Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Jury Duty

Today (Monday) I reported for jury duty, something I have never done, but always wanted to do. In the past when I have received a summons in the mail, I have not gotten to report to the courthouse. Today, I reported at 9:30 to Courtroom A in Wentworth. As I have breaks, I’ll add to my musings on jury service.

There are about 50 people in the group summoned today. I was called to be part of the first batch of jurors to be questioned by the prosecution and defense attorneys. Both sides are looking for jurors who will be fair and impartial.

The prosecuting attorney asked us all questions about our experiences with law enforcement and the judicial system. She also asked personal questions to learn about our jobs, spouses and families. The defense attorney made sure that we understood the presumption of innocence, and he asked each potential juror how long he or she has lived in Rockingham County. He also asked us personal questions.

I did not get struck from the jury, and am excited to participate fully as a juror. I value very much the American system of justice. I have heard people talk about bright, reasonable people who get out of jury duty, with flimsy excuses. We often hear about juries returning foolish verdicts. If reasonable citizens refuse to sit on juries, then the justice system is bound to deteriorate.

After we were seated in the jury box, we heard the opening statements of both the prosecution and the defense. Then we took a break for lunch.

The prosecution presented its case, calling only one witness. I must say that the prosecutor was very thorough in her presentation of the evidence. The defense presented no evidence, but only cross examined the prosecution’s witness.

The attitude of everyone around the court has been surprisingly encouraging. They have helped everyone feel at ease and have helped us understand the process. They are focusing on us, the jury, making sure that all the evidence is presented clearly for us. I was expecting a more cold, clinical environment among the professionals. The judge, Ms. Eagle, speaks with a drawl and seems very approachable. She urged the jurors to speak up if we could not hear or understand the evidence presented.

Now the case is over, so I can write about it. It was a DWI case. The jurors were unanimous on the verdict with very little discussion. They tapped me to be the jury foreman, which was an exceedingly easy job with such an agreeable bunch. The 12 people were interested in justice and seemed very competent. I actually liked working with them.

This whole day has helped me appreciate our judicial system. I guess we only hear about juries when they return idiotic verdicts. We don’t hear about the thousands of cases tried across the country every day with good, impartial, interested juries.

The verdict? Guilty.