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Jury duty

February 28, 2020 Leave a comment Go to comments

The twelve of us got off to a good start. We discovered some points of common ground – for one thing, we joked about wishing we weren’t on the jury. We also shared the goal of completing the task, and we were all relieved to discover the case was brief and didn’t provide very many ways to disagree. One of the jurors had served on a murder trial a few years earlier. She said that it had been difficult and interesting, and telling us that set a proper tone for the work at hand.

Everything at the courthouse was formal and ceremonial in a way that was just right for the serious work being done there. The judge kept us well-informed during the entire trial. “Folks,” he’d say, and then he would explain to the jury what would happen next. I came to respect his careful approach, and I was happy to help re-elect him the following November.

The prosecuting attorney presented a well-organized case that took us step by step through the events. Strategically, he held back until near the end the fact that the defendant had been convicted on related charges twice before. The defense attorney was strategic, too, focusing on the one thing that could win his client an acquittal. Did she know she was cashing a bad check?

If she knew, she was guilty; if she didn’t know, she was innocent. The jury’s job was to figure out what was in the defendant’s mind when she walked into the bank with that check. We especially considered the defendant’s own testimony. I remembered when they brought the check over in the courtroom and she looked at it as a person might look at a small poisonous snake. It was not hard to see the gravity of the work we were doing and the impact it might have on her life. In a little under two hours we were able to reach a unanimous decision.

As foreman of the jury, I filled out the verdict form, signed it, and carried it into the courtroom with my fellow jurors. Soon the clerk took the paper from my hand and carried it across the room. The judge read the verdict, then said that it was signed by the foreman, and then he spoke my name. I felt the weight of our guilty verdict a little more deeply just then.

The other juror had been right. Jury duty is, like some of the best things in life, difficult and interesting. I was grateful to have a chance to talk seriously with a group of well-meaning people about something of substance. On jury duty I saw that it is possible to cross lines that sometimes divide our society, lines like class and race, and come to an understanding through deliberation. That was jury duty’s gift to me.

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