Civic Responsibility

This wasn’t necessarily the post I was planning for this week, and it’s also different than most posts I’ve written recently. But, as usual, I feel obligated to tell my story and talk about things in my life.

So about a month ago, I got the dreaded note in the mail: JURY SUMMONS. I’ve received a summons before, but I’ve never had to go in. My jury summons was for February, so I didn’t think much of it at the time. In fact, I didn’t think about it so much that I actually forgot. Where I’m at, you can call the night before. Yeah, I didn’t do that. I didn’t think about it until about 20 minutes before I was supposed to leave for work. And that’s when I remembered. So I called and I was confirmed, which means I had to go in. I got my job all taken care of, and then I went to the court building.

I checked in and had to fill out a questionnaire. A lot of the questions were things like “Do you work in law enforcement or are close to someone who works in law enforcement? Do you work for or have stock in an insurance company?” etc. It make sense. When picking a jury, the magistrates and lawyers want to make sure they’re picking people who are going to be fair and don’t have as many biases.

There were about 50 people who had been summoned along with me, so I felt for sure that I wasn’t going to be picked. I also was near the end of people who checked in. But, they did a randomly generated list and called people to collect their questionnaires so they would know who was who. In the randomly generated list, I was the sixth person called. I began to worry just a little bit. When the bailiff came down to take us to the courtroom, we were called in that same order as before. This meant I was one of the first fourteen candidates to be picked for the jury.

When we got up to the courtroom, the first fourteen of us filed into the jury box, while the other potential candidates filled the rows of wooden pews near the back. At this point we were told this was a criminal case and what the charges were (I’m not going to go into details of the case itself. That’s not the point of today’s post). If you’re not familiar with the American court system, we then came to the Voir Dire process. I like the analogy the prosecution used. They said, “We’re picking people for a pie-eating contest. So we need to find out if you’re allergic to cherries, if you think your mom’s apple pie is the best pie in the world and nothing will compare to it, or if you don’t like pie at all.” Both the prosecution and the defense asked us probing questions to try to determine who was suited for the case. Biases were revealed, and people who felt they couldn’t concentrate or were anxious made themselves known. In the first pool of jury candidates (the one I was in), they dismissed six and kept eight. I made the assumption that we would then be subject to more questioning to see if we could mesh well with the other potential jurors. I was incorrect. The bailiff took the eight of us to the jury room, and we were officially chosen to be part of the jury.

We had to sit in the room for about 45 more minutes as they decided the other jurors. We broke for lunch and returned to start the trial. Again, I won’t go into the details of the case. But most, if not all of the jurors took notes with information relevant to the case. A number of us asked questions that we believed were relevant to the case. Some were thrown out, but most were approved. After both sides presented their arguments, it then fell to us the jury to deliberate and decide.

Truthfully, it was one of the most interesting processes. It was also a very long day. I didn’t leave the building until 11 that night. The court fed us complimentary dinner. I never knew we could ask questions, nor did I know how things worked all that well in the justice system.

It was also probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. We as the jury deliberated for three hours once we heard all the facts of the case. They also took our phones so we couldn’t communicate with anyone else. The bailiff was not allowed to answer questions, and any question that came up that we wanted to submit had to be in writing.

I think what also made this difficult for me (besides the time this all took) was the conflicting emotions. On one hand, I was excited to be part of the democracy in my country– I’ll touch on that more in a moment. But on the other hand, there was a person on the end of those charges. The decision we as the jury made would affect this person’s life for years to come. I don’t want anything bad to happen to anyone.

But as a history teacher, a little part of me was excited to be part of the system. I know people say jury duty is boring and awful, but I thought it was so neat how the laws are written. I didn’t think it was bad. It was a long day for sure, but I felt interested the whole time. The only time I dropped off a little was when I had made my decision on the charges.

And my final thought, hence the title of my post, I wanted to show my responsibility. One of the really cool things about America is that average citizens have the opportunity to be involved in the government. There’s stuff you can say about the citizens direct involvement. That’s not this post. But I felt it was my responsibility to determine if the defendant had actually done something wrong. That was my job as a juror. And I know it wasn’t just on me. But I also felt that I wasn’t going to just stay silent when deciding this. I felt I had a role to play. There’s a reason that a jury is made up of multiple people. We spent so much time looking over every possible thing to be sure we made the right decision. Again, it’s going to affect someone’s life. The decision we made was one that not only the defendant but us jurors would have to live with. If we convict an innocent or let a guilty person go free, then we have to live with that. It is our civic responsibility.

All in all, I’m glad I served on the jury for the trial. It was a neat experience and I got to see so much. But at the same time, I’m also glad I’m exempt from doing that again for the next two years. I didn’t find pleasure in the decision that was made. It reaffirmed that a career in any kind of law is not at all for me. So I’ll stick to what I know and be thankful for the justice in my country when it actually works.

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