“We the jury . . . ,” March 27, 2012

A jury summons is not something most people are thrilled to find in the mail.
The prospect of taking a few days (or God forbid, weeks) out of your life to sit in judgment on matters that may seem of little importance is disheartening, to say the least _ especially if you happen to be someone who doesn’t get paid unless you actually show up for work.
It’s enough to make you think twice about voting or driving or using electricity or anything else that might put your name on a list of potential jurors.
But when it turns up in your mailbox, like it or not, there it is: Your civic duty. Show up or face a bench warrant.
Having already been granted two postponements for various reasons, I knew there’d be no getting around it again.
So I reported to the Regional Justice Center in Las Vegas, NV, along with what I estimated to be a few hundred other citizens, none of whom appeared to be particularly glad to be there.
I expected I’d either be dismissed outright or sit through jury selection and be released for cause _ the cause being that attorneys are not often keen about having newspaper columnists on their juries. Not that I blame them.
What I did not expect _ and never wanted to happen _ was to end up, after two days of juror selection, seated on a jury for a murder trial.
I will spare you the details. Suffice it to say this: One man stood accused of deliberately shooting and killing another, a heinous action described in ironically poetic words in a statement read by the clerk of court as “contrary to the form, force and effect of the statutes in such cases made and provided, and against the peace and dignity of the State of Nevada.”
For five days we sat together (12 jurors and two alternates) hearing testimony, watching videos from surveillance cameras, taking notes, weighing facts.
We were even allowed to ask questions by writing them on slips of paper and handing them to the bailiff to give to the judge, who would then decide if they were admissible, and if so, read them aloud for the witnesses.
Finally, the prosecution and the defense rested and the jury went to work. Twelve people (the alternates were excused) who had only just met began the daunting and intensely personal task of deciding the fate of another human being.
As individuals, not one of us, I suspect, certainly not I, would feel worthy to sit in judgment. But 12 minds together_ vested with the authority of the State and the voice of the People _ are wiser and worthier than one.
It is nonetheless impressive that 12 people from different backgrounds and experiences could forge a discussion and reach agreement on anything.
But that is what we did. In the end, we found the accused guilty as charged. The judge will decide sentencing (maximum is life in prison without possibility of parole) at a later date.
That ended our service, but the experience and the feelings it stirred will linger for years. I will remember several things:
_ First, everyone did their jobs. The police, the prosecutors, the public defenders, the judge, the jury, we all worked hard and took great care to secure justice for the victim and the accused.
_ The 911 call from the victim’s daughter sobbing hysterically that her father was dead.
_ The sound of weeping from the back of the courtroom as the verdict was read.
Finally, I’ll recall the words of a fellow juror who said he hadn’t wanted to serve on a jury until he learned it was a murder case. Then he thought of how he’d feel if he were the defendant (or the family of the victim) and decided he owed it his best.
And that, I am proud to say, is what he gave.

Comments

  1. Susan Holladay says:

    Dear Sharon,

    I enjoy reading your columns, but the one in today’s paper really touched me.

    I recently served on jury duty, two cases in one week. The first was an armed robbery case, the second was a child molestation case. I didn’t think I would be asked to serve on one case, much less two.

    I must admit I was pleased that the attorneys thought I had enough character to serve. But I was also afraid of not being able to discern truth and about how I would feel to know that I, along with eleven other people, could alter lives.

    Both our juries took the cases very seriously. I was pleased that 12 people, from different backgrounds and histories, were able to discuss the issues based on evidence presented and come up with a verdict.

    I didn’t think they would pick me because both my parents were murdered in their home a little over 2 years ago.

    We are still waiting for the trial, maybe sometime this year. I hope the jury picked to serve at trial for the deaths of my sweet parents, will be as contentious as the juries I was on and that everyone “will do their job and will give their best”.

    The last few weeks since my jury duty has taken a toll on my emotional well being. It’s left me bruised inside. It’s a very difficult job. Not to be taken lightly. My outlook on life and people have changed. Not all scars are visible and most people have been knocked around in life.

    I really just wanted to say thank you for serving on the jury, and thanks to the juror that said he “owed it his best”. We all owe that. Nothing more, nothing less.

    Thanks again,
    Susan

    • Sharon Randall says:

      Hey, Ric, great to hear from you. God bless Mandie and keep her safe!

    • Sharon Randall says:

      Susan, I’m so sorry you lost your parents, especially in such an awful way. I wish you and your family God’s grace and peace.

  2. Tom Shields says:

    A very nice article. I will return to your page on occasion to see if any other comments are posted.
    I have a question, you indicated that “some” were not paid for time off and that they may to serve for “weeks”. Does this mean that the State of Nevada does not excuse those who are not paid from their employer, or is this just a situation where some (private industry) pay because of an HR policy and some do not?
    I have been the jury commissioner for the Franklin County Municipal Court located in Columbus, Ohio for almost thirty years and am also a trustee for the Ohio Jury Management Association, a 501 C3 (http://www.ohiojury.org) which promotes networking and pushes for constant innovation of the jury management system in our state. Ohio’s statutes allow a person to be excused, or postponed with a reduced term of service if they are not paid by their employer. I have collected quite a bit of data and information from trial courts all over the country pertaining to how their jury system/management operates.

  3. I have had to do jury duty a couple of different times. One was declared a mistrial and we had to make a conviction on another. What I remember the judge stressing was our decision needed to be made “beyond reasonable doubt”. It certainly made me sit up and pay attention! And when I hear of a trial going on now, I think I better understand what is going on. I considered it my patriotic duty!

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