Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Called For Duty

Three months ago I received a letter saying I had been selected to appear as a juror in district court, i.e., a jury summons. I had to fill out and mail back a questionnaire. Which I did and then forgot all about until last week when I received another letter telling me to report to the clerk of court at 8:30 Monday morning.

Only once before was I ever called for jury duty. We sat around in the court room for about half the morning and then were dismissed. I expected the same thing to happen again. At least this time I knew enough to take a book with me so I would have something to do while waiting.

There were about thirty of us. Finally a young woman (later identified as the court attendant formerly known as the bailiff) wheeled in a DVR and TV and started a video for us to watch. It featured two judges taking turns explaining what we should expect and reminding us that it is the constitutional right in all criminal prosecutions for the accused to be tried by an impartial jury of peers - as well as that it is an honor and a privilege to serve on a jury.

After a brief break we filed back into the courtroom to see three men seated at the tables - two were in suits, so obviously the third was the accused. We were told that if our name was called we were to be seated in the jury box in the order we were called. Fifteen names were called. I wasn't one of them. Whew! Then seven more names were called and told to sit in the front row. I was one of them.

At that point the county attorney introduced himself and began asking general questions of us. (One unfortunate woman wearing a shirt featuring cats got way more attention than was comfortable.) Most of the questions were whether or not you felt you could be impartial and if you understood "circumstantial evidence" and "guilt beyond a reasonable doubt". My question, because I had indicated on my questionnaire that I have a grandson in law enforcement, was if I believe that 'cops' are always right. Answer: "No."  

Once he finished, the attorney for the accused asked a few questions and then the two began their allotted strikes for cause from the jury pool. Ten people were excused, many of them ones who had been sitting in the jury box, a couple from the front row. New names were called to sit in the jury box. Mine was one of them.

So, for the second time in ten days, I was going to experience something for the first time in my life - the first being the earthquake I felt on the 3rd.

I was relieved to hear that the trial was for one of theft from a supercenter and not one for murder, as well as that it was expected to take only a day or two.

For most of Monday and half of Tuesday, I was here on the third floor. Much of Monday afternoon was spent watching video evidence from security cameras - and most of that was difficult to tell exactly what we were watching.

Tuesday we heard from the second officer called to the scene and his testimony received some sharp rebukes from the accused's attorney - some of which resulted in objections from the county attorney - some of which were 'sustained' others, 'over-ruled'. I have to say, I *liked* the defending attorney better - but maybe that was because he reminded me of my son-in-law. 

By mid-morning we had received our instructions and retired to the jury room to deliberate. I was pleased to hear that I wasn't the only one who had problems with some of the evidence, chain of custody, etc. A lot of what we had to go on did involve circumstantial evidence and I could see why the county attorney had spent so much time talking about it.

On the first vote only one person did not raise his/her hand for 'guilty' and that person quickly changed their mind and raised a hand. We all agreed that we believed the defendant was guilty of theft of merchandise in the amount of more than $200.00 but less than $500.00. We went back into the courtroom and gave our verdict, were thanked and dismissed.

Here is my take-away from this experience: I believe our system works - at least in this case. I learned there is more to being on a jury than you think without first hand experience. I am very glad it only lasted two (partial) days. And, just like experiencing the earthquake - ONCE IS ENOUGH.

P.S. As I was getting in my car to leave, the defendant came out of the courthouse alone and jauntily walked away down the sidewalk, wearing the same hoodie we saw on him in the surveillance tapes.  

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