This week I had to go in for the dreaded Jury Duty!
Jon was left with my three crazy boys and I headed out to pray for the day that I would not get picked and would be sent home early.
I had a LOT of time to sit and observe people, since of course I forgot to bring any reading material with me to pass the time. (Finally have a chance to read in silence and I blew it! Arrrgh!)
Here are a few things that I learned during my time in the Courthouse.
1. I feel kinda naked without my phone. (And so does everyone else!)
You are not allowed to bring any kind of electronics into the courthouse. So, my very attached iPhone had to be left behind in the car. It became kind of funny how many times I would reach for my purse to try to text my husband, check the time, look up something on the internet, check Facebook, make a list, find out the weather, etc… And I wasn’t the only one. Many of my fellow Jurors were doing the same and making much conversation about it. We really are an electronically attached society. And while they really enhance our lives, it was a good reminder that I shouldn’t be THAT attached and focused on such a potentially distracting object.
2. No one wants to be there.
Everyone in the packed waiting room did NOT want to be there! I overheard a whole range of excuses and reasons why they couldn’t get chosen or didn’t want to be. It is inconvenient for sure. But I am thankful for our judicial system and realized the value of the opportunity to help our society and my fellow citizens.
3. Apparently, I look like I am a fair person.
I knew it would happen. Everything happens to me. I was called within the first hour to go with a large group upstairs to be whittled down to a panel of jurors for a case to be heard that week. And true to my history of “if can happen to me it does” my name was the sixth name called.
The lawyers (four of them for this case) each had a turn to ask us questions to determine if they thought that we would be fair towards their clients and the case. Some of the other jurors were peppered with questions and quickly dismissed and replaced. (This process went on for 4 hours!) I, however, was only asked one question. A general question asked to everyone on the panel at sometime or another. Apparently, I looked as if I would be fair and impartial and was chosen to sit on the panel for the trial.
4. There are still very racist people today.
On trial, for this particular case, were three young, African-American boys who were accused of armed robbery, but were pleading not-guilty. In our country you are supposed to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. One lady in particular confided to me while on a break that she “knew” they were guilty and preceded to make all kinds of racists statements and judgements. I was dumbfounded by the ignorance and prejudice she was willing sharing with a complete stranger. She too was selected to possibly be on the jury panel for this case. No one was amused by her obvious racial disdain or haughty attitude which was evident as she was asked questions by the lawyers and judge. The judge quickly dismissed her with a very stern and annoyed reaction to her stupidity and lack of character. Everyone stared her down as she left the courtroom. Shameful.
5. You can ask the same question a hundred different ways.
Seriously, I was amazed at how many different ways the same question was asked. It became slightly obnoxious. I know it is the job of the lawyer to try to get you to stumble and reveal more information during your questioning, but whew… I would be frustrated getting the same question thrown at me over and over.
6. The Judge would be an awesome Grandpa!
I really liked the judge. He ran his courtroom exactly how you would expect. He was very commanding, knowledgable, with a no nonsense kind of attitude. But he was also personable, attentive, funny and kind. You could see the efficiency with which he ran his courtroom. He knew the law, believed in the system, and exercised his office with dignity and class. It was a honor to be in his courtroom. I left feeling good about the experience. (He also referred to me as Ms. Hawaii the entire time, which made me like him even more for making my time in his courtroom personable.)
7. CSI and Law & Order are not as realistic as you think they are.
There were a lot of things just like the movies and TV shows, but there was so much more and so many things different. Real life. Real people. Real victims. Real consequences. And there was a HUGE amount of paper!
8. I could be a lawyer… I like yellow notepads!
I love yellow notepads! All four lawyers, all the assistants, the court clerk, deputy, and even the Judge used yellow notepads the entire time. I am a note taker. Writing things down is important to me. Any place where I could have an endless supply of yellow notebook paper would be the perfect job for me! HA!
9. Things change very quickly.
The trial was estimated to last 4-5 days and potentially longer. It was going to be a long week. But I was determined to take the position as a juror seriously and not allow inconvenience to make me an unpleasant person. We started Tuesday morning. Listened to opening statements from the prosecutor and defense counsels. And heard from the first witness. That all took four hours! We had 10 more witnesses to go….
After lunch, there was quite a delay in bringing the jury panel back into the courtroom, which left us wondering what was going on. Finally, the judge came in and spoke to us. He explained that the three boys pleaded guilty for partial charges as soon as the first witness completed her story. The defense realized that they were not going to be able to disprove and/or discredit the witnesses as easily as they thought, and advised their clients to plead out in order to receive a lesser sentence. How quickly things changed. One witness is all it took to change their resolve.
10. My heart still aches.
Those boys on trial were a small representation of our young people who are lost, hurting, and so misguided. We have failed them. I have failed them.
I know where these boys live. I can imagine what their life must have been/be like living in run-down neighborhoods, probably not enough to eat, most likely broken families, good possibility of abuse and violence, and I am sure a desperate want for something to fill the aching void inside. The examples in front of them most likely that of the same of which they have become. When will the vicious cycle stop?
All of this doesn’t excuse them from their crimes. They need to pay the price for making the wrong choice. But it does prick my heart to determine to have more compassion and to take more action. It would be much easier and less risky to avoid contact at all costs with any person who might be different then me. But that is not what Jesus did. He purposely went to the slums, he sat down with the outcasts, he made friends with the criminals, he showed love. (Whew!)
Who knew a I would hear a sermon in a courtroom?