Justice is served!
Two months ago when I received the summons for jury duty in the mail, I groaned aloud, and this I’m sure is the usual way most hapless Americans react. Because it happens to be the mandatory ‘duty’ of each and every citizen of this nation and you cannot escape from it unless you have an awfully good excuse.
And as was the case I had none. I wasn’t on my deathbed; I wasn’t the sole caretaker of a severely disabled person; I didn’t suffer from memory loss; nor did I not have a reasonable understanding of the English language. So like it had happened the last couple of times, all I could hope for was a dismissal of the case. But as they say—three times and you are it.
So on the D day (a typical sunny Colorado winter day with not a blizzard in sight!) I presented myself at the local county combined courts wearing my best somber face (this happens to be serious business!) along with 20 or so other like minded souls.
As yours truly had predicted, the case was on the schedule. We went through the rituals; marched single file through security (I was particularly thrilled at the absence of body scanners,) then gathered in the jury room where we were checked in by the sympathetic court clerk who did her best to make us feel that we were not the ones on trial—well, she tried.
Then we had to watch the ubiquitous 15 minute video (the optimum tool for mass instruction made especially for a ‘captive’ audience.) But to my amazement instead of having the inevitable soporific effect, I found it quite interesting. Instead of raking up my fears by another 200% it actually helped dissipate them.
Being a juror is not a bad thing after all and the following are just some of the reasons:
1. The juror is the most powerful person in a court of law, more than the judge or even the president of the United States (and that feels good!)
2. Every person is presumed innocent until proven guilty.
3. The burden of proof lies with the prosecution.
4. Defendants have the right to a quick trial by a jury of people who are not involved with the case and are not biased against them. (6th amendment to the bill of rights.)
Now feeling a lot less apprehensive and perhaps a little more excited I trooped up to the courtroom for the jury selection process. (A real courtroom!)
It was just like the ones they show on TV—a large wood paneled room with a serious looking judge in black robes, a bailiff, a security guard, the district prosecutor with the plaintiff and of course the defence attorney with the defendant. The only thing lacking was an audience—guess it was not that high profile of a case. Yet the aura was there, I could feel it as I sat there waiting and almost wishing to be chosen as one of the potential 12, from among whom 6 would be chosen.
And my name was called! The first step had been crossed successfully.
Now came the scary part when the potential jurors would be questioned by both the attorneys and anyone who appeared to hold even the slightest of bias would be rejected.
And when it was my turn, I held the microphone in my hand, willed my voice not to tremble (it was all being recorded,) answered as honestly as I could.
Yes! I made it! I was chosen! Yoohoo! (It was so hard to keep my feet planted firmly on the ground. If only the lawyers could read my mind!)
Now for the serious stuff—The Trial.
And surprise, surprise, I was able to follow the goings on quite well, even the legal jargon (thank God for the endless addiction to TV courtroom dramas, Perry Mason mysteries and most of all the Judge’s prior instructions.)
The case was one of criminal mischief and I will relinquish the urge of going into further details just so to protect the identities of the people involved.
The proceedings weren’t boring, rather they were quite cool. Though they lacked the melodrama and flamboyance of TV (though the Defense attorney did try his best,) the undercurrent of tension was unmistakable and the best part was that it was all Real.
There were opening statements, witnesses, examinations, cross examinations, objections from both sides and most importantly the evidence.
And wonder of wonders, we as jurors were allowed to pose questions to the witnesses in writing with prior approval of the judge and lo and behold I did have such a question and the defense attorney pounced on it right away and used it to make the case for his client stronger.
Finally after all had been said and done, around 4:30 pm the jurors were secluded and asked to come up with a unanimous verdict.
And we did, after careful deliberation. It wasn’t a task to be taken lightly. We had been given a directive to mete justice, to declare someone guilty or not guilty of a crime. What other responsibility could be greater or hold more importance?
The defendant was declared not guilty with a unanimous verdict which I believe was fair and just.
So at the end of the day, I emerged from the courthouse a changed person; my sense of inconvenience and apprehension now replaced with that of achievement and satisfaction because I had played a vital role in keeping the well oiled machinery of this country running smooth and strong.
But the biggest reason why I was happy that day was something quite different, something I’m sure my fellow jurors shared with me. If I ever had the unfortunate luck of ending up in the defendant’s corner, I could at least rest assured that I would get a fair trial by jury just like the one I had been a part of. And that gives me a great deal of comfort.