Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Trial by Jury..Cool concept

I received my jury duty notice in the mail about a month ago and unlike most people I was happy my work schedule was going to allow me to attend.
For those not familiar with the United States judicial system, the jury duty process is in place to ensure that our system of justice is ruled by us, the citizens of our country.
Without it, our country would not be the democratic society that it is.

Basically, it goes like this. If someone is charged with a crime, he can not be found guilty until 12 of his peers, not judges or lawyers or kings, but his peers listen to the facts and decide among themselves if the person charged is innocent or guilty.
It's a pretty cool system if you ask me.

The United States is one of only 2 countries in the world that have a system like this in place. England is the other.
There are plenty of countries that hold trials and have jurors, but only 2 countries put 12 jurors in a room, by themselves, to decide after hearing all the facts, the outcome of the trial.

So today, I went to my local court house, eager to take part in this process. I've had jury duty only one other time in the past. I guess there were not many crimes in the area that week, because I sat in a room with a bunch of other people for 2 days reading a book, and I never got the call to serve. After 2 days, not 48 hours straight, they send you home at 5PM each day if you don't get on a jury, I was relieved of my jury duties.

For some reason, today I was really hoping to get picked out of the group to serve on the 12 person jury. After arriving at the jury assembly room at 8:30 am like I was instructed, I surveyed the room filled with at least a hundred desks, looking for a prime location to settle in with my book and laptop. I figured it to be a long day. I was wrong.

Before my laptop could finish loading up, a woman stepped to the microphone to give all potential jurors some instructions and to thank us for fulfilling our civic duty by attending. Unlike my last visit years ago, we were told the courts had a busy schedule today and many of us would be chosen for one of the many jury's they would need today. My heart rate just increased. I wanted in. I wanted to see this whole process.

At 9:10 am, my number 32 was called to take my place with about 45 other people who were chosen for panel #1. After we were all seated together, we were told one of the judges would be down in a few minutes to talk to us. Oh baby, this was getting good. I was one step closer to serving an important role in the judicial system of our country. Heart beat increased again.

Most of the 45 people looked a bit inconvenienced by this whole situation and that's understandable. Many people had to take the day off to be here, other people had to make all kinds of arrangements for children to be watched, etc. It can be an inconvenience. I figure your choices are oppression by an uncaring government, or 2 days jury duty in a free democratic society.
Suck it up. Get a baby sitter.

While waiting for the judge to come down our panel sat together in 1/3 of a spacious well lit room, in silence. As they say, the silence was deafening. Everyone just sat, looking straight ahead. It reminded me of Catholic High School awaiting the arrival of the Principal.
I looked to my left, at potential juror #31. He was probably mid 40's and didn't look too happy to be here. I left him alone. To my right, a pretty brunette in her 20's. She looked more approachable so I thought I'd introduce myself since we would probably be sitting next to each other for a good part of the day.
I stuck out my hand and said, "Hi, I'm #32...and you are?"
She tried to stifle a giggle as she showed me her card that said #33. Heads in front of us turned to see who was making all the racket.
We continued with our "eyes front" posture until the judge came in. I didn't want to push my luck. We were too close to the jails for comfort, if you know what I mean.

At 1035 the judge, a good looking guy with salt and pepper hair right out of Central Casting, walked into the room, his robe flowing with each of his steps.
If there were anyone in the room who felt inconvenienced by this crazy thing called jury duty, that all changed by the time the judge finished with his 15 minute monologue.
Or it should have.

Among other things he explained we should feel privileged to serve as a juror and that our form of society is only as strong as it's system of justice. By the time he was done I wanted to stand up and belt out the Star Spangled Banner, but it's such a hard song to sing.

A few minutes later we all trudge off to the court room that is 3 floors above. I felt like I was walking into a court room like seen on any CSI TV show. We all took our seats. Directly in front of us 2 tables, one for the defendant and his lawyer and one for the prosecuting attorney's sitting next to a local police officer who was charging the defendant with driving under the influence. This was where jury selection was taking place. After we all answered questions from the judge and all the attorneys, they began choosing the 12 jurors and the 2 alternates that would sit on the jury and impartially decide if the 40 something year old man in a business suit was guilty of driving under the influence.

As we sat there waiting for the attorneys to make up there minds, they would scan the rows of people looking for something that would lead them to believe that THAT person would be a good choice for their particular cause. I wanted on this jury. When the defense lawyers would catch my eye, I would try to exude an energy that said, "Hey, drinking and driving...whats the big deal." I wanted on this jury.
When the prosecuting attorney's caught my eye, I wanted them to think I was the founder of MADD, or Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Being a male, made that difficult.

The time had come for the selection. I listened with excitement as they called the numbers, 9-12-15-22-25-29-34.....
What? I'm #32. How could I not get picked? A woman at my wedding 29 years ago said I had kind eyes! I almost stood up and said, "Excuse me, you forgot to call #32."

As I write this, Mr. 40something in his new blue suit is being tried by a jury of his peers. I wanted on that jury.
As us castoffs were sent home without so much as an explanation, my new friend #33, who knew of my wishes, turned to me and whispered, "Maybe next time."

Maybe my not getting picked is for the best.
He looked guilty as hell.


Diahn said...

I'm with you - I've always wanted to get called for jury duty, but I haven't, yet. I love the way our criminal court system is designed, and have always wanted to be part of the process.

Sorry you didn't get picked...maybe next time!

beth said...

I so want to be on a jury, too....
the only time I have ever been called in, I was a nursing mom and they told me to go home just as baby #2 pawed at my chest with both hands like a hungry bear cub who hadn't eaten for days.

years later I became a casa and was in a courtroom every week and I loved every second of it....the lives of children rested in my hands and it was the most satisfying thing I have ever done in my life....

so come on me !....I've been here 4 years now and the kids are finally done nursing....and I am totally your girl !!

oh...and has anyone told you lately that you are a fantastic writer ?

slommler said...

Oh you so should have been called! You would have made an excellent jurist!! I wouldn't mind being called either. Last time I was called, I was just finishing loading a moving truck as we were moving out of state. I called and they said, never mind. LOL! Oh well! Maybe next time!

Jerral Miles said...

I got on a jury a couple of years ago... fantastic experience. The principal witness to a robbery was a transexual woman who had once been a very large, "big boned" man... She proved to be a very competent witness and the case was decided largely on what the jury considered the reliability of her witness. I had to keep reminding myself that this was not a TV show. Long story short: The entertainment value of the trial was a side benefit. The main benefit to me was that I came away with a sense that our judicial system is very, very good. Thanks, Mark, for your blog...

dcpeg said...

I once felt like you do, but the last jury I served on changed my mind.

I've been called every two years for the past 20 or so and through voir dire (sp?) several times but wasn't chosen. Last year I was on a jury of 11 women and one man. Guess who the ONE PERSON was who didn't agree with the rest of us and caused us to have to come back another DAY to debate a losing cause??? It was very frustrating trying to reason with someone who simply didn't want to agree with us!!

Frau said...

I have never been picked either it's frustrating....I want in on the action. But I'm a total eye for eye kinda girl I might not be a good judge of character.

Megan said...

me too, me too! I totally want to be called! I got called in college for a big court in Harrisburg and I wrote this long letter about how I was very sorry I was in school and if they could just put me off til the summer I would gladly participate. They didn't bite and just excused me. Argh!

clairedulalune said...

Oh Mark, i am so sorry you did not get picked! I have never been called yet myself. I assumed most countries abided with the same system i didnt realise it was england the and US! You help me learn and your posts really make me laugh!

Marilyn said...

I went through that process not too long ago. It is a quite a learning experience. I didn't get included on the jury because I would have not been able to think objectively about the case. A previous time I did serve on a couple juries and will never forget it.

Elena said...

Oh Mark, I just love your writing style. You had me cracking up the whole time. And I too would like to be on a jury but never even made it as far as you did. I'll have to reread your story slower again. Keep it up've got talent.

My Fire Report said...

Mark, I just got home from that exact experience. The school room environment, Panel #1 sitting in the front left of the room, Salt and Peppered monologue that made it all worthwhile to get up early and join the other numbers in the room... However, I had enough time to read a TIME magazine, and then Panel #1 was sent home with a thank you for serving! Not even a peek into the courtroom for me! You got closer than I did... lucky you!