September 15, 2008

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This past week, I had the honor of serving my community as a juror.  It’s kind of a funny thing, both nerve wracking and fascinating. Tough on the nerves because there are so many unknowns.  Will I actually serve on a trial?  Is it going to be a creepy one?  How long will it last?

Fascinating because of the people involved and the judicial process.  Our jury of six was composed of men and women (three of each) from vastly different occupations and backgrounds – a writer, machinist, software engineer, construction manager, administrative assistant, and a scientist.  I learned a lot about the manufacture of airplane engines, selling tin cans, and windows.

As for the process, there are a lot of rules – a lot.  The most important, for me, anyway, was how jurors are not allowed to discuss the case until all the evidence is presented.  So, even though the only connection we had was the trial, we couldn’t talk about it – kind of funny.  Next, the attorneys and judge keep very strict control over what the jury hears, and if there was a chance that forthcoming information was off limits, we were sent to the jury room.  Also very interesting is that every time we returned, the court would rise.   Some other interesting facts:  Witnesses can’t just read from notes (it has to be from memory); the prosecutor can present a rebuttal to the defense’s closing arguments, but not vice-versa;  and questions must be asked in a particular order.  Break one of the rules and the judge (who, amazingly remembers them all) turns into something akin to a referee in the NFL.  “Improper order of questions, five yard penalty.”

Quite thankfully, what struck me most was the deep reverence the judge, attorneys, clerks, and my fellow jurors had for both the law and people involved in the case.  There was no cruelty, angry words, or character bashing.  Everyone was kind, respectful, and eager to perform their job well.

It made me proud and grateful to have a system where we can come together to work for the greater good of society, where voices can be heard, and decisions made upon the evidence presented.

Which brings me to our verdict.  Sadly, the facts led us to believe that the defendant, was, in fact, guilty.   I think this is what threw me off kilter last week.  This man, this stranger, seemed like a kind person who had overcome a lot of obstacles in his life.  I, as a juror and peer, forever connected to him, aided in the process of adding one more, and felt the weight of it.  I wept for him and prayed that this obstacle would be his last.