“Guilty!” “Hang him!” “Give him the chair!” These were just a few of the comments volunteered by acquaintances when I told them I had been selected for jury duty. The next words of advice uttered were ridiculous excuses I could give to get myself excluded from my civic duty. Picture the disappointment on their faces when I revealed that I was selected to be a juror on a “boring” civil case.
Rather than cringe, I welcomed the opportunity of this privilege. I greeted this experience with open arms. Since many areas of the world are not afforded court-issued recourse, I understand the jury trial value in America.
One by one, we potential jurors were called into a screening room to hear abridged details of a case involving physical injury liability. As lawyers began to question each of us who did not have a conflict of interest, I heard many of the same explanations that I mentioned earlier. I couldn’t believe how many people claimed to be the only ones in their offices who could do their jobs. It’s a given that jury duty rarely causes positive scheduling situations, but I felt these claims may have been exaggerated a tad. Despite the “kicking and screaming” of some people, both attorneys were able to select a jury from our group that included varied social backgrounds, races and sexes.
As the trial unfolded, I was impressed by fellow jurors who took notes and followed the testimony intently. This was a case of facts and credibility requiring great attention to arrive at a just verdict. We all knew the outcome would severely affect the lives of both parties involved. This was not a game, but rather a serious matter requiring the utmost concentration of everyone in the court.
Lasting four days, the trial seemed to move quickly despite my critique of the numerous delays that took place when the jury was excused to allow confidential attorney/judge conferences. This was a necessary evil to ensure the sanctity of the court.
When the time came to deliberate, we jurors canvassed each other in a workmanlike manner. There was no drama as one would have seen in an episode of “Law and Order” or the classic film, “12 Angry Men.” Using the notes we collected, we came to a unanimous decision without any groupthink pressure. Although initially unanimous, we backtracked and re-examined the facts from the perspective of the party we were about to judge against. If anything, this step further cemented our original feelings.
As we left court after rendering our decision, both lawyers remained in the hallway of the courthouse. During an informal exit interview, both winning and losing attorneys complimented our steadfastness and ability to come to a decision without giving any indication which way we were leaning while sitting in the jury box. This brief conversation gave a further window into the U.S. legal system and why the court must rely on the competence of a randomly selected jury. While jury duty might not be an ideal way to spend a week, it is the foundation of our legal system in this country and should be experienced by everyone at least once.
Next time that intimidating jury summons shows up in your mailbox, rather than searching for a way out, why not use it as a chance to emulate the juror you would want to decide your fate had you found yourself in the unenviable shoes of a plaintiff or defendant?
John Walker, a project manager who lives in Lancaster with his wife and two children, was happy to serve as a juror.