Jury Duty. Those two words probably strike fear in the hearts of many. Admit it, receiving a jury summons is comparable to going to the dentist’s. You dread it. It’s inconvenient, but it has to be done anyway. It’s part of our civic duty; a privilege as part of citizens of this country and a legal duty. There are two types of summons you’ll receive in the mail: “Summons for Standby Jury Service”. Or if you’re amongst the lucky few, like me, you’ll receive “Summons to Appear for Jury Service”; which means you have to appear to be selected for a jury.
If you’ve watched the countless courtroom dramas on TV or in movies, you may have wondered what it would be like to be on the other side. Well my wish came true, and fiction got a whole lot real for me.
Not knowing what to expect, admittedly, I was on the edgy side. As I walked into the courthouse located at the Daley Center, I was seated in a waiting room where scores of people from all walks of life are anxiously anticipating to see if their pool number would be called. A pool number places you in a group of approximately 25-30 (rough estimate) potential jurors. As luck would have it, I was #1. And sure enough, my number was called.
As I was led by the Bailiff into a courtroom, that’s when I knew this was actually happening. As the judge called us one by one, she placed some of us into the Jury Box. The rest sat on the benches to the side. One by one, the Judge asked us questions based on what was written on the summons. Next up, it was the Lawyers turn at the driver’s seat. Sitting nervously, the counsels asked us preliminary questions, which are primarily opinion questions on what we believe. I could deduce based on the questions, that this was a civil trial in what I only believed to be a negligence claim. After the Judges and Lawyers disappeared to the back of the chamber to select their initial pool of Jurors, the Judge released potential jurors one by one, where they were whisked back to the waiting room. The remaining ones, I included, were led to the golden Jury Room. My fate was sealed. I was chosen.
As I sat in the Jury Room, the process started all over again for the remaining potentials. Once all 12 were selected, I was led back to the Jury Box. 12 chairs, 12 Jurors. As I sat in the Box in anticipation of the start of the trial, my mind flashed to images of different crime shows I watch on TV and trust me, I’m a big crime show junkie. Although this was a civil case, I accepted my role and took it in stride. And contrary to popular belief, these cases don’t end in a day. I was relegated to a four day trial. During the course of the trial, the Jurors were given notepads if we wanted to take notes. In my case, I took copious amounts which proved to be beneficial when it came time for deliberations especially considering the twist in the case.
In this courtroom, opening statements were made on the first day. The following two days were composed of very long witness testimonies. Hearing the words “exhibits”, “objection”, and “sustained” made my face giddy with pride. What can I say, I love a good mystery. And with any mystery, a good detective is an observant one.
Prior to deliberation, I prepped myself by watching Runaway Jury. I probably should’ve watched 12 Angry Men for a realistic depiction of life behind the Jury Room. But nevertheless, this is the creme de la creme as the fate of the trial rests on our shoulders. This gave everyone an opportunity to voice their opinions based on the facts given during the course of the trial. It was a thoughtful, civilized, and considerate process. And it was genuinely fun! Despite the differing beliefs and opinions, you learn a lot about holding a civilized conversation and being objective and despite what you may perceive of the defense or the prosecution, we all had to put aside those feelings and objectively and collectively make a decision based on the facts. That was the epitome of team work.
Evidence was brought into the room to help us out, but despite a holdout akin to 12 Angry Men, it didn’t take long for the holdout vote to change his verdict. All votes had to be unanimous.
Once we returned to the courtroom and the Judge read the verdict, it was liberating. Liberating because I was part of the process of bringing a trial to justice from beginning to end. Jurors hold an important part in the justice system and it works. Being part of a jury is a rewarding experience if you accept the role and embrace it. So the next time you receive that summons, embrace the role and find solace in the experience. I walked out of that courthouse feeling a renewed sense of pride. I not only experienced the justice system firsthand, I walked out with skills that I can take into my life by becoming a part of the jury.