Jury Duty - My Day in Court
One of the challenges and privileges of being a U.S. citizen is the responsibility of serving on a jury. From time to time, we face that task, usually when we least expect it or have the time to spend performing this service. Sitting in judgment of a fellow human is a daunting experience when we realize that a jury's verdict can impact a person's life from that moment forward.
Our society allow us the freedom to choose where we work, where we worship and where we live for the most part. We can speak unkindly of our leaders without retribution most of the time. We can elect to vote or not to vote, even though it is a privilege of citizenship. And we can elect not to serve on a jury when called, but not without serious consequences.
Juror Information on Failure to Appear
The Summons We Dread
When I received the summons to report for jury duty, my reaction was predictable. Although it wasn't my first time to be called for jury duty, I was aggravated about having to adjust my work schedule. My coworkers offered advice on what I could do to to get out of serving.
Some suggested that I ignore the summons or when questioned, behave like a bigot so I would be dismissed from the panel. Others, like my boss, said that I should ask to be rescheduled. Despite the discouragement of my manager and coworkers, I knew that I would show up at the appointed time for jury duty.
- Students enrolled full time in high school or college
- Primary caregivers for an invalid who is unable to care for him/herself (This does not include health care workers.)
- Those serving on active military duty deployed outside of Collin County
- Officers or employees of the Senate, House of Representatives, or any department, commission, board office, or other agency in the Legislative branch of state government. (This does not include Law Enforcement Officers.)
- Someone who has appeared for a jury summons within the past thirty-six months
- A person who is seventy years or older who would like to claim a permanent exemption
When the specified day arrived, I drove thirty-five miles in rush hour traffic to the courthouse. Parking was limited, yet, I found a spot within a reasonable distance of the building. By 8:00 am, I was seated in the designated jury call area surrounded by a room full of my peers. Each sat nervously awaiting whatever would happen next.
Within moments the bailiff arrived and took a position behind a podium at the front of the room. First, he called for anyone who thought they had a valid reason not to serve to come forward. A number of people made a beeline to the front of the room to give an outpouring of testimonials aimed at being excused from serving on a panel. Those whose excuse met the stringent criteria for dismissal left the holding room one by one. The remainder of us, who had remained seated, had little hope for a reprieve as our numbers diminished.
Soon, my name was called along with fifty-four other prospective jurors. The judge directed us to report to Courtroom Four where we entered single file into the solemn room. The Bailiff instructed us to call out a sequential number as we took our seats.
Anyone with a number under thirteen stood a strong chance for selection in this trial where twelve jurors would be chosen. The attorneys took their turns asking questions of the prospective group of jurors while we had our first look at the defendant..
Some of those who were still trying to get out of serving on the jury admitted to prejudice that most people would be ashamed to admit privately, much less state in open court. The prosecuting attorney asked each of us the same question.
"If, after the presentation of evidence would you be able to come to a conclusion of guilt and sentence this person to serve time in jail?" I answered in the affirmative.
The Old Collin County Courthouse
At the moment when the defendant’s eyes met mine, I felt the awesome burden of the task ahead. Accused as an accomplice to armed robbery, if found guilty, her life would be forever changed. If I was chosen to serve on the jury, the fate of this young woman would rest in my hands.
I prayed for the jury to be filled with reasonable and prudent people who would take this duty solemnly. If I were in her place, I wondered if a jury of my peers would include people who would pay attention to the repetitious details of events long past. I caught myself dozing off at times in the aftermath of a big lunch.
Called as a Witness
Perhaps a more daunting task is being called as a witness in a criminal case, as I was years earlier when I worked as a bank teller. I was called to court as a witness to testify.
That came about after one of my customers withdrew a substantial amount of money from her savings account. I recalled at the trial that during the transaction, she appeared to be somewhat stressed and nervous. I checked her balance on the books, which at the time was printed out within a huge stack of green bar paper kept behind the teller line. We were required to manually write down any transactions on the appropriate page showing the customer's balance. For withdrawals exceeding a certain limit, we were required to obtain a bank officer's signature to proceed, which thankfully, I had followed the procedure.
Sometime later, the woman claimed to have been coerced into making the withdrawal. She told police that her husband had been kidnapped and held captive while she was forced to pull out the funds.
Called to the Witness Stand
As the trial progressed, a number of witnesses were called to the stand to give their testimony. One of the witnesses was the ex-husband of the woman who was standing trial. He was marched into the courtroom in leg irons wearing an orange jumpsuit. He'd already been convicted on his part in the armed robbery of a neighbor. His testimony stayed with me, especially when asked about abusing his wife he told the court, "Well, someone had to straighten her out."
During the trial, we were shown graphic photos of domestic abuse that the defendant suffered. Her plea of not guilty and her defense was based on Battered Wife Syndrome.
The Prosecuting Attorney was suffering with a terrible cold and throughout the trial he sniffled rather loudly. This annoying habit was really hard to tune out so we could pay attention to his presentation, rather than his nose.
We wondered if we would we be able to filter through all the lies, testimony and evidence, to sort out the believable from the unreasonable? I fervently hoped that our group of jurors chosen could reach a reasonable conclusion.
Despite my wishes and hopes that a full panel of jurors would be chosen before they got to me, I was selected to serve. I prayed that I could fulfill my purpose in this role and that I would prove adequate to the task, so help me God.
Folsom Prison Blues - Johnny Cash
© 2010 Peg Cole
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