Jury Duty is a Life Changing Experience

| September 12, 2014 | 0 Comments

This past month I faced one of my dreaded civic responsibilities, to serve as a juror. I am probably not alone in stating that I wanted not to be a part of the process. I had a packed full life and couldn’t fathom adding jury duty to my work load. Then it happened. I got the call that I needed to report to jury duty at 7:30 a.m., Monday morning. All I could think is, “Oh no.”

I had sent in my reasons to not be a juror, mostly business hardships. Meaning, I had no additional time to be a juror.

I decided I would go to the District Court and make my appeal to be eliminated. I was told I would have to make this plea to the judge. So I did. I was one of approximately 28 people being reviewed and considered to be jurors. The attorneys (prosecutors and defense) and judge review the jury candidates. Questions and comments and observations follow. Then the selection and elimination process occurs.

Even though I had made my statement to the judge that I had serious work related challenges, I was chosen. I would be among 12 jurors and one alternate that would continue. Hesitantly, my role as juror had begun.

That’s when I started a life changing experience. I was a juror for a criminal case involving a young woman who was on trial for drug related charges, bringing illegal drugs, methamphetamine and heroin, into the United States. These aren’t drugs that I want to see coming in to the United State, especially my home state, California.

After one and a half days of introductions by the attorneys, statements from witnesses, the defendant, interrogations and closing statements, we, the jurors, were sent to a room to begin deliberation. These are 12 strangers who must select a foreman and then proceed to determine the steps to be taken to review and determine the outcome on three different counts brought against the defendant.

Immediately, upon being escorted to our room, I asked the bailiff what steps are required to proceed and how we should determine a foreman. The bailiff said we would need to determine this on our own. We had two copies of an instructional document that would help to guide us through the process. We were also provided other material in which to take notes, and if required, forms to be completed to communicate to the attorneys and judge.

Suddenly, it became apparent to me, we needed to be a team to work through the judicial maze. Eventually, the team would split off, based on our choices, positions and differences. At times, the discussions and differences would become extreme, meaning we were vocal and firm about our opinions. I would make my own observations of juror personalities, communication styles and nuances. I needed to do this to get comfortable with the surrounding and to know how to make sense of the process.

At the end of day two, I was advocating for not guilty on count one for the defendant. I truly didn’t believe the evidence was strong enough to convict her. I went home feeling very adamant that my position wouldn’t change. However, I made a very serious effort to personally challenge my decision. When I returned on day three, my position remained the same. The evidence provided didn’t make me believe that “without a reasonable doubt she was guilty” of this count. In addition to my position, two other jurors agreed to the same. They didn’t feel the evidence confirmed the conviction. So, we continued to deliberate on day three.

I knew that I would be challenged by the others who felt strongly about conviction. I wanted them to help me change my mind. After a long day of deliberation, three more people joined the non-guilty side. Now we were six. The final outcome on day three was a hung jury and a mistrial on count one.

Though that was never my plan from day one, I knew that I had a huge responsibility the moment I became a member of the jury. I needed to put all my attention on this case, which means blocking out all the other distractions. This was not an easy task, but it was necessary.

What I would like to emphasize is that I am extremely against anyone bringing drugs in to the United States, especially methamphetamine and heroin. I quickly learned about the drug challenges facing us in the United States. We aren’t doing enough to stop the problem and need to approach this differently. That’s more than I can share at this time.

What I also know is that we need to review the procedures at the border, how arrests are made and the legal process. We are making some serious mistakes that are causing us to fail in prosecution and convictions.

At the end of the trial we were told that we are allowed to communicate with the court clerk, judge and attorneys. Learning this, I followed up with the court clerk and was told that due to our hung jury position on count one, it was dismissed. The defendant will be sentenced on count two and three early November 2014. I plan to attend and learn the outcome.

For all of you who avoid jury duty, I say give yourself the opportunity to experience this civic responsibility and life changing experience. You will become truly amazed by the responsibility and power that you have as a juror, which is somewhat difficult to grasp. I heard the same from all the other people who were jurors on this trial. Today I can state that it was an honor and pleasure to work with them and grow personally from this experience.

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