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Monday, April 16, 2012

Doing My Duty...Jury That Is! (Part Three & Conclusion)

(Part One)
(Part Two)

Throughout the whole week, we jury members really got to know each other well. We were not allowed to talk about the case until after it was all over, so we spent time talking about our lives outside of the courthouse. We had a varied group of people from all around our county...parents, grandparents, singles, business professionals, college students, a fireman, & one woman on disability awaiting a surgery to help her walk again.

During our lunch breaks, some went out to local restaurants. I "brown-bagged" it each day to save money, so most days I just stayed in the building. One day, I did walk a few blocks to a new park area to enjoy the nice weather. On my way back to the building, while waiting for a crosswalk light to change, I even had the "pleasure" of catching a man relieve himself by a trashcan. Eeeeeewwwwww! Welcome to downtown, where apparently there are not toilets!

Once time for jury deliberation arrived, the bailiff brought in all the evidence for us to examine. While the deliberation process is going on, no one is allowed in or out of the room. So, if we had questions or needed restroom breaks (there WERE restrooms just outside our room!), we pressed the green light button so the bailiff knew we were breaking.

We decided the best way to start was clarify any questions or confusions we might have had. One juror may have caught something that others hadn't.

Then we decided to review one witness at a time & pull what we could use from their testimony. Some provided a lot of details that we could use, others...not so much! Thankfully, we all seemed to be on the same page when deeming parts of a particular witness's testimony as not credible.

Something that bothered a few of us was the lack of certain witnesses whom we thought could have been crucial to the case. One in particular, was a close friend of the defendant & his name had been mentioned many times throughout the trial. For whatever reason, neither sides chose to have him testify...perhaps he's in jail, deceased, or who knows?

Deliberation was another area of the trial where I spent much time in prayer, asking God to guide us as we decided the fate of this young man on trial. Up to this point, I still had no idea whether I'd choose guilty or not guilty & several others on the jury felt the same way. I had this big fear of it becoming a hung jury because one or two people wouldn't agree w/ the rest of the jury. Then the attorneys & defendant would have to go through this process all over again. Thankfully, that did not happen!

In less than four hours, we had our verdict on both counts against the defendant. We found him not guilty of aggravated murder. We believed he went looking to join a gang related fight w/ his friends, but we didn't believe he had gone looking to kill someone.

As I said before, he was claiming self-defense. One of the qualifiers for a self-defense plea is that there is no escape for the person on trial. Reviewing all the evidence & testimonies, we felt that he COULD have gotten away. Therefore, we found him guilty of the second charge...murder.

Going back into the courtroom for the verdict to be read was very difficult. After all, there was no way to please both sides...someone was going to be upset. Once the verdict was stated, the judge asked the attorneys if they wanted the jury members to be polled individually. The prosecutors said no, but the defense did...so, each juror was asked to state the verdict. I assume this is meant to make sure all the jurors are on the same page.

Once the verdict was read, we were dismissed from the trial. The bailiff led us back to our room & said that anyone who wanted to meet the judge afterwards was welcome to stick around. Those of us who chose to leave (I'd have stayed if it weren't so close to 5pm by that time) were offered to be led out by an officer through a back door. I definitely chose this option...as I said before, someone was bound to be upset by the jury's verdict.

We said our good-byes to each other & wished one another well in our lives outside the courthouse. Will we see one another again? Who knows? We all live in the same county, but it's a pretty big county.

As to those summoned to jury duty who are not called for a trial, they still need to be there throughout the week. If they are not called to a courtroom by mid-afternoon, the clerks will usually dismiss them until the next day. By Thursday afternoon, if they've not been called, they are dismissed & their summons completed. The Jury Pool room is located on the ground floor & is where potential jurors are to remain (other than lunchtime) until dismissed. This is where I think other counties have it better...potential jurors call in the night before to see if they need to report the following day. This saves gas, parking fees, & a lot of time.

Thankfully I was called & chosen for a trial on that first day.
What an amazing experience that week was for me! I learned so much about the trial process & have so much to share w/ the munchkins as they grow older. I think everyone should have the opportunity to serve on a jury at least once in their lifetime. As one clerk of court said during orientation, most students these days are coming out of high school w/ little to no knowledge of the court system in the United States. Many receive their jury duty summons & call their office wondering what they've done wrong to be called.

I truly credit God for helping me through the week. I sent Him many prayers for my discernment during the trial, for the attorneys, the defendant, & the other jurors. I have since learned that the defendant received a life sentence in prison w/ parole eligibility after 18 years. I continue to pray for him & his family.


RAnn said...

I'm a paralegal who does criminal defense and insurance defense work and I love hearing how jurors think. Thank you for giving of yourself to hear that case.

munchesmom said...

RAnn - You're quite welcome. Thanks for taking the time to read my jury duty posts & for commenting!