Guess what came in the mail? It sure wasn’t the Clearinghouse Sweepstakes (is that still a thing?) notifying me that I’d won; it was a summons to report for jury duty. When I read that I was requested to appear for jury service I had varying feelings of dread. After all, I didn’t want to waste my time hanging out at the courthouse for days or maybe weeks watching the equivalent of C-Span. Then again, maybe I wouldn’t even be selected which would still squander my morning. So I read all the reasons to be exempted from jury service and I couldn’t check off a single one of the qualifying categories – Humph!
The day arrived and I drove to the courthouse during one of our lovely Texas summer thunderstorms. It was raining in sheets and the roads were flooding as I made my way slowly but steadily to what felt like was my certain doom. It was going to be a gloomy day indeed!
Luckily, the rain slowed down as I arrived and I made my way, along with the throng of potential jurors, into the building. Once past the metal detector, I found where I was to report and sat in a room of over 300 fellow citizens. It was announced that this might just be our lucky day. They only needed 56 jurors out of the potential 400! So with the phrase, “May the odds be ever in your favor” running through my head, I raised my right hand and swore that I would tell the truth. Then the computer system randomly selects potential jurors.
As luck would have it, or NOT in my case, I was assigned to a panel for a misdemeanor criminal case along with 19 others. We were shuttled into the courtroom to hear what the case was and have attorneys from both sides question us until they arrived at the chosen 6 jurors that would serve on this case. Actually it is a process of elimination so I should say “the last ones standing”. As the questioning began I noticed how they were weeding us out based on any biases we may have in regards to the particulars of this case. Things like, how do we feel about someone who pleads the fifth? (Which is their right under the constitution and the bill of rights.) What is our interpretation of operating a motor vehicle? And how important it is to look at the facts of this case in order to determine whether or not this person is guilty of the being charged with said crime. If you REALLY don’t want to serve on a jury, watch this video. But be warned, the information contained therein will keep you from ever stepping foot into a courtroom as a juror. Watch at your own risk! (FYI: I found this AFTER I went to jury service.)
As the process unfolded, I started realizing just how important it is to have a group of our peers judge us. In other countries, law enforcement can lock you up for an undetermined amount of time for any reason they find (worthy or not) without a trial and that’s it. They determine your guilt and when and if you will be released. For better or for worse, our judicial system of government really is the best law of the land.
I consider myself to be a fairly impartial person, so as the other jurors were raising their hands to be eliminated for one reason or another, I found myself wanting to be a part of the trial. I could look at the facts and the law rationally and critically. Five women of varying ages and ethnicities and one man were selected to serve on the jury stand. I was one of them. We were informed that we were the judges of this case. That the defendant had chosen before his case went to trial that in the event of a guilty verdict he would have the judge determine the punishment phase. What we had to do was determine whether or not he was guilty and that until proven so he was innocent. We were also informed that the trial wouldn’t last more than 2 days.
“I consider trial by jury as the only anchor ever yet imagined by man, by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution.”
–Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Paine, 1789
The facts of the case were presented and they paraded out numerous witnesses onto the stand to testify. I have to say that watching the attorneys on both sides articulate their line of questioning and objections regarding the case were fascinating to me. As we went into deliberations, we were finally able to talk about the case with each other. The weight of the decision we were about to make really hit me. We literally had this man’s life in our hands! We discussed each juror’s opinions and the facts we had seen (videos and blood tests) before we could reach a unanimous decision. Fortunately for us (not him), we were all in agreement that he was guilty. We just didn’t feel that he should have the book thrown at him. (Oh, how I wish I had known about jury nullification!) We had no way of knowing what type of sentence the judge would impose. We knew it could be as little as probation or as much as 18 months in jail. But we had to look at the facts in determining the verdict and not let sympathy get in the way. So we sent it in and hoped for the best for this defendant. Afterwards, we were told that we had the option to stay and speak with the attorneys and ask any questions we may have. Five out of the six of the jurors stayed to talk to them. I wanted them to know that our decision was very difficult to reach and what was the man’s sentence. We were told that he received probation and a talking to by the judge. Justice prevailed!
In the video they show you while you’re waiting to be selected, it states that serving on a jury is a life changing experience and an honor. After my experience, I have a newfound respect for our judicial system. I would much rather have a jury of my peers than be subjected to the tyranny of an oppressive government. I’m so grateful to be an American and live in a country that has the Constitution.