Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Jury Duty

     About a month ago I got my a notice in the mail from the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas court that I had been summonsed for jury duty. Although I've been a registered voter for over eighteen years, this is the first time I've had the opportunity to fulfill this important function in our criminal justice system. Last week, I fulfilled my civic responsibility with pleasure, and I enjoyed the experience.
     I had been summonsed to begin on Monday, May 10th and serve for a minimum of five days. In Cuyahoga County, there are thirty-four judges that get jurors from the same pool. So unlike smaller counties or municipal courts, Cuyahoga County always has a large pool of jurors ready, probably about two hundred. When no juries are needed, the prospective jurors wait in a large room. When a judge calls for a jury, twenty names are selected randomly and those people are taken to the court room, where eventually twelve will be selected and one or two will remain as alternates.
     The jury pool room was comfortable and had a quiet area, tables, chairs, office like cubicles, and WiFi. Most people had books, computers, or an iPod or some other similar device to keep them occupied. I enjoyed the opportunity to read my books and work on the computer without the constant interruption of a toddler. Some prospective jurors would talk amongst themselves, play cards or other games, or even sleep! I'm sure a few new friendships were formed during our time in the pool.
     On my second day, I was finally called for a jury. I, along with nineteen others, went to the twenty-first floor of the court house and were under the care of judge's bailiff. We waited a short time in the deliberation room before being assigned a number, one through twenty (I was 16), and led into the court room. The judge explained the process and importance of the jury as the deciders of fact. He explained that while he decided legal matters, and those decisions could be appealed, the jury decides the facts, and the decision of the jury can not be appealed.
     After the judge's short speech, the process of selecting, or seating, the jury began. The process is called voir dire, and allows the judge, prosecutor, and defense attorney to ask questions of the prospective jurors to determine if anyone has a prejudice against the court system, police, defendant, or some other reason they may not be suitable as a juror. Prospective jurors are under oath when asked these questions, and must answer truthfully. After questioning, either side may request a juror be removed for cause, and identify the cause. Then, each side gets to dismiss a certain number of jurors for no cause, called a peremptory challenge.
     The case I was called for was a felonious assault. The defense was hinting at the affirmative defense of self-defense; that is the only thing about the case that revealed during voir dire. The first twelve jurors were in the "box" and being asked questions. After initial questioning, no one was removed for cause, and only two were removed peremptorily. And juror number 15 was selected as an alternate, leaving me left unselected and sent back to the jury pool.
     It is unlikely, although not impossible, that I would have been selected to serve on the jury anyway. As a police officer, most attorneys don't want me there, prosecutors or the defense. Perhaps they feel our experiences make us too biased, or that we are more prone to believe fellow law enforcement officers, or that we would have an undue influence over other jurors during deliberations. I suppose I don't blame them, even though I think I would have been a fine juror.
     After being sent back to the jury pool, I was never called again. At the end of day three, the jurors I served with were released early, and did not have to serve the remaining days of our summons, which meant I had to return to work two days early.

     Jury duty is an important part of our criminal justice system. I have heard people make arguments that the average citizen is too unfamiliar with the courts and legal system to be entrusted with such important decisions, and judicial panels or professional juries would be better. I've heard people complaint about having to serve because they are missing work, or it is their summer break from college, or they just don't want to be bothered. Over the years, people have gone to such efforts to get out of jury duty that the courts will almost never excuse anyone anymore, which is why I had to serve despite the unlikely chance I would be seated.
     I wish more people valued the jobs of jurors, that more prospective jurors took the responsibility seriously, and that fewer people attempted to skirt their civic duty. I will acknowledge that unlike some of the others, I am paid by my employer for work missed as a result of jury duty, so I'm don't have the financial concerns of some, but I still think it should be viewed as a more positive experience and privilege. 

     The Cuyahoga County Common Pleas court did a wonderful job handling its jury pool. I felt we were all treated respectfully and fairly. The conditions of the jury pool room were comfortable. The food at the nearby cafeteria was not bad. The staff that were in charge of managing the group was polite, friendly, and helpful. It was a positive experience, and I look forward to having another opportunity to serve.



Linda said...

I am dying to be called to jury duty! I too have never been called. All my friends try to get out of it. Did you see Tina Fey on 30 Rock come to jury duty dressed as Princess Leah? There are ways out! LOL!

Evelyn said...

Try being a police officer's wife, No one thinks you can have your own opinion. I was the second person kicked out of the pool each time -- the first being a man who worked for the Ohio Dept of Taxation.

George said...

Evelyn, my wife got to serve on a jury two years ago, while she was pregnant even! It was a felonious assault case; they found him guilty in twenty minutes!

Jen Forbus said...

That's a weird coincidence, George. I was called to jury duty for the first time ever at the beginning of May. This was for Lorain County, but I was called specifically for a murder case that would have been a death penalty case had it actually gone to trial. But the day we were called, we all went in and sat in the jury room and the defendant and his lawyer worked out a plea agreement. There were probably about 100 of us there for that particular case, so I don't know what the chances would have been for me to be seated for that trial, especially given my penchant for crime fiction in books and crime drama on TV. But, I'm also glad I didn't have to bear witness to one of the most horrendous things a human can impose on another human.