Today and yesterday I served jury duty. It was the first time I've been called that I actually had to appear in the court house; I've been called before but always called in the night before and was told I wasn't needed. Like most people, I was less than thrilled to receive my paperwork in the mail, but I have to admit that it was a really good experience.
I arrived at the court yesterday morning to report by 7:45. The traffic and parking was a bit stressful, but the worst part was when the guard at the metal detector took away my crochet hooks! There is a lot of downtime when you serve, and taking my hooks was cruel. Luckily, I had also brought a book.
The juror pool intro was well done, and I actually felt a corny pang of patriotism and pride in our system. Then the waiting began. Pool after pool they called out numbers, but not mine. Luckily, the juror lounge was really quite comfortable, and they made the process as easy as possible.
Finally around 11am, my number was called and we were taken upstairs to a courtroom only to be told to enjoy a 2 hour lunch and return by 2. At that point I decided to claim my hooks and put the yarn back in the car. Nice security guard told me that there was nothing wrong with my hooks and that they shouldn't have been taken away, so after a quick tuna salad I was able to crochet for an hour before reporting.
We met the attorney's, answered some questions and then waited in the hall while the attorney's decided who would serve. I was one of 7 selected to stay. Without going into details, it was a criminal crime, but one that was only expected to last about a day. We heard the opening arguments and the first witness testimony, then adjourned for the night.
Today we finished hearing a few more witnesses and closing arguments.
The entire experience was really interesting. I wished that I could ask questions because I had questions that weren't answered. When I went home last night, I felt that there was no compelling evidence against the defendant and that he was innocent, but I got the impression that the rest of the jury were leaning towards a guilty verdict. When I listened today, I started to think that perhaps he was guilty. In the end, I felt that he was guilty of stupidity and of a much lesser crime, but not with what he was being charged. I knew that I couldn't find him guilty of the main charge, but was debating with myself about a lesser charge.
In deliberations, most of the jurors seemed to think he was guilty. One other juror seemed to think that nothing was proven and therefor he was innocent. We discussed it, she and I shared our feelings, and in a very short time we had a room full of reasonable doubt. We sent a question out to the judge, got an answer to use our recollection of the testimony, and in the end all agreed that the evidence that we needed to convict was not provided.
I believe that the defendant was in the wrong, but that the charges didn't match the crime. I didn't think that the case against him was proven. We all rather quickly
agreed that he was innocent based on reasonable doubt.
The bottom line is, that it as a great experience. I'm sure that had I been on a week long trial, I would have been less excited, but this short trial sort of showed me that we have a good system. It made me feel proud to live in a country where we have a system that usually
I was so disgusted when I witnessed many members of the potential jury pool give all sorts of lame, half-assed
, "don't pick me I have hardships and can't be unbiased" answers to the screening questions, but was really delighted to see that even on this simple case, the members of the jury really thought hard about it, and deliberated, and listened to each other, and we all worked together to be fair and to decide based on the law and not on our feelings or gut reactions.
Work has been crazy lately, and has been taking over my life. How odd that jury duty, something that is so often viewed as an undesirable
burden, made me feel like more than just an employee. For perhaps the first time since I left New York ( 12 years ago) I actually felt today like I was part of a community and part of a society, and that was a really good feeling.