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Monday, April 16, 2012

Doing My Duty...Jury That Is! (Part Two)

If you missed Part One of my jury duty experience, you can click HERE to read it.

On Tuesday, the trial began. The judge asked us to return by 9:30 that morning. One thing we QUICKLY learned was a thing called "Court Time!" Nothing starts right on time & no case is wrapped up in an hour like you see on TV. There is a lot of "hurry up & wait," so I made sure I had a book to read & plenty of snacks.

The prosecutors were first to go. They had what's called the "Burden of Proof" - the responsibility of trying to prove guilt in this case. So for the next day & a half, they presented witnesses on the victim's account...officers responding the day of the shooting, family of the victim, & field experts (CSI-type agents, the coroner, detectives, etc.) Listening the these experts was quite interesting & educational...they explained their processes for conducting an investigation, how they test & compare bullets, what they look for during an autopsy, & so much more.

These witnesses were first questioned by the prosecutor, cross examined by the defense attorney, then any follow-up questions by the prosecutor. Before the witness were excused from the stand, the jury had an opportunity to ask any questions on things that need clarified...written down & given to the judge to ask. I'd never heard of that part of a trial before!

Each of the jurors was given a steno notebook to take notes throughout the trial. This came in quite handy when the deliberation process began. At the end of each day, the bailiff collected them & returned them to us the next morning. Once the trial was over, all our notes would be destroyed.

NOTE: Questions from the jurors & note taking by jurors are up to each individual judge. Some allow both, some allow only one, & some allow neither.

After lunch on Wed. & all through Thurs., it was time for the defense to call their witnesses...friends of the defendant, , neighborhood witnesses, & the defendant himself. Again, the questioning process was the same, but w/ the defense going first.

Many of the questions were asked more than once, but w/ slight variations meant to either solidify the response or trip up the witness! One witness was repeatedly asked by both sides what she was doing the day of the shooting. Finally, after the umpteenth time, the judge interjected & said, "She was cleaning her car!"

Now is a good time to tell you about the judge. He was quite a character & I really liked him! He was very laid back, something I've never expected of a judge, but have since heard from friends who have had similar experiences.
At times, it seemed like he was bored or losing track of the trial, but he knew exactly what to say at each "Objection!"

He was great at explaining the court process during Voir Dire & making sure we understood our role in the trial. Both he & his bailiff (a sweetheart of a gal!) made us feel at ease & even asked if & when we felt we needed a break or wanted to continue. I liked the was he looked out for his court reporter, too. I'm sure her hands got pretty tired typing on that shorthand computer!

Friday morning came & it was time for closing statements. This is where we really saw both prosecutors & defense attorneys all fired up to sum up what they wanted us to decide in deliberation. The judge reminded us, though, that it's not their word that should sway our decision, but to look at the testimonies & evidence throughout the trial.

We were then sent to the jury deliberation room w/ all the evidence, our notes, & our lunches (as we chose to work through lunch).

Part Three


Owner of Homeschool Faith and Family Life Website said...

Oh my gosh...I am sweating, reading this...I don't know HOW you did it.

I do have a thought/question though as to this process of note-taking and jury questions and the fact that it's up to the judge....doesn't that impede a person's "right to a fair trial"?

I mean...what if a judge does NOT allow it...and a juror ends up subliminally voting one way because he/she could not receive clarification on a certain question he/she had...whereas if the judge had allowed it...the answer would have jogged something to affect that juror's decision-making-process. Not sure if I'm articulating this question properly...but, do you know what I mean?

It also seems to open the door for corruption where a judge could determine whether or not to allow these things according to his own thoughts on the defendant.

This is all new to me, so I"m just asking and I thank you for allowing my question! LOL

munchesmom said...

Thanks for your question, Judy! I understand what you're asking, but I'm not really sure of the answer. From my understanding, each judge's option for allowing or not allowing questions & note taking is standard for all of the cases in their courtroom. (For this particular judge, it is listed on his info page of the courthouse's website.) So, I believe they cannot change for each trial, thus allowing corruption to take place.

Most of the questions we had during our trial were technical things like, "What is the difference between a bullet casing & the shell?" or what a certain acronym stand for.

I guess this is where deliberation can help. Having the perspectives of 12 men & women discussing what they observed plays a big part in the trial. We did have several jurors w/ firearm experience, so they were able to explain the force you'd feel from one gun compared to another (& other things like that).

I don't know if that answers your questions completely. I'd be curious to hear if anyone else has any thoughts.