Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Jury Duty

I have always wanted to be on jury duty--at least until we received our mail last March while we were in Coolidge, Arizona, and I found a jury summons for the coming week. I was able to postpone the jury service to a time we were planning to be in Colorado, which meant last week. Almost invariably when I told someone I had jury duty, they groaned and said they hoped I was dismissed the first day. But I was still looking forward to it. I am glad a live in a country where people accused of a crime are tried by their peers, ordinary people from the community. And my experience left me still feeling that way.

That is not to say it is convenient to take time out from your everyday life to sit in a courtroom and hear accusations about things someone has done wrong. But I am retired. On the jury of 13 people, including one alternate, two of us were retired. All the others had families and jobs. Poor me, I had to go home at 5 pm and fix dinner. But I didn't have to go back to work till midnight to keep up, or take the kids to swim practice, then cook dinner. I didn't have to pick up papers from school and grade tests during down times in the jury room.

We ranged in age from 26 to 70 or over. There were teachers, a retired teacher, office workers, construction workers, a college student, and two retired folks. I imagine the experience could be really awful if there was even one jerk on the jury. But everyone on this jury was nice. In fact, we had a really good time when we were just waiting for something to happen. We laughed and joked, ate (because some people brought doughnuts, candy and pretzels). It may have sounded bad to people in the courtroom, but we didn't have anything else to do while we waited, so we had a good time. I also finished a 300 page book during the week.

Jury service isn't for people who are impatient or in a hurry. We reported at 8:30 am Monday. The 13 of us were finally seated about 4:30 pm. Tuesday we went in, only to find out the prosecutor was in the hospital for tests. Finally, about 11 am, we were sent home for the day. At the end of the day we learned we wouldn't need to report till noon the next day. On Friday, after both the prosecution and defense rested their cases, we were sent out for a two and a half hour lunch while the judge and attorneys agreed on instructions to the jury. After lunch we heard closing arguments, then retired to the jury room for our deliberations at about 3:30 pm. By 4:15 we had reached our verdict, guilty on six of the eight felony counts.

It wasn't an easy trial to sit through. The defendant was charged with felony sexual assault on a child by a person in a position of trust and incest. In addition to these terrible charges, the victim was a deaf girl. We were told jurors should bring their life experiences to the trial, but not our biases or prejudices. That wasn't easy.

The judge was very considerate of the jury members. He made sure we knew about how long each session would last. One day, we watched a video of the victim being questioned by a forensic interviewer. He told us how long the session would last. He also said, if someone needed a break before the video was over, we should ask and he would give us that break. One juror had back problems and he was told he could stand up during the court session if he needed to.

I really believe every member of the jury took his or her responsibility seriously. Each person was able to speak of their issues and concerns. From the start of deliberations, 10 of us felt the defendant was guilty, two had doubts. They were able to voice those doubts, then listen to what the rest of us felt. It was very helpful to hear how others reached their decision and what factors mattered most to them. One of the jurors had closely observed the defendant and was able to tell us how he reacted to various parts of the testimony. Others talked about different parts of the testimony that especially impacted their belief that the defendant was guilty. Listening to what they had heard and what it meant to them helped affirm my decision. The two who weren't sure they could vote for a guilty verdict were mainly concerned with how serious our responsibility was and what "reasonable doubt" meant. In the end, I think each one of us truly felt we were making the right decisions and we reached a unanimous verdict.

Without a doubt, it is terribly serious to find a man guilty of sexual assault and incest. He will go to prison for quite some time and be labeled as a sex offender for the rest of his life. But letting him go if he is a sex offender is just as serious. None of us made our decision lightly or flippantly.

If you are called for jury duty, I hope you will see it as a privilege to participate in our judicial system and find it as a difficult but rewarding civic duty. We live in a great country. We can each help keep it that way by being informed and serious voters and willing, open minded jurors. If we don't do these things to keep our country free and fair, who will?


  1. I was called and served on a jury for a sexual assault case. It was interesting and a worthwhile experience.

  2. I am scheduled for jury duty in December and am looking forward to it. Although I've gone before, I've never been picked for a trial. I hope I'm luckier this time, although I hope it's not as horrifying as yours. Like you said, it's a lot easier to happily do our patriotic duty when we're retired.