Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Day in the Box

I did something yesterday that I had never done before: I served on a jury.

I was selected as a potential juror a few years ago, when I still lived in Bowling Green, but the case didn't go to trial and I didn't have to report. This time, I got the notification toward the end of August that I would be a potential juror here in Miami County for the entire month of October. I was selected in the beginning of the month, but once again I didn't have to report. I figured that was probably the end of it, until I received another notice telling me to report yesterday. I had a feeling I was finally going to have to do it, and sure enough, when I called the hotline number on the day before, the message indicated that I did indeed need to be there.

It worked out pretty well, actually. When I was summoned earlier in the month, it was during a really busy time in my work schedule. Missing work at that point would have been a real pain. Not that my schedule means anything to the court, obviously, but this time was much more convenient. That being the case, I was actually mostly looking forward to serving.

When they called us into the courtroom, there were 28 prospective jurors. I was in the main jury box from the get-go: Juror #3. As the judge and the attorneys asked questions and began excusing those who weren't selected, I kept half-expecting to hear my number called, even though I saw no reason why it would be. And when the panel was whittled down to twelve jurors and an alternate, I was still Juror #3. There were just three potential jurors of the original 28 who did not get called into the main box to be considered for the final jury.

Jury selection lasted about an hour and a half. It got pretty tedious toward the end as those who replaced jurors who had been excused had to answer the same questions already put to the rest of us, and that process repeated several times. We were given a short break when it was over, then came back into the courtroom for opening statements and the first couple of witnesses. After three of them, I think, the judge decided we were at a good stopping point, and we were given an hour and a half for lunch.

The Miami County Safety Building, where court is held, is in downtown Troy, so I walked a couple of blocks to have lunch at the Caroline on the square, our favorite restaurant in town. After I got there, a line of severe storms rolled through town, brining high winds, heavy downpour, and even a tornado warning. Needless to say, I was a little concerned about my walk back to the safety building - I had no desire to go back into the courtroom drenched from the storm. Luckily, I had enough time to wait it out until the worst had passed, and then I was able to borrow an umbrella that had been left at the restaurant over a year ago to shield me from the remaining drizzle as I headed back.

After lunch we continued hearing testimony from witnesses. There were seven in all, including both defendants. We had one break almost immediately after lunch when the attorneys and the judge had to hash out who knows what, and we had another between the witnesses and the closing statements. We had been told in the morning that the trial was expexted to last two days, but we got to the closing statements early enough in the afternoon that it was pretty clear we were going to wrap it up in one.

After the closing statements the judge gave us our instructions and we retired to the jury room for our deliberations. This was mostly a formality, as it quickly became clear that everyone had a similar line of thought about the verdict. We talked it all over anyway, though, bringing up any concerns we did have and working through them. I'd say it was about twenty minutes to half an hour before we rang for the clerk to let her know we had reached our unanimous decision.

I'm not going to get into the details of the case, but being an observer of a trial was an interesting and eye-opening experience. Each of the defendants and at least one of the witnesses were no strangers to the courtroom, and it was almost shocking to see the casual, offhand manner in which they behaved. They obviously weren't fazed by the experience. I was also surprised how easily, even on the stand, they admitted to drug use and other offenses they weren't being tried for in this instance, as well as some other things they said and the way they said them. It's the sort of thing where you're trying to keep your expression as neutral as possible, but sometimes it's easier said than done. Several other jurors said the same thing during our deliberations.

Another interesting aspect of the whole thing was that the witnesses we heard from in the morning all told essentially the same story regarding the chain of events in question; in the afternoon, we heard a couple of entirely different stories. It was really tough to try to discern who was lying and who was telling the truth about which parts. That was the crux of the matter during our deliberations, especially given the fact that none of the witnesses seemed especially reliable or credible.

In all, even though it mostly consisted of just sitting and listening, it was a pretty exhausting day. I was wiped out by the time I got home. That said, it was really interesting, and pretty rewarding to actually be a part of the process. I know I have no control over it, but it's something I would gladly do again.

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