A few weeks ago, I got an odd looking letter in the mail.
After about 5 seconds... I realized it was my first ever Jury Summons. The idea of attending Jury Duty sounded almost as appealing as visiting the dentist(no offense to you dentists)... but it's just not something that most people look forward to.
So, this morning was the beginning of the potential "1 week or 1 trial" that I may have to serve.
I arrived at the Shawnee County Courthouse at about 8AM, and we were allowed in the room at 8:30AM. There were 56 of us, and the goal was to find a group of 12 jurors for an upcoming trial. I will not mention the defendant, judge or counsel by name here. The case was going to deal with Child Abuse. A tough subject to be sure. Some jurors had clearly dealt with their own past demons. During this selection process... I saw tears... anger and empathy. It was unexpected, but now I know Jury selection is not a simple process. It was clear that some folks had been through a hell that I never knew.
We were told... "if you are not selected for this Jury, do not be offended... it is not a statement about you". This was interesting to me. As many folks who attend a Jury Pool... I had some hope of not being selected(with a snowstorm potential on the horizon and my tendency to wake up later than the 8:30AM start time). The idea of being offended not to be selected didn't compute with me. Then, I felt a little competitive that I wanted to be selected. Then... I hoped they wouldn't pick me... because I am fairly visible... and would be likely remembered by a defendant were things not to go there way. As the day wore on... I lost the hope either way, and genuinely did not hope either way.
I do not know the defendant. I will not see this trial and will likely never know the evidence that brings this person to justice, or sets them free. It doesn't matter that I will take no part in the actual trial. It does matter that a room of 56 people were brought together to give the accused, the best chance of finding an impartial jury. God forbid, I were ever to find myself in that uncomfortable chair... with my freedom on the line... I am now "more comfortable" with the idea that this part of the process is so thorough.
We discussed "Innocent Until Proven Guilty" and "Burden of Proof" repeatedly... and from several angles. We discussed that sometimes people lie. Even children may not tell the truth on a witness stand. Some children may be coached, or led into saying certain things. As simple as it sounds to describe... the process is not simple at all. I got the feeling that each attorney was selecting the jurors they felt gave them the best chance in the case. It would make no sense to do otherwise.
When looking into me... I was asked if the fact that I had no children would affect my decision. I was asked if I would yield to another juror who had children and claimed that I "didn't understand" because I hadn't been in similar situations. My take was the I would "listen closely to those who did have children. It would make no sense to ignore their input", but ultimately, "the decision is mine". I was asked if there was anything outside of the trial that might distract me personally, or if anything were pending professionally that would cause inconvenience. I then explained that we have a chance of snow Tuesday and that I would not be able to cover that as usual. "If needed, I am available. My staff is trained and can handle the event without me". I said, "Given the preference... I would make it sunny all week while I am here, but I am comfortable with being a part of the jury... if need be".
Late in the afternoon... the attorneys began passing a sheet of yellow paper back and forth... picking jurors. After about 10 minutes of this silent process... the court reporter began reading off the names of those excused. There were 28 of us sitting... and 16 to be released. After 15 names were read... there were 13 of us sitting in the Jury box. The 16th name read to be released was Jeremy Goodwin. I wasn't sure if I was excited to be released... or disappointed to be released... but I was certainly worn out. I went home for a while and laid down to relax. I am not sure that I have ever been in a process where, I had done so little, yet been a part of so much... yet... but I was exhausted.
So... that's it. There was only one potential Jury Trial this week. So, not being placed on this Jury, means that I am done for the week and until the next time I see an odd looking red, white & blue letter in my mailbox. That means that as the snowflakes fall on Tuesday... I will be here at 13 watching the radar. On the other side of town... 12 people will determine the fate of a fellow citizen, with the sound of snowflakes and wind pattering the window. I won't be there in person... but maybe a little bit of me will be.
It's not a perfect system... but I do believe that we have the best system of justice in the world.