Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Jury Duty

For Monday, October 24, 2011

The drive to the courthouse would take an hour in morning traffic. After parking and going through security, I found my way to the Juror Assembly room on the second floor. The room was set up with rows upon rows of folding chairs. We were encouraged to hang up our coats and to put our lunches in the refrigerator. Coffee, tea, and hot cocoa were available in the back.

Attendance was taken and housekeeping details were reviewed. Parking was validated and instructions on turning off cell phones and when we could or could not have a book open to read were made clear. Soon we were ushered into a courtroom. It was beautiful. I took a few minutes to look around at what I had only previously seen represented before in movies.

We were given more instructions and a pamphlet to read. Then half of us were brought to another courtroom for the first round of jury selections for a civil case. The judge who presided over this first case was quite personable and he took time to explain the process of the day, including the manner of the questions we would be asked. The parties were introduced and the charges were read. The questions posed to the jury pool commenced. After each question we were asked to remain seated if our answer was “No”. We were to rise if our answer was “Yes”. “Yes” answers would often result in additional questions being posed to the juror and finally, “Would this influence your ability to be fair and impartial?” was asked.

In the selection process I answered “Yes” to two particular questions. Both times however, I answered the final question with “No”. There was nothing that would lead me to believe that I would find it difficult to be fair and impartial to the evidence presented. One woman next to me, after answering “Yes” to one of the questions was called to speak privately with the judge and the lawyers who asked her a few more questions. She returned to her seat and whispered, “It’s odd. I have never given much thought to these facts about myself before today”. Answering questions like we did today gave many of us reason to stop and reflect on who we are, what we are influenced by, and whether or not we are able to be objective when a stranger’s fate is in our hands.

The jury for the first civil case was chosen and as luck would have it, I was not selected. I had been surprised to see that juror cards (with our numbers) were placed in a box and that names were drawn to a pool from which they would select the jury. Lawyers had the opportunity to dismiss who they wished to as the judge spoke with them in sidebar conversations. My number did not come up in any of the cases brought before us that morning.

We were returned to the Juror Assembly room and then instructed to take an hour for lunch. A woman I’d had a chance to talk with earlier in the day joined me for a walk to a nearby sandwich shop. We returned to the room to eat and our afternoon was filled with more jury selection. The day ended at 4:30pm and I’d not been selected for any trials. I was instructed to return in the morning.

The day was interesting, humbling, exciting, and a little nerve-wracking. As I sat waiting to see whether or not I would be sitting on a jury to determine the verdict of either a civil or criminal case, I realized the responsibility before me. I gave thought to all those John Grisham and Jodi Picoult books and all those episodes of Law & Order I’d been exposed to over the years. Have they prepared me for the real thing? Jury selection is only the first part. Before the end of the second day, my number did come up, twice, and I was indeed selected to serve on one upcoming trial. Next week’s trial proceedings will be the true test.

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