Today I had to go to the courthouse for jury duty. For those who live in an area where there is no jury duty, or for those of you who don’t know what jury duty is, I’ll explain.
Jury duty, at least in the United States, is a civic duty that you are required to perform if you have a drivers license (DMV) or are registered to vote. Every year you are entered into a group and that group is chosen out of a list to be called. Sometimes your group gets called and sometimes it doesn’t, but you have to keep checking back each day for a week to find out if your group is called or not. Very annoying. If your group is called you have to show up to the courthouse at a certain time. If you do not show up at the appointed time, you can actually be fined or arrested. Very serious stuff!
When you arrive at the courthouse, in the city I live in, you have to go down to the basement where the jury check-in is and you wait. While you are waiting they play a video that goes over all the things you have to do when you get called. One of the things they have you do is wear a plastic badge that lets everyone know that you are a member of the jury. I guess this way the attorneys and people on trial know not to talk to you in the hallways. Again, if you get caught talking to anyone outside the courtroom about the trial, you can get fined or even arrested.
You wait in a room with about 100 people in it all seated. There is a little area where they have a table setup to eat food at. It’s a little strange in that you are in the basement and you can really tell. Right out-side the jury check-in area, there is a maintenance door and everything. They call out names every once in a while and if they call your name then you are selected to be on a jury panel. This is where things get interesting.
In this instance, I was selected and was told to report with a group of about 75 other people to one of the courtrooms. Once there the judge went over all of the laws and rules and told a lot of stories about different trials, trying to get us to understand what they where trying to accomplish in this trial. I find it very interesting and I understand how the law works so I was somewhat excited at the prospect of being selected. During this initial selection you just have to not have any hardships that stop you from being able to server (children, taking care of older relatives, etc.) and then they had us go into another room and fill out a questionnaire.
The questionnaire was a series of simple questions that asked you if you understood certain parts of the law. They where especially interested in if you understood that the person is innocent until proven guilty. That is one of the things that many of the people had a hard time understanding. There is no burden of proof on the defendant. If the trial ended today without any evidence being presented he would be no guilty.
In this case especially this was an issue because of the nature of the charges. The man who was on trial was being charged with ‘lewd acts on a minor’ which means that he touched a girl under the age of 16. Because of the nature of the charges there where people who said that they would require that the man himself shows evidence and or testifies or else they would find him guilty. The law explicitly states otherwise so they where dismissed.
This all happened on the first day which was last week. Today I had to come back and be present for the jury selection process. For this we where ushered into the courtroom and names where called for people who would be sitting in the jury box to be questioned. Those people who’s names where called would go to the jury box and be asked questions about the answers they had given the week before. There where no right answers; the judge was trying to get an idea if the person understood and would follow the law. People who could not where dismissed.
This process when on for some time. After the judge was happy with the 18 jurors that where in the box he passed the questions over to the prosecutor and then the defense. Each attorney would ask their own questions and at the end of the questions they would be able to dismiss whoever they thought was not good for their side. Again, this took a while.
It actually took all day. The entire time this is going on I am sitting in the courtroom, having not been called, waiting and listening to all of this proceeding. For the first hour it was kinda interesting to me and somewhat entertaining, but then it started to wear on me. I wasn’t getting mad or anxious, but the energy of the courthouse in general is weighing and I was starting to get tired.
The end of the day approached and I thought that I was home free. They had a jury selected and all they had to do was finish the process by selecting 3 alternates that would take over a spot on the jury if someone had to be dismissed. Often times during a trial things will happen like someone will get sick and not be able to continue their roll in the jury. That’s when my name was called.
I sat up at the jury box and answered the questions. I understood the law and was able to say that I thought that I was a good judge of character. After the questioning by the judge, it was the prosecuting attorneys turn and he basically selected the first to people called, which did not include me, and they where chosen as the alternates. We where all dismissed and don’t have to return for 2 years!
I have mixed feelings about not being on the jury. First and foremost; I really thought that I was going to be on the jury and I was excited. I figured, what better time for me to fulfill this civic duty than when I am not worried about it interfering with work and when I have free time on my hands to commit to this. I also thought that I would be a good judge of the case and I knew that I would rule correctly on this matter. I was excited to be able to serve.
I am also a little relieved. It was hard to sit there for just this one day and listen to the back and forth of the attorneys. I can only imagine how much more it would wear on me if I had to sit in on the entire trial which was scheduled to last 3 weeks. I probably dodged a bullet on this one!