Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Ultimate POV Change

So today I had jury duty. That wouldn't be that interesting of a fact, except that I'm a prosecuting attorney. (Yes, we have to serve as jurors too.) Normally I'm one of the lawyers at the table, eyeing the prospective jurors with skepticism and scrutiny. But today I got the experience from a totally different viewpoint, and it really opened my eyes.

It was like being a secret shopper--I have all this inside information, and I know most people who work in the building. So, as I waited in the hallway, I'd get lots of smiles, nods, and funny comments from passing attorneys, cops, and other staff. But to the other jurors I seemed just like them--bored, tired of standing (we don't have much seating outside of the courtrooms themselves), and wondering when they'd call us into the courtroom.

I've had jury duty before, but have never been called into a courtroom before (I just languished in the big waiting room until they ran out of cases needing jurors for the day). But today, I not only got inside the courtroom, but seated in the jury box to be questioned individually by the judge. The judge knew me too, of course, and made some comments to that effect, which caused my fellow jurors some whiplash trying to look at who he was referring to. It was like being a minor celebrity trying to go incognito for a few hours. Kind of fun.

But as I sat in the box, watching things in the courtroom from this very different perch, I noticed a few things. First off, I was nervous! Even though I knew my setting and that it was very unlikely I would be left on this jury panel--it was a bit unnerving to answer questions in front of a group of strangers, knowing that the lawyers were staring at me. Secondly, it really is difficult to think straight when there's pressure and the formality of the courtroom. I suddenly felt more compassion for those jurors who couldn't quite remember how many children they had (yes, this happens), or how long they had worked at their current job, or when they'd served on a previous jury. Before, I realized that it wasn't easy for an average citizen to appear on a jury panel, but now, I saw how rough it was from a first-person perspective. Lastly, I saw how focused the pannel is on the defendant's table. You're staring right at the person on trial, and his or her lawyer. That's a very different viewpoint from where I normally sit, facing the judge and witness stand. It kind of makes more sense how scared jurors get to make the wrong decision, and how they often seem to err on the side of the defendant, even where most lawyers would agree there was sufficient evidence to prove a case beyond a reasonable doubt.

Of course I got kicked from the panel by the defense, but I really am glad that I had the chance to see this from the eyes of a juror.

And, unfortunately, I recently was served with a subpoena to be a witness in a case (in which hopefully I won't have to testify), so perhaps I'll get the POV of the loneliest chair in the world, being questioned and cross-examined as a witness. Who knows.

This all makes me think of POV in my writing too. Maybe it's time I shook the book I'm kind of stalled in up--maybe write a bit of it from a different character's POV, just to see what light is shed on the story. And maybe I need to put my protagonist in the witness chair and cross-examine her until I really understand the ins and outs of what she's thinking. That could be just what I need to regain my momentum!


Pk Hrezo said...

oooo.... I like that idea of putting your MC in the witness chair! You could really see what she's made of.
What a nice change of pace for you. At first when I was reading, I was like, "Come on, really?? They even bothered having you summonsed when they knew you wouldn't be selected?"
But I guess it's all part of the process, as well as an interesting learning curve for you. Cool.
I get summoned more than anyone I know. I've never actually served, but sat in the big room plenty and even made it to the questioning once--but that was it. I was excited the first couple times. THen I was just disappointed in the whole process. But ever since I had kids, I get excused now.
I like how you applied your experience to writing. You know you're a writer when experiences like that get your writer wheels turning! :)

William Kendall said...

Hmmm, I'm surprised a prosecutor would be called as a potential juror, but not so that the opposing counsel would refuse you.

Betsy said...

I know it seems illogical, but prosecutors, defense attorneys, and even judges can be called as jurors.
Obviously this was more of an issue since I actually work for the same office of the assistant prosecutor who was prosecuting that particular case, so I was assuming I would be kicked off the panel eventually. It might have been a different story if it had been a civil case, or a federal case, since I don't work for that particular office.
I guess the idea is that we're all treated the same and no one is exepmt because of their job.
Plus, we're a busy county, so we need all the jurors we can get for all the cases we try! :)

Carla said...

This was a FASCINATING read. I've also had some personal experiences lately that challenged my way of looking at the world and pushed me to see some events from another person's POV. It's amazing how easy it is to forget what other people's shoes might feel like.

I'm a new follower...I saw you on Arlee's blog.

Carla @ carla-jansen.blogspot.com