About 2 weeks ago, I had the chance to see your and my tax dollars at work. Simultaneously, I got to earn $9 a day plus mileage. A white envelope with a summons had come in the mail stating I had jury duty. My immediate reaction to that call to good citizenship was it could not have come at a worse time. I had plenty of things to do at work and how would I juggle this along with my other duties, that of an employed mother. However, a little voice inside me was that of my high school and college history teachers recalling the lecture on responsible citizenship, the need for jurors from all walks of life, and what kind of system we would have if everybody got out of jury duty. I filled out the form and off to West Chester courthouse I went.I figured there was little chance of me actually getting onto a trial.
Defense attorneys usually have the prerogative reporters know too many police officers or others in the community. Reporters may have read about the case or could have done stories on the topic, or from research may have some pre-conceived thoughts on the issue before the court. Reporters, as a group, are sort of meshed in with the group of families of law enforcement officers and are scratched off any final jury list. Knowing this, I bought a large book to read and some work. I figured this was an opportunity to do some uninterrupted writing.
The jury room was small and cramped and much mention was made of the new Justice Center being constructed and how the new building would have better accommodations for jurors for our future service. All agreed that will be a good thing. The 100 potential jurors were given more paper work, assigned seats in jury pools and then off we went to see a judge for a case. As usual, I was one of the leftovers not chosen and would be available for the next jury pool.
The next jury selection process was for a criminal robbery case. The group moved to the courtroom. The lawyers on both sides and judge had questions that could eliminate a person from selection. As usual, my hand was raised for every question they posed like this one. Who in the course of their job works with or for law enforcement? For each question asked and answered affirmatively, the judge called us up one by one to see if we would be an acceptable juror. I may have lost some weight that day because of the number of times I walked back and forth between my assigned courtroom seat to the witness stand to have that talk. The prosecution and defense looked over the whole group and started the elimination process and picked the defendant's jury of his peers. I would not need my reading material because strangely, my number was called; I was a juror.
The first witness was a county employee that explained how they made the crime scene map. It took almost an hour. My first thought, if it takes this long to establish the crime scene, we are going to be here more than one week as was previously suggested by the court. At this pace, my un-informed guess was Christmas sounded about right. Jury duty was a lot like being in school. You needed to listen attentively, take notes, and analyze the situation. There were massive amounts of waiting time and the why you are waiting is none of your business. It is strictly courtroom business. It was during those pauses in the case the selected jury became acquainted in the jury room. Since members are not allowed to talk about the case until it is over and we are a group who may never have met without being on this case, we started analyzing the judge's tipstaff. Tipstaff are there to assist jurors and lock us into the jury room when all are present and until the judge summons us. When the tipstaff said, we will be right back for you in a minute usually meant 15 minutes. We'll be back for you without a timeframe meant it would be a long, long while. Late the first day, someone, as a joke, suggested we should place bets on what the actual time the tipstaff would return to bring us back to the courtroom. That brought much laughter and started a bonding process among us. The case picked up its pace and the reporter in me wished I could have been a fly on the wall in the courtroom proceedings taking place out of the jury's earshot including those sidebars. I figured some point of law was in contention. I kept reading the defendant's, the judge's and both lawyers' faces and thinking, "Oh, this one must have been good."
Witness after witness gave testimony. Both the prosecution and the defense rested. Never having been on a jury, I always had thought the process of weighing the evidence would be difficult. In this particular case, the evidence was overwhelmingly in favor of the prosecution.
What was apparent from the case's beginning was the defendant was an intelligent person, who clearly understood the law enough that law school should have been in his future. Instead through poor choices, my guess is jail will probably be his residence for the next few years. After the verdict, I thought about his female accomplice who would probably also have jail time. Both deserved that fate.
I thought this horrible choice they made was a terrible waste of real talent that could have gone to aid society. I thought more about her innocent children and my own children who are nearly the same age. I remembered her testimony in how she quit her job shortly after physically meeting this guy after conversations on the internet. For her, she created a consecutive set of bad choices. She had 3 children already and had bet all of their futures on this particular guy.
I thought more about how we say to our children to make good choices.
Has anybody, including me, told our teens and young adults don't make multiple major decisions within a short timeframe? How do we teach youth once they make a bad decision to go no further and compound an already-made problem? How can we teach that or does that have to be self-taught? As a reporter, I keep asking questions and clearly don't have any of the answers.
During my jury time, I know the phrase justice moves slowly kept repeating in my head because the truth of that statement was clear. It also stirred an old Norm Crosby joke, "When you go into court, you are putting your fate in the hands of 12 people who weren't smart enough to get out of jury duty." Now having gone through the process, I can say I was glad to have had the jury duty experience and can now replace the Crosby joke with this phrase learned at the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC. "Thou Shalt not be a victim. Thou Shalt not be a perpetrator. Thou Shalt not be a bystander." When you get your jury duty card, fill it out and participate. The justice system needs your inner wisdom.