My Day(s) in Court

Over the course of many years I have had the privilege of serving on juries.  Because I am a registered voter, I had been chosen to serve on juries.  The juries that I served on each served a different legal entity within the legal system and each jury experience entailed learning about a law and applying that law in each particular case.

The petit trial jury, as usual, is picked from a general pool of people.  The pool is then narrowed down by asking questions to obtain a certain neutrality or lack of pre-judgment to the person being tried.  Both the defense and the plaintiff’s attorneys try to bring on a juror who would be sympathetic to their client and someone who also is impartial and not having any personal bias in any ‘way-out’ direction.  They also look for someone who has a basic understanding of life and someone who is not a law breaker.  I was picked to be a juror.  There were twelve of us selected to hear a case regarding battery charges against a man.  The plaintiff was his wife.

Once the jury selection process was completed the judge gave the jury some general instructions. The plaintiff and defendant then entered the courtroom and the trial began. There were opening arguments from both sides.  There were photographs submitted as evidence of physical abuse.  The woman’s face was shown bruised and scratched. There was testimony from both partied involved and then closing statement by both attorneys.  The jury was then told to go to the jury room and to deliberate on all the counts of battery that were charged against the man.

Once in the jury room there was lot of immediate discussion, some of it about the hour of day.  It was five-o’clock in the afternoon.  Some of the jurors wanted to get the deliberation over with quickly and get home for supper.  We soon decided that jury foreman was needed so we each suggested someone and then someone said that we should vote secretly to decide who would be the foreman. We voted and an outspoken man was picked. He seemed to be a natural leader.

We discussed for two hours.  We talked about the charges, we looked at the pictures and we took secret votes along the way to see where the jury stood.  We could not come to complete agreement about the verdict.  I said the man was guilty.  Many others said that this kind of thing happens all the time and that he shouldn’t be charged.  Mostly the men and a couple of the women said this.  I said the evidence strongly suggests that he did do what he was alleged to have done – hit his wife and hurt her. The jury became deadlocked. A unanimous decision could not be reached.

At seven o’clock we told the bailiff that the jury was deadlocked.  The bailiff told the judge and he sent back word that we must reach a decision – we must resolve our severe differences.  We again discussed the case for another two hours.  We still we could not agree on a verdict.  There were ten jurors who wanted to acquit the man and two of us who thought he was guilty as charged.  We told the bailiff again and she told the judge.

The judge had us come back into the court room. The foreman read out the non-verdict, “We could not reach a verdict your honor.” The judge subsequently ruled that the case was a mistrial.  The defendant sighed in relief.  The jury was free to go home.

As we were leaving the court room we could then ask questions of the assistant state’s attorney.  As it turned out, this man had been charged with several other similar episodes of physical violence.  He was habitually hurting his wife.  I went home at 10:30 that night knowing that my judgment was right but deeply saddened to know that his man was let go to hurt someone again.  That was my first jury experience.

A year or so later, I received some mail saying that I was selected to serve on the DuPage County Grand jury.  As I recall, the grand jury lasted 4-5 weeks, three days a week. I believe there were 25 people in this jury.  We heard the state’s attorney and the assistant state’s attorneys read charges, providing evidence for the charges.  The charges ranged from felony theft to fraud to gang related violence- capital or infamous crimes.  There were often multiple count indictments for one person. We as a jury were asked whether an indictment should be issued.  The purpose of a grand jury is to determine if there is enough evidence to go forward with a trial.  I learned a lot about the law during this time.  (My employer was none to happy, though, that I was gone from work so much)

A couple years after this grand jury experience I was told by mail that I was to be a federal court juror. I made the trip to downtown Chicago and the Federal Building each day.  This jury of twelve members heard a case about a man accused of transporting stolen radios and electronic equipment across state lines.  I was chosen to be the jury foreman since I had the most previous jury experience.  We heard the testimonies and the evidence.  We heard the accused man testify. We heard the final statements from both attorneys and then we went to deliberate in the jury room.  Our deliberation took 2 hours.  We came back with a verdict.  I read it out loud:  “Guilty on each count, your honor.”

Each jury experience I encountered, and there were several others where I didn’t qualify due to conflict of interest with elements of the case before the court, each experience was a very sobering event. I imagined myself in place of the accused. I also imagined myself as the plaintiff, the supposed victim. I listened to evidence and testimony intensely, garnering facts.  I sought justice and mercy at the same time. It is not easy being a juror and each jury is different. There are always some jurors who are flippant, some who are adamant, some loud and obnoxious jurors and some silent jurors, as well. I will not soon forget these times nor will I forget that there are laws which I must abide by or I will be the one facing my peers in court.

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