Law & Order and Civic Duty

Supreme Court BuildingI have been a registered voter for over 11 years and have had a driver’s license for over 14. Until last week I had never been called for jury duty. So this past Wednesday, I got up early and dressed up. My friend of mine joked with me that if I dressed up like a preacher, they might dismiss me from the jury. I arrived downtown and signed in at the court house. I was given a Juror badge and a page describing the process. About 10:30, we were told that one case would be going to trial. There was a total of 36 prospective jurors who filed into the courtroom. The case before us was a misdemeanor case. The defendant was accused of not using her turn signal while turning left.

The prosecutor began Voir Dire, which is the interview process. He asked us whether we could make a judgment based on only one witness and without any snazzy evidence or testimony like you might see on CSI. The prosecution finished their questions and the defendant, who was defending herself asked only one question. We were excused while the jury was selected. After about 15 minutes we were brought back into the courtroom. They began calling names of those that would serve on the six-person jury. They had worked their way through five people and one person was ahead of me. “Pick him, pick him, pick him.” Then they called my name. Oh well. The other 30 people were dismissed and the judge began by giving us instructions. Next came the opening statements and then the officer’s testimony. After the cross-examination, the defendant asked to give her testimony. After she was cross-examined, the prosecution called the officer back in to clarify a few points of his testimony. The closing statements were made and we were excused to begin our deliberation.

No one wanted to be the jury foreman so I volunteered. We took a preliminary vote and it was split. One gentleman adamantly stated that the police were out to get this woman. Within ten minutes or so, he flipped and stated, “I’ll call her guilty and we’ll just give her a $5 fine.” Another woman decided to change her mind as we continued to talk through the case. The final person decided to change their vote as well. Then there was the issue of the fine. I was already thinking something low but not $5. One gentleman was thinking $100. The adamant man became frustrated. “I will cancel my flight and stay here all night. I’m not going to charge her $100.” I just think it is funny that he would so quickly cave on his convictions of guilt but would fight tooth and nail over money. We decided on $20.

We returned to the courtroom and I sat in the end chair. I’ve watched enough Law & Order to know that is where the foreman sits. The judge then asked if we had reached a verdict. Again, all those courtroom shows came in handy. “Yes, we have your honor,” was my reply. The judge read the verdict and we were released. They gave us a nice certificate commemorating our civic duty and a voucher for our $10 payment.

I have to admit that I am happy we were not deciding a felony or capital case. I don’t like conflict and tempers were getting ready to flair over just a turn signal. I also just don’t like having someone’s fate in my hands. Granted, it wasn’t a felony but there were consequences of her actions and of our verdict. It also felt awkward convicting someone of something that I have been guilty of myself. I came at this from a different point of view. Every time I have been pulled over, I have been guilty. I have not been involved in a situation where I was innocent and the police were attempting to harass me.

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”