Thursday, June 11, 2009

Jury Duty

I finished up my civic duty yesterday. After only 3 days. Phew!

To go back a little....I got a jury summons in the mail about a month ago (maybe a little long). I was so excited! I have always wanted to have jury duty. I was fascinated by the legal system that we have and I really wanted to be a part of it. I think (and still do) that it should be an honor to serve on a jury. You are holding the future of someone's life in your hands. You are the one who will make a thoughtful and careful decision about this person's life. It really is kind of mind-blowing. So, anywho, I was summoned and it happened to fall on a week that I was already on vacation from work but was planning to just stay home because BJ still had to work. It could not have been more perfect. So I sent my summons back and waited for the day to arrive.

I had to report on Monday June 8 at 8:30 am. Me and about 150 others. I got up that morning and got ready. I wore linen pants and a short sleeve light weight sweater. I figured it would be a bit chilly in the courthouse because they would have the A/C cranked up. It was pretty humid and warm (not really hot though) and just walking outside made me sweat...even though it was mostly overcast. I stopped and got 3 magazines and a book for some reading material. I had been advised by others that this would be a good idea. I arrived on time, went through security and then they took my Blackberry away from me. I was so bummed! I had hoped to be able to play games and check in on Facebook and IM my friends and family...all in case I got bored. Nope!

After I left security with my claim ticket to re-claim my phone at the end of the day, I walked around the corner and ran into about a dozen prisoners being led to the elevators. They were shackled and in jumpsuits...scared the daylights out of me. I had no desire to stand and wait for the elevator with them, so I took the stairs. Huge mistake! The A/C was not running and it was so stuffy in the courthouse. By the time I got to the jury room...I was dripping. Thank God I had brought a bottle of water and had tissues. So I signed in and the waiting began. They called the first pool of 40...I was not selected. I went back to reading. Then about 30 minutes later they called another 40...this time they called my name. So the 40 of us filed into a courtroom and were seated at our given number. We were asked questions as a group. Things like would we be more inclined to believe a law enforcement official just because of his/her job. Some stood, some did not. The lawyers in the case made notes. After about 45-60 minutes, the lawyers finished their selections and the seated jury was announced. I was not selected. So off to lunch I went.

When I came back from lunch, another pool of 40 was selected. Again I was selected. Our group went into the next courtroom and were seated again. The whole process of questions was asked again. This time I was seated next to a very opinionated guy who also happened to have the worst body odor and nasty cigarette smell. Remember it was hot in the A/C...and by this time it was 3:00 pm. The guy kept fanning himself with his number and blowing it towards me. I thought "if the heat does not make me pass out...this guy's stench just might!" So again after a long wait (this time about 1 1/2 hours) the lawyers had made their selections. The called the numbers and they called mine...I was now seated as a juror.

Since it was very warm in the courtroom and it was after 4:00 pm the judge recessed us until Tuesday morning at 8:30 am. Before he let us go, we were given the instructions not to discuss the case with anyone and to not watch any local channels. This is so much harder than it sounds! So the next morning I was back at the courthouse. This time I wore long shorts and a nice tank-style shirt. I was determined not to sweat! All 14 jurors (12 plus 2 alternates) assembled in our holding room. When the judge and lawyers were ready, we were escorted in. the trial started. I won't go into all the juicy details but the jist of it was that this was a case of insurance fraud and the defendants were a husband and wife in their 50-60's. Their home had been foreclosed and all their belongs were locked into that home. When they were finally able to retrieve their belongings...things were missing. They filed a claim with a list of items missing totalling $121,000. Yes that number is correct. The insurance company did not believe the claim and in turn filed charges of fraud and that is how we got there that day.

We heard testimony from the prosecution's witnesses and then the defense started. We had to break for the day and return on Wednesday at 8:30 again. On a brighter note...the A/C started to work on Tuesday afternoon! So we came back on Wednesday and the defense finished up their case and we heard closing arguments. After being given the instructions on the law from the judge, we headed into deliberations at about 12:45 pm. The judge provided us with lunch and after about 2 hours we needed some clarification of the law. I should mention that I was selected as the jury foreperson by my fellow jurors. This basically meant that I had to make sure we stayed on task and then had to forward notes to judge when we needed evidence or had questions. It also meant that I would have to read the verdict at the end. So we did have to back to the courtroom for a quick clarification of the law and then it was back to deliberating. We decided to take a secret ballot vote as to our opinion at that point. We were divided. We discussed everything more and then took another vote. This time we all agreed. We let the bailiff know that we had reached a verdict and we were than taken back to the courtroom. I handed the verdict document to the judge and he signed off on it and handed it back to me. he gave me instructions on how to read it and then I had to stand and read the verdict. I won't bore you with the whole reading but we did find them not guilty on all three charges each (there were three different charges for both the husband and the wife). After that we were led into the judges chambers and he came in shortly after. He told us that we had done a great job and had to come to stay conclusions as he did. There was a major piece of evidence and testimony that was not given. Apparently the prosecutor had this witness on Monday but the witness was not available on Tuesday, therefore he never testified. More than likely had this person testified, we would have had a different verdict. The judge referred to this as the prosecutor's fatal flaw in his case.

So then we were free to go! All in all I am so happy that I was able to serve this civic duty and hope that others will feel the same way when they are called to serve. Personally I think they should change to selection process slightly and let people volunteer to serve jury duty. It would make the whole process more tolerable. I think people would be less pissed off about having to do it if they could select the week they were available, instead of being told you have to do this THIS WEEK. Doubt they will ever listen to me but oh well...can't hurt to try!