It’s not considered “cool” to admit to liking jury duty, but I did. More specifically, I liked being part of the judicial process — which is not to be confused with liking all the elements of a trial. Twice I’ve been selected as a juror.
One Jury Duty Experience
In 1994, in Modesto, California, I was selected as a juror for a sexual molestation trial. The case involved a divorced couple and their five-year-old daughter. The mother accused the father of molesting the child during weekend visitations.
We were seven women and five men. The youngest juror was 24; the oldest, 73. We selected an amiable young man as foreperson. He was a natural diplomat with a fine sense of humor. During long waits in a cramped room, when the jury wasn’t allowed in the courtroom, our foreperson sometimes entertained us with cartoon voices. “Popeye” was our favorite. Bonding through humor would prove helpful later during tense deliberations.
The trial lasted two weeks. We faced a large volume of evidence and a parade of both character and expert witnesses. The defense and the prosecution excelled equally at presenting their arguments. The father didn’t “look guilty.” The mother appeared quietly distraught. Although the daughter wasn’t present during the trial, we saw several photo exhibits of her. Sometimes it seemed she was “watching” as we prepared to decide the fate of her father.
“Stick to facts; not feelings,” I reminded myself. I was a counselor at the time, and often worked with survivors of sexual abuse. Staying objective was paramount.
Reporting Jury Misconduct
The jurors were admonished daily to not discuss the trial among ourselves. We covered many topics, but avoided talking about the case. However, one afternoon during a restroom break another juror and I overhead two fellow jurors speculating about the guilt or innocence of the defendant. Though we felt like playground tattletales, the two of us who overheard reported the incident to the judge. She thanked us and one juror was subsequently dismissed. An alternate replaced her.
Deliberations and Verdict
It took us a day and a half to come to a verdict. I was impressed with the attention given to sorting out evidence, and focusing on facts. Twice we sent notes to the judge for clarification on points that weren’t clear. There was vigorous debate but, in the end, we found the defendant guilty.
As the jury filed out of the courtroom after being dismissed, the little girl’s mother mouthed a silent “thank you” to each one of us. The father sobbed.