Juror #27
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Politics and Activism

Juror #27

Civic participation: SHOW UP.

Juror #27

Looking back at my writings this year, I realized that I had completely glossed over a rather important event: serving as a jury member. If you were expecting a part two of the short story from last week, I will get around to that.

But for now, a quick jumble of thoughts, reflections and experiences from serving as a juror.

For those of you who have experienced jury duty before, none of the following should come as a surprise, so I guess this is for everyone who has yet to serve. And to those people, I have one word of advice:

Show up.

That's it. If nothing else about my story sticks with you, then at least keep those two words in mind.

My first summons for the court came around a year ago. Yup. One whole year. Unfortunately I had a prior arrangement that could not be postponed, so I was allowed to put off jury duty for six months, moving it from August of 2016 to June of 2017. I filed the necessary paperwork, and, sixth months later, I received a second summons.

Even when you receive the summons, however, it is not assured that you will sit on a jury, as there are still many hoops yet to jump. The first of these is your juror number. The day before the scheduled trial, you must call the courthouse to find out if the your number has been called. If they do not call your number or if the trial is rescheduled, then congratulations: you are free. Otherwise, you must report to the courthouse the next day at the required time.

I was juror number twenty-seven, and they called jurors one through eighty-five. I was scheduled to report to the courthouse no later than 8:00 AM.

I was slightly nervous and had probably watched far too many episodes of Perry Mason for my own good. There were no complications getting there, though it took a while to find the special juror entrance. A few flights of stairs, a few twists and turns, and I was in the jury assembly room.

This is where the "show up" motto starts to matter.

So the recorded voice on the phone the previous day had summoned jurors one through eighty-five. You should expect about eighty-five people in the summons room, right?

Wrong. So very wrong.

Thirty-three people. That's not even half the summoned number.

This is not an isolated event, but a growing, terrifying trend. This article summarizes some of the trends in numbers nationwide.

People like to blame politicians, the other party, the media, etc. for many of the problems our nation is facing.

I propose that the true problem is a growing civic apathy, a numbness eating away at the heart of the democratic system. The same trend applies to voting, though that deserves its own separate review.

Anyway, back to the trial. So, thirty-three people. Fortunately, they only needed thirty-two people to go forward with the trial. One person was sent home, and the rest were escorted to the courtroom. From these thirty-two, only twelve are selected, using a process known as "voir dire," which means "to speak the truth." Many considerations are made and questions are asked as the lawyers and judge work to decide who the final twelve will be.

Lucky me, I was one of the twelve.

I won't bore you with all the details of the trial, suffice to say that is was a trial of breaking and entering and theft. By the way, the trial did not begin until about noon, even though the jury selection process began at 9:00 AM. Yes, it was long, arduous, tedious and boring.

Show up anyway.

Much of the trial was caught up in procedure and technicalities, but somehow we followed along. We were not released for deliberation until about 5:00 pm.

I will not talk about the deliberation. Why? Because of tradition, if nothing else. The jury is given only a few instructions from the judge, mostly about the use of evidence in the trial as a whole, but beyond that every jury in every case is free to deliberate in whatever manner they choose.

Think about that. There is a solemn nature about this process, a mystery that is the foundation of our justice system. No one may interfere, no intrusion can be made and only the jury may decide upon the verdict.

So how did we reach our conclusions? I leave that to your imagination.

Actually, we never did reach a conclusion. The accused settled for a plea bargain, pleading guilty to a few of the charges. Granted, we felt bad about taking three hours to deliberate, but no one could say the time was wasted. It was all part of the process.

Now, I know the jury process receives much condemnation. Pause reading this article, open up a new tab and search, "problems with the jury system." The results should speak for themselves, and please read them! Some of the objections and proposed amendments might actually be worth something.

But as for the basic principal behind a jury of peers, I will stand by this constitutional right any day. Yes, memory is flawed, eyewitness testimony is inaccurate, police reports and procedures can be a jumbled mess. But if I am standing trial for my life, or any crime for that matter, I want a group of people who care enough to show up, who believe that I am innocent, and who must be actively convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt if I am not.

The jury may have its issues, but the ills and injustices it prevents far outweigh whatever flaws may spring up from time to time.

So, in summary:

Show up. In doing so, you fight for the right to be tried by your peers in the act of showing up, in the act of caring.

Believe the accused is innocent. In doing so you fight for the right to have people believe the best of you, even in your most trying moment.

Decide. No one else can make the decision. It is just you and the other jurors. Justice must be meted out, so do not be convinced by fancy or fairy-tale. If the facts and circumstances tell you that the accused is guilty, then you must find them guilty, no matter how much you would like to believe otherwise.

Participate in your civic duties. People's lives truly depend upon it.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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