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Voir Dire

Voir Dire

“Give me a recipe!” Robin demanded.

“Okay,” I repeated, “Start with one cup of water!”

“No!” Robin retorted, “That recipe is too complex!”

Robin was old enough to be my mother, with three adult children of her own, but here I was locked in an exchange of recipes with a group of four women, three of which had proposed marriage to me upon learning that I was the primary cook for my family. We were situated in the center of the Jury Assembly room, and were becoming quite vocal. Our tiny group was gathering a casual audience.

“Listen,” I retorted from another angle, “This is my special pizza recipe which, I’ve perfected from all my life!”

“Oh really?”

“Yes, and if you want a recipe, this is going to be it!”

Robin, now her attention fixed, grabbed a pad of paper and a pencil from her Bible study manual.
We had actually begun the day with her gentle inquiry into what I was reading. This was to be my second day sitting in for Jury Duty, and I knew that there would be hours to spend. What had caught her eye was a small black leather bound book with a green cotton page holder, the kind adhered to the binding of the book.
Usually a book of this description is religious in nature and most often a copy of the Holy Bible. Robin would learn that this was actually a copy of “The Infinite Atonement” by Tad R Callister.

This discovery had led to a quiet but impassioned discussion on religion, Robin being a born again Christian of unrevealed denomination, and I being a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The religious conversation was interesting in itself, but ultimately resulted in an impasse, and that’s when Robin suggested we devolve into recipes. Most of our neighbors, carefully avoiding our religious discourses, now found themselves eager to participate in a neutral topic.

“Okay, start with one cup of water,” I repeated, “Warm water,” I added hastily.

1 cup warm water
1 Tbls Sugar (dissolved into water)
1 Pack/Tbls Yeast

Cover and place in a dark corner for 10 minutes. Afterwards:

Add 1 cup flour (Robin asked which type for clarification, All Purpose White is best)
1 Tbls Olive oil
1 Tsp Salt

Mix until you have a homogeneous liquid. THEN add

1 cup All purpose white flour
1 cup Whole wheat flour (it makes the dough more cohesive)

Cut the flour into the dough until the dough is mixed. Kneed and needed. Cover and let rise for 30 minutes.

“You’re reciting this whole thing from memory?” one of the listening women asked incredulously. “You must do this one often.”
“Once a week,” I replied without missing a beat I continued, “Now for the sauce.”
“This is really complex!” Robin interjected once more, “This will take a long time!”
“Not really,” one of the other women replied, “You start the sauce while waiting for the dough!”
“Oh!” Robin responded to the epiphany.

The sauce

On the stove heat up and mix

1 cup of water
1 6oz can of Tomato paste
½ tsp Basil
½ tsp Italian Herbs
½ tsp Oregano (You’ve got to have Oregano with Italian!)
½ tsp Salt
¼ tsp Pepper
¼ tsp Paprika

For Cheese

Use slices of Provolone Cheese, shredded Mozzarella, and Parmesan. Add toppings to your taste.

The whole thing cooks for about 15 minutes at 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

(Editorial note. I’ve altered this recipe and no longer use it. But it’s still a good recipe).

During the morning, the Jury selection clerks would walk to the podium and announce that they were calling jurors for a case. We were each assigned numbers and they would call us by these numbers.
During each interruption, we would dutifully, take a break from our discussion and listen to see if we would need to join the group at the front of the room, or be permitted to resume our lively discussion.
Shortly after the pizza recipe, Robin and I were called to participate in Voir Dire on a criminal case. About twenty perspective Jurors were assembled in preparation to see which six of us would be seated for the Trial.

We were led by an Orange County Sheriff’s Deputy to a courtroom on one of the upper floors. After a short wait, we were lined up into four lines and then directed where to sit. The purpose of our careful lining up was that we were being matched to a common seating chart. The attorney’s and the Judge each had a copy, and by simply deduction at to which seat we sat in, they could call us by name.

We found ourselves seated in the sparse audience seating of the court room separated by a solid dark wood banister. In the center of the court room the two attorneys the Defense and the Prosecution, sat at desks, one would expect to find in any courtroom. I noticed immediately that these desks were on casters and situated to face the audience. But it was clear that these tables could be moved and rotated with little effort. Indeed, during the trial the lawyers would rotate their facing towards the judge during the actual trial.

Along the right wall sat the clerk of the court and in the far right corner, dominating the courtroom, sat the Judge.

To the Judge’s right and along the back wall was situated the witness stand.

Along the left wall were arrayed two rows of six chairs. This was the jury box, and it remained eerily empty.

The other striking thing to note was that everyone was standing as the Jury was seated. Only after we had taken our places, was the court asked to be seated. This ceremony continued. Each time the Jury entered, or moved, the members of the court would all arise in honor of the Jury. Never once were we called to rise for the Judge, but she remained seated at her station throughout the proceedings.

With the defense attorney sat a black man, we would come to learn was of Jamaican descent. He wore dreadlocks but not to an excessive length. Likewise his facial hair was present in a short beard and mustache. He was clear eyed, and remained calm, and quiet.

He wore a dark brown sports jacket, with non invasive matching pants. Certainly not a man of great financial means. His presence as the defendant was unmistakable, especially in contrast to the two lawyers wearing suits costing more than most of us made in a single month.

Voir Dire, the only legal term we would encounter, was the questioning of the prospective jury, so that the attorneys could choose from among us, who would be impaneled.

They judge began with a preface about the prospective duty, and had developed a technique for speeding up Voir Dire. Instead of having the jurors asked Voir Dire individually, we would be asked questions as a group, and signify a response by exception.

For instance, “Have any of you been convicted of a felony? I’m looking for a no answer.” This was the third time we’d been asked this question, but if we were to answer contrary to her desired answer we were to answer by exception. The Lawyers were expected to generally follow this technique as well, but were at greater latitude to follow up individually.

The Judges questions were routine and only verified that we were legally qualified to sit on a jury. Again, this being the third time that we were asked this battery of questions, none of us responded to the contrary.

She then asked if any of us had been involved in a crime. About half of us had, including myself, and we were all in turn asked minor details regarding these events. One man had been a vandalism victim against his car, to which nothing was done. One woman had a brother who “did something stupid as a kid,” and had been convicted of a felony. “He deserved it,” she concluded.

The prosecuting Attorney had only three questions. He was concerned that the perspective jurors would be able to render a judgment based on evidence alone, and could put aside any preconceived notions.
His one exception was that he inquired if we believed if a crime amongst familial members was different than one between strangers.

I was the first juror to raise my hand in exception to this question. I confided that I felt that crimes between family members could actually be more serious, than between strangers. Unwittingly this was what the prosecutor was seeking in a juror. Other jurors also expressed concerns that this condition was not necessarily true as well, but none of us believed that a crime amongst a family was less serious than among strangers. This sentiment was expressed in many fashions but ultimately remained unchanged.

The other key factor for the prosecuting attorney was that we could pass judgment on a sole event in time without taking into account, past occurrences. I was at first confused by this question, but as the other jurors began to express their concerns, I discovered, that what the prosecutor would do was to focus on a single event and wanted us to judge that event based on the evidence presented and not necessarily on events which may have occurred previous or following. I felt comfortable that I could render a judgment based solely on what was presented in court, especially as I didn’t have anything else to go on!

Next was the Defense Attorney’s turn.

His first question/statement was geared on ensuring that we as perspective jurors, understood that the responsibility of proving guilt lay at the feet of the prosecutor.

He began by pointing out that it is common enter a court room and ask the question, “What did that guy do?”
“How many of you thought that?”

I was impressed by the answer of the first juror to answer. He stated, “Actually I was wondering what he was accused of.” His answer was echoed with murmurs of agreement.

We were to assume, based on no evidence that his client was innocent. It was a nice refresher course on the concept of “Innocent in a Court of law,” and no one took exception.

The next question/concept regarded the ability to understand progressive sequences. If “A” leads to “B” and “B” leads to “C” etc.

The defense attorney, began this with an interesting analogy.

“I’m going to pick on the guys for a second,” he grinned while straightening his suit coat, “Have any of you guys ever baked a cake?”

I obediently, and solely raised my hand, and at that gesture, many of the other jurors (including Robin,) snickered and giggled.

This had a disconcerting effect on the members of the court. The judge looked up and frowned and both attorneys perked up. Even the clerk of the court turned inquisitively.

“So,” the Defense asked, consulting the seating chart,” Mr. Gedge, you’ve baked cakes before?”

I affirmed that I had including cooking cakes from scratch, and we began a discussion on what happens when you replace or switch ingredients, say salt for sugar.

Rhetorically, you adversely affect the taste.

Metaphorically, the Defense was explaining that his argument would be a logical progression of logical events and conclusions.

I did interject that his analogy was flawed. Substituting sugar for salt will actually not have an adverse effect on a cake recipe, until you taste it. Both salt and sugar create crystalline structures that melt in water in the same manner. There was some pointless discussion back and forth between myself and the defense and it was eventually agreed that subtle alterations to a recipe will ultimately change the taste.

The next question centered on firearms as the defendant was being accused of Assault with a Firearm, and I was singled out first.

The crime I had reported upon was an attempted theft of personal property. I let is slip that this was during my active duty deployment and that it involved me reporting the crime to the Military Police.

“Mr. Gedge,” I gather from your incident that you were in the military?”

“Yes.”

“Did you receive any training pertaining to firearm usage and safety.”

“Well, obviously!” I retorted, to another ripple of gentle laughter from the jurors.

The Defense Attorney shrugged and nodded conciliatory. It was a rhetorical question.

“Do you own a firearm, Mr. Gedge?”

“Not yet.”

I was asked my feelings about firearms and I expressed my tacit support for the second amendment. I thought for certain that this stance would exclude me from being impaneled, but unfortunately, this is exactly what the Defense was seeking. I didn’t know it yet, but I was the perfect juror for both lawyers. My fate was sealed!

The other jurors were asked about their ownership of firearms, and about a quarter of us professed to training and ownership. In the end, half of the jurors impaneled would be firearm owners or in my case, an advocate.

Voir Dire concluded and as it turned out it was shortly after noon. We were dismissed for lunch, with the injunction to return at 1:20 p.m. and wait outside the courtroom.