 2. There are two bathrooms, coffee and hot water, a mini-fridge with soda, and random art.
Again, while waiting for the attorneys, you notice/discuss a lot of random things when your job is to focus on the trial but you’re not allowed to discuss the trial before deliberations.
So wait we did between witnesses and lunch breaks leading up to deliberation.
One to go
Through each trial, 13 people sit on the jury and right before deliberations, the court clerk selects a number from a Bingo-style cage to choose an alternate.
For our case, Rohrer called No. 5.
While chance didn’t keep me in the jury, I felt grateful for the opportunity.
Once I was called, the bailiff walked me out and offered to call me, and she did, with the verdict later that day.
The other jurors found the defendant not guilty.
While I didn’t sit in deliberations, I spoke with No. 7 (her name left anonymous for privacy) who said this was her first time on a jury too.
She was the fourth and final juror to be placed after attorneys excused the previous four potential jurors.
Without going into the case for the victim’s sake, No. 7 said the jury had a hard time determining a few points — definitive cost for the item stolen constituting second-degree theft charges of more than $750.
She said they also couldn’t determine the defendant’s intent despite being recorded on camera taking the object.
They wondered if he took it on purpose or was he under the ruse of someone else hiring him to take it?
After I was released for the day around 2:30 p.m., on Tuesday, another juror I know from the Sequim business community told me the jury edged up close to their 4:30 p.m. deadline to make a decision otherwise they would have continued for a third day.
No. 7 said from her time on the jury, she learned it’s hard to prove someone is guilty.
“We went point by point and it was kind of hard when you have to prove all the points and there’s the possibility of reasonable doubt,” she said. “It was hard.”
I would have liked to be in the jury room to see how deliberations went down but just seeing the court system unfold in front of you was definitely worth seeing and participating.
Not so fast
While I was one of the original 13 jurors from group No. 2 summoned, groups 1 and 3-4 were summoned for another trial, including those who were placed into our group for the theft case.
No. 7 said she felt different going in for her second round of jury selection.
“My heart wasn’t pounding, but I could see a lot of nervous people,” she said.
Ultimately, no one from our jury was selected for the next trial, she said.
Now we all have at least 12 months before we’re summoned again and while I appreciate the process, I don’t think I’ll be waiting by the mailbox for my next summons.
Reach Matthew Nash at email@example.com.