Trial by Jury
It’s not just a clever Gilbert & Sullivan operetta. It’s a fundamental American right and for What’s Up Wednesday, I thought I’d share about how I got a chance to play a very minute part in it this week. I appeared for jury duty at District Court yesterday.
Now this is not the first time I’ve been summoned. Last time was when I lived in Wyoming. I wasn’t seated on a jury then because they reached their required number before mine was called so I spent a day reading in a very uncomfortable straight-backed chair. Forewarned, I came prepared with a bag lunch and a crisp new Eloisa James novel in my purse.
Of course, even if I made it to the jury box, there’s no guarantee I’d stay there. Both the prosecution and defense are allowed to excuse any juror they wish. My dad, for example, was excused from serving on a rape trial after the defense team discovered he was the father of four daughters. They rightly surmised he might have a predisposition to convict.
I confess I was hoping to be seated. Law & Order makes the whole judicial process look so compelling and the informational video we were shown emphasized how important a jury is to our system of justice. We were also treated to a little history in the video. I wasn’t surprised to learn that the first African-American to serve on a jury was in Massachusetts in 1860. The Commonwealth has led in a number of important areas and this was huge. However, I was very surprised to discover that women weren’t allowed to serve until the 1950’s!
My DH served on a jury for a criminal trial once and he said the frequent whispered side-bars and wrangling about admissibility made him feel they were being presented with a very stilted version of the facts. Because a jury isn’t allowed to know certain things, he’s loath to condemn their findings. They often know less about the case they are trying than the general public.
The jury pool is kept in a room separate from the general goings on in the courthouse. We weren’t allowed to roam the halls lest we overhear a conversation between lawyers and their clients that might later taint us. There was a moment of excitement in the room when a prison van pulled up and 4 orange jumpsuit-clad defendants were led into the building. My juror number was 1. If a jury was impaneled, I would at least get into the court room for voir dire (jury selection).
However, it hit me then what a tremendous responsibility jury duty is. The outcome of a trial impacts so many people, the accused, the victim, both their families… Being one of 12 to make ultimate decisions of guilt is a heavy load. This is one time when close doesn’t count. You have to get it right.
So when we continued to sit in the jury room, I was a little relieved. The court proceedings, whatever they were, “proceeded” without us and after another couple hours, we were excused with thanks. I escaped into the bright sunlight, glad to have had a day to spend with Eloisa’s duchesses without guilt.
How about you? Have you ever served on a jury? Been called as a witness? How was your real life court experience different from what we see on TV?