Back in February, I received a notice in the mail that was labeled, "Official Jury Duty Notice - DO NOT DISCARD!" I was scheduled to report to the courthouse downtown by 8am on March 26 & plan to be there through Friday that week (longer if I got called to a trial that lasted more than that week).
There were five reasons stated on the summons as acceptable requests for an excuse or postponement: physical/medical condition, sole caregiver for one who is ill or disabled, extreme financial hardship, full or part-time student & classes during court hours, or responsible for childcare during court hours.
I could have tried to get out of serving, but fortunately HelpfulGrammy & my Mom Therapy friend were available to watch the munchkins that week. Plus, I was curious about the whole jury process & wanted to do my civic duty. I looked at it as educational for me, as well as the munchkins.
March 26 arrived & I headed downtown, making it the the courthouse w/ plenty of time to spare. At 8am, the doors to the Jury Pool room opened & all of us potential jurors filed in to fill out paperwork & go through our orientation - welcome talks by the clerks of court, a video, & another talk by one of the judges. I learned more that first day than I did my entire senior year of government class in high school!
By 11am, they began calling for the Voir Dire (French for "to speak the truth") process. For civil cases, they call 18 people & from that group, 10 are chosen (8 for jury & 2 alternates). For criminal cases, 24 are whittled down to 14 (12 jurors & 2 alternates). The alternates are to go through the entire trial along w/ the jury. The only thing they can't take part in is the jury deliberation (unless something happens & a juror is unable to fulfill his/her duty).
I was in the second group to be called...a criminal case. The bailiff lined us up outside the doors, then we filed into the courtroom. The judge, lawyers, & defendant were already there.
Now, all those court shows & movies where the people are to stand when the judge enters & are seated one the judge sits? Nope! Everyone stands for the jury!
The judge introduced himself, told us more about the Voir Dire process, & a little about the case...a murder trial. By this time, it was close to lunch, so we broke for about an hour & a half.
When we returned to the courtroom, the judge asked each of us to tell a little about ourselves...name, job, what we like to do, if we've ever been a victim of a crime, if we know someone in law enforcement, etc. Once all 24 of us were done & we'd taken a quick break, the lawyers had a chance to question each of us. The prosecutor went first, asking us questions based on our introductions.
* What books do you like to read? What are you currently reading?
* Miss Smith, you mentioned an uncle who is a police officer - does he talk about his work?
At the time, some of their questions sounded strange or unnecessary. In hindsight, I can see that they're meant to weed out those they don't believe would be fair & objective. This was a murder trial, so those who might have had a family member murdered, may not be able to remain unbiased throughout the trial.
We took another break so the lawyers could decide who they'd like to have on the jury for this trial. In the hallway, the bailiff named those of us chosen, then we filed back into the courtroom for opening statements from both sides. I was Juror #2.
The last thing we did for the day was listen to opening statements from both sides. There were two counts against the defendant on trial...aggravated murder & murder. He did admit to shooting & killing the man, but was claiming self defense. We, the jury, had the task of deciding the verdict based on witness testimonies & the evidence presented during the trial.
Could I do it? Could I pay attention throughout the whole trial? Will I really be able to tell if he's guilty or not? Who am I to judge another? Isn't that God's job? All these questions were running through my mind on my way home that day. I decided the only way to get through it was rely on God's help. I prayed that God would help me stay focused & guide my discernment throughout the trial.