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This week I had jury duty. I know… A lot of people roll their eyes at this often dreaded “penance,” but it’s one of the highest services entitled us as Americans: the right to a jury of our peers. “Our peers… “ Now that’s the scary part. Out of 500 people selected at random for the jury pool—who were pulled from a list of voter and driver registrations—I saw a handful of what I would consider my “peers.” The rest… ?

If I answered honestly, you’d think I was being ugly or exaggerating.

During this process I was selected to be a juror on a DUI case, Driving Under the Influence of alcohol or drugs. Each juror chosen took an oath to be objective and fair, then we sat through the presentation of the prosecution’s and the defendant’s case. From there we were sent to the jury room to deliberate on the evidence presented. Our job was to render a guilty or not guilty verdict.

Before we began, we were allowed to use the restroom and were given express instructions not to start deliberation before every juror was back in the room, together. I was last in line for the loo. When I returned to the jury room, my fellow jurors had ignored the instructions and decided the defendant was guilty. Who decides someone’s fate in 10 minutes?

When I asked my fellow jurors how they arrived at a unanimous guilty verdict, the redhead with the tattoos across her cleavage said, “Did you see the way she (the defendant) played with her hair? If I was innocent, I wouldn’t be twirling my hair. That shows she’s guilty.” Most of my fellow Einsteins nodded in agreement.

“What about the evidence presented?” I asked. “Do you think the prosecution proved, beyond a shadow of a doubt, she was driving under the influence?”

Half of them looked at me like they smelled something bad. One said, “I just want to go home… “

When I asked, “How do we know the defendant wasn’t texting instead of driving under the influence,” the redhead replied, “Oh, I know!”

While I can’t discuss the details of the case, I can say there was no evidence that proved the defendant was under the influence. No breathalyizer, nothing but a woman who called 911 to report a car that wasn’t driving in a straight line. We don’t even know if the police stopped the same car!

For the next two hours, I was the lone holdout, walking my fellow jurors through the evidence presented and asking their opinion. At some point the judge sent the bailiff to ask how we were doing… Another hour passed, and the judge called us back into the courtroom. When he discovered we couldn’t agree, he asked us to return to the jury room and deliberate some more. He wanted us to come back with a unanimous verdict. After another hour and a half–by then it was dark outside–the judge summoned us, again.

When the judge discovered we couldn’t agree–and there was no hope of agreeing–he had no choice but to declare a mistrial. We were thanked for our service and dismissed.

After this experience, I’m very afraid of being tried by a jury of my peers.

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28 thoughts on “BE VERY AFRAID”

  1. I so agree..ive service twice. Once was a charge of burglary for which the prosecutors give such lame material it was so obvious a not guilty. The other was 42 year old father of 4 blamed for inappropriate sex with a minor. No his chiĺd but a friends child we deliberated # days and when called back the 14 year female said she’d made it up cause he caught her smoking at a sleepover at his home….thee jury pool was really split there was very loud angry people. But you could see how he was witjh jis family and the people who testified…it would have been a grave mistake…it was 3/4 of folks who just wanted to put the “fancy” guy in jail. The man hsad a PhD in Biotechnology. His wife Philosophy. 3 of us on jury were degreed.. others weren’t. How is that peers.

  2. This is terrifying! I knew we had a lot of willfully ignorant people in this country, but it never occurred to me that they, too, could be jurors and decide another person’s fate.

    • Oh yes, and they wear their bathroom slippers! So alarming that they don’t know how socially inappropriate they are. Thank you, Linda for adding your comment. Brenda

  3. Go you — I have been 2 juries — one DUI also and one for armed robbery. It is a fascinating experience that everyone should participate in… I found that people also brought every one of the their life experiences — our DUI we actually went to the end of the day and had to come back the next day — I guess that kind of irritated the judge who wanted to just move on. Interesting post!

    • It was one of the most interesting and frustrating things I’ve done, Mary. You’re right in that we bring our life experiences–and our prejudices–to the jury box. The hardest thing to do is be “unbiased.” Thanks, Mary!

  4. I’m sure your experience is fairly common Brenda. I’m happy to say that when I served on jury duty several years ago, that there was a good discussion. The case was drug-related, and the defendant was found guilty. However, I’ve also been involved in two cases where I offered expert testimony, the jury didn’t understand the judge’s instructions, and completely messed things up – at least from my perspective. It was devastating to watch. Good for you for serving and having a reasonable voice.

    • I was subsequently told that the case could have been declared a mistrial because they rest of the jurors started deliberating before I returned from the restroom. They also hadn’t chosen a foreman. I’m glad people like you are being called for expert testimony although worse case, those come with biases as well. Thank you, Margaret.

  5. Good job, Brenda! You’re right; it’s such an important privilege to serve but scary when you consider people now considering someone’s fate! Yikes! I’ve also served, but not recently. So thankful you were there to prevent them from railroading a guilty verdict off the cuff. People haven’t been taught critical thinking skills in public schools for years, and it has terrifying prospects for our nation’s future. Not to mention our own if we are subject to their whims. God help us! Thank you for standing alone for what was right!

    • You’ve hit upon one of my oldest pet peeves… lack of critical thinking skills. Twenty years ago I worked with a company that was trying to introduce critical thinking skills into the schools, but parents wouldn’t have any part of it. They didn’t want anyone teaching their kids “how to think.” Sad and alarming that they didn’t understand the concept of problem solving versus how to think, which I believe children are now being taught in the schools. Love your comment, Beckye. xoxox

  6. First of all , Thank-you for your service Brenda. Jury duty is the base layer of our law. I know that sounds corny but it is true. How many people didn’t respond or lied to get out of it? You fulfilled your rightful obligation!
    My very first experience in being a juror I had the same experience with my peers. They were more interested in missing traffic to get home than to evaluate the facts. I too did not feel they were my peers and they actually scared me!
    My second experience was with some jurors wanting to make a statement about wanting caps on insurance rewards for those injured rather than looking at the case in hand. My third and most recent case was with fellow jurors that were thoughtful, and fully engaged in the case. It was a good thing because it went on for 2 weeks! After we came in with a verdict, the judge came into the jury room and expressed his gratitude to us and for delivering a verdict that he agreed with and what he thought was true to the law!

    • Thank you, Haralee, for renewing my faith in juries!! There are thoughtful jurors who want to do the right thing. The other day I felt like I was trapped in a bad B movie. Brenda

  7. Quite a few years ago I had the same experience except it was the opposite. It was an arson case where the insurance company was fighting to not pay the person who’s house had burnt. Everyone wanted to “stick it” to the insurance company and I admit that before it began I thought that maybe it was another case of the big guy taking advantage of the little guy. Only after you looked at the evidence there was no way you could side with the person. There was just to much evidence to the contrary. When I wouldn’t budge everybody just switched sides just like that because we had already been there four days and everyone just wanted to get home. I was horrified and said the same thing. If I ever do something wrong I would definitely not want a jury trial!

    • There were a couple of jurors who wavered and went in and out of agreeing with me, but they didn’t have a backbone to make up their mind and stay there. They’d never found their voice, unlike you and me. Thanks, Rena!!

  8. I had a jury summons last year, the first one that I could actually serve on. Before then, I was always home with a 12 years or younger kid (we homeschool). I am civic minded, so I answered my jury summons. A large group of us made the cut and we went in and heard the evidence from both lawyers. I thought I would be able to serve on any jury, but i started sobbing and of course that never looks good to the prosecutor. I wasn’t acting. My aunt had been brutally raped (like there is any other kind of rape) and beaten by a gang of men who stopped her on a deserted highway and pulled her out of her car. After they raped and beat her they left her to die, but oddly enough her son passed by in his pickup and found her and that saved her life. The evidence of the man who was robbed, beaten and shot and left to die brought up such memories that I broke down. I just couldn’t handle it. When they asked if anyone had a family member who was a victim of a violent crime I raised my hand and explained myself and was dismissed. I honestly thought I could be impartial, but I couldn’t. I don’t think the kid who was to be tried will ever get a “fair” trial. He was accused of a horrible crime but his peers to who to judge him were all older and pretty much middle class folks. He was in a gang and was black. Maybe one day I will sit on a jury, I will always answer my summons and never try to shirk my duty, next time perhaps I can hold it together emotionally.

    • Don’t apologize for that one, Maggie. I don’t think there are many people in your same position who could have kept it together or not let it influence their judgment. You did the right thing! Brenda

  9. Brava to you, Brenda, for taking the awesome responsibility as a juror seriously. I wish that could be said of everyone that serves on a jury. But this is the process we have in place, and even people with tattoos, pink hair, poor or rich, working or unemployed, are capable of making fair de idiots based on the evidence. I’m glad you stuck to your guns. It takes a strong person to hold on to their beliefs!

  10. Haha! My inept typing combined with Autocorrect. That was “decisions” NOT “de idiots”!!!! 🙂

  11. Good point, Jen! When our founding fathers wrote this, I think there were fewer classes of people and most of them lived in such small communities. I think those of us online who find “our tribe” on blogs are more one another’s peers than being randomly picked by drivers’ license. xoxox

  12. You gave me the best laugh I’ve had in a while when you said some of the jurors had on house slippers. Brenda, don’t you know house slippers are so versatile they can be worn to the grocery store, shopping and even the Dr. office. I didn’t realize that either until I started noticing women and men wearing them. I haven’t seen anything about them in the magazines I read. I guess my magazine editors are behind on fashion.

    • LOL, Treva! I’m thrilled beyond believe to know there are lots of us who aren’t chic! That said, I’ve seen some black maribou feather sandals/slippers online at Neiman Marcus. Actually I’d love a pair, but I wouldn’t wear them to court or the grocery store. Definitely at home if I were trying to seduce a man.

  13. Some time ago I watched a programme about people who had been falsely convicted of crimes and subsequently spent years in prison, until for some reason or other, further evidence was presented and they were cleared of any wrong doing. It made my blood run cold with fear. Reading this, I can see how it happens and it also makes me wonder how often it occurs in reverse. That woman will never know what you’ve done for her, but good for you for taking the process seriously and doing what’s right. I’m sure you left your fellow jurors with something to think about too. Essie xx

    • It does make you wonder, Essie, how many people were falsely convicted because of lazy jurors or ones with grudges to settle? If only my fellow jurors took something away from this experience other than being ticked off at me for keeping them there well into the night. I’m not going to hold my breath on that one. xoxox, Brenda

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