Saturday, August 13, 2011


By June Shaw
Have you ever served on a jury?

How do you feel about jury duty? Would you want to serve, or dread it as much as having three wisdom teeth yanked out without deadening?

I always told people I would never want to serve on a jury. I was adamant. And this was even before we were watching so many trials go one for weeks and hearing about all that on TV. Some jurors were locked up for days with little or no contact with the outside world—their families or jobs. They had to make major decisions that could not be taken back. And now, especially, we see so many cases in which we believe the jurors made poor decisions.

Why in the world would I want to serve?

And then I was called.

Goodness, I received a notice that I would have to show up at the courthouse in town, and I’d possibly be called on to become a juror.

I dreaded it. There was no way that I would decide to convict anyone of a crime. If I did, suppose I made a mistake that could affect the rest of that person’s life?

Thank goodness the first time I made a last-minute call and discovered the case was settled out of court. I didn’t have to go. Yay!

A few months later I was again summoned. This time attorneys on both sides questioned me. They told me the case concerned someone with drugs and wanted to know whether I had strong feelings about drug use.

Wow, how easy for me to respond. My middle son had been hooked on marijuana, making our lives miserable for years. Finally, thank God, he’d quit. It took us having to do an intervention – one of the hardest and best things I’d ever done in my life. He was so proud of the years he spent without using pot; we were all proud of him, too. I HATED illegal drugs.

After I said this, the prosecuting attorney wanted me in the jury. The defense attorney said, “Absolutely not.” I went home. The experience hadn’t been too bad.

A year or so after this I was called again. This time I was chosen. I had mixed feelings.
Right away the judge told us the trial concerned a young man charged with armed robbery. The defendant had robbed a drugstore and taken money and drugs. They caught him with the goods soon after he left the store. He did not have a weapon—but he had his finger in his jacket pocket and pointed it, telling everyone in the store that he had a gun.
Even if he did not, he had committed armed robbery, we were told.

Okay, so if they knew all of that, what were we there for?

The judge said we were having the trial because the thief pled not guilty because of temporary insanity: He was high on drugs when he robbed the drugstore.

I couldn’t believe it! I also couldn’t believe that the entire jury didn’t come up with a quick decision after we heard all of the evidence. Gosh, if someone could rob a store and be excused because he was high, then anyone could do anything—rob and kill—and say, “Sorry, I didn’t mean to do that. I was high.”

Just think of the robberies and murders in this country. Most of them are caused by drug use. I knew that if I were the last juror standing with my feelings, I would not see the accused go free.

We didn’t. The trial was interesting, and the judge made us feel important. I knew I was doing the right thing. The only thing that disappointed me was that once we turned in the Guilty verdict, the judge thanked us and excused us. I was sorry at first that we wouldn’t know what happened to the defendant. But thinking about it afterward, I decided that probably was for the best.

And the only thing that disappointed me for quite awhile afterward was that I didn’t get called again. Surely it will happen. The next time I’ll go with no hesitation.

How about you? What are your feelings about serving on a jury?


Shane Cashion said...

Wow June! I'm amazed that you've been called that many times and I'm amazed at your fortune to at least have interesting cases! Most of the jurors here in St. Louis spend hours in a great, big, stinky room only never to be called. The few unlucky souls selected usually have to suffer through a dental malpractice case.

June Shaw said...

Oh, Shane, I sure don't think I'd like to serve for a dental case. It was strange that I was called so many times in a short period -- and then nothing. Thanks for posting.

P.A.Brown said...

I went on jury duty over a decade ago. It was terrible. We had to listen to a woman accuse a girlfriends father of molesting her. It was terrible because many of us thought he was guilty, but the burden of proof wasn't provided so we had to pronounce him not guilty.

But the plea of not guilty by reason oaf insanity because you were stoned? I hate when that works. There was a case here years ago about a man who raped a woman in a wheelchair. He was drunk and the judge bought his argument.

Nobody could believe it. And the judge had the gall to say his decision wouldn't affect other cases. Less than a month later the same same plea was entered for another similar rape.

Personally, I'm tired of people getting high or drunk and using it as an excuse for crime. I'm also tired of people who are on drugs who don't take them and commit crime then claim they're not responsible since they were off their meds. Just because, at the moment of the crime, you weren't able to distinguish right from wrong, you knowingly took the substance, or stopped taking it -- knew what the results could be and chose to do it anyway. They need to be treated that way in court.

June Shaw said...

I certainly agree, P.A. People who commit the crimes should be punished.

Warren Bull said...

I've been called as a possible juror twice. The first time when I explained I was a psychologist the defense made me their first dismissal, even before the obvious man who could not understand the judge's instructions due to substance abuse or mental illness.

The second time I was not dismissed so I decided to be friendly so get chosen as foreperson. I was chosen. It was clear the jury members took matters more seriously than either attorney and the less incompetent attorney won.

Jean Henry Mead said...

I've always wanted to serve on a jury but the cloest I ever came to it was when I was a police reporter and wrote about local jury trails--murder cases mainly. Most of the proceedings were boring but it gave me a good working knowledge of the legal system. Everything except what takes place in the jury room and the judge's chambers.

June Shaw said...

Serving on a jury can certainly be interesting, Jean. I sure hope you get the chance.

June Shaw said...

Warren, I hate to hear that the lawyers didn't take the case too seriously. But I guess that happens much more than we know.

Chris Bailey said...

My jury experience was a lot like yours. I've always wanted to serve, but the first time I was called, I couldn't serve because of an out-of-town conference. After that, it was like my name went into a smaller bucket. I was called three more times in the same year. The second time, I had surgery scheduled. The third time, I was dismissed. The fourth time I wound up on a jury. The criminal was so stupid (or the prosecution so brilliant) that we, the jury, reached a decision in less than five minutes. The judge insisted that the bailiff order sandwiches so that we could eat lunch before returning so that no one would claim that we didn't deliberate.

What I've realized since is that the criminal probably refused a plea bargain, thinking that the jury would surely believe his defense--that it was a case of mistaken identity, and he was NOT the man who actually stole his girlfriend's computer and disappeared in her mama's car. Because there was this foot chase, see, and he leaped a fence and the policeman didn't actually catch him--it must have been some other guy who LOOKED like him. . . .

June Shaw said...

Oh, Chris, the trial you served on sounds like a late-night talk show's Dumb Criminal stunt. How funny that he claimed his girlfriend didn't recognize him -- and how sad.

Ben Small said...

I'd love to, but after litigating for thirty years, I know of no lawyer who would allow me to take the jury dock. Funny thing, though, I once worked with an older patent lawyer, a very precise man. A very controversial porn case, first amendment vs. criminal mores. Some really bad stuff in that porn collection being offered to teens. So, in a weird exception, the lawyers agreed to leave my friend on the jury. Well, this guy made love in the dark and had been a virgin when he met his wife. But my friend had never seen anything like what was produced at trial. Surprise, surprise, Ted led the jury to a conviction. Talking with him afterward, he didn't really want to discuss what he'd seen, he was so horrified. The rest of us thought it was funny.

You can get interested juries in criminal cases, but unfortunately, standards are much lighter in civil courts, which by far make up the majority of courts in this country. Essentially, in civil cases, you tend to dumb down on juries. Everybody's got an excuse for not serving, so you tend to end up with juries made up of people who don't have anything better to do. Such juries have trouble with expert testimony and documentary evidence or with complex facts or scenarios. They tend to be plaintiff empathetic in personal injury and labor cases, and many of their verdicts are overturned. Our Civil Justice System needs major overhaul and streamlining. There's too much cost involved and too many stupid decisions.

June Shaw said...

Ben, thanks for sharing your knowledge about trials and juries.

William said...

I almost served on a jury last year. Actually, I was third alternate in a murder case, and the first two alternates served. So that left me just hanging, wondering what the verdict would be. There was lots of expert testimony, and I had concluded that the defendant, a young woman, was innocent. (You don't want to know the details.) When the jury so decided, I was relieved. I also understood the judge's offer from the county of counseling. But,my wife and I drove to a nearby port and went out for a sail, then a crab dinner with Chablis. And I'm glad I haven't been called since then!

June Shaw said...

Wow, William, y'all sure had a nice end to your jury service: - )