Tuesday, January 10

inside of law and order: svu

This is a post mostly about the internal conflict I faced yesterday at jury duty, when trying to decide whether it was possible to remain impartial in a case where charges of molestation are filed against a father of 3 daughters...

Jury Duty. 

I think the most common reactions when a person gets that little rectangle of paper, their jury duty summons, is a stamp of the foot, a roll of the eyes, or a sigh of frustration. It really is a symbol of inconvenience, isn't it?

But it is also a symbol of our system's involvement of everyday people in the justice system, which I think is a wonderful right.

When I first got my jury duty summons, they wanted me to come on December 10th --- finals week. YEAH. RIGHT. So I obviously rescheduled. And yesterday was my reschedule date. 

I arrived at 7:30 am, filled out a form, sat around for a few hours trying to get through Elizabeth Gilbert's horrendous follow-up to Eat, Pray, Love (more on that later). I then turned in said form, and got selected for a 6 day criminal trial's jury pool. The pool consisted of 81 jurors, which they needed to narrow down to 13 (12 + an alternate, look how much I learned yesterday). 

We were taken to the courtroom where the case was to be heard, and the process of selecting the jury began. One of the first things that happened is the judge read the charges against the defendant. The middle-aged man before me was charged with 8 years of molestation and rape of his 3 daughters under the age of 15 years old. I was not expecting that. 

Immediately upon hearing those charges, I just got mad. My heart started beating faster, and the "innocent-until-proven-guilty" man before me suddenly looked like a cold-hearted monster.

The entire juror pool shifted with discomfort and averted their gazes from the man before us. Could there be a more sensitive criminal case than a father molesting his 3 young daughters? I can't really imagine one. Per protocol, the judge started asking questions of the juror pool. 

"Does anyone think they will not be able to remain impartial in this case?"
Half of the room's hands shot up in the air without hesitation. 
Then the judge had to follow up with each juror, asking for what reasons people were uncomfortable serving as a juror on this case. 

"My best friend was molested as a child."
"I am an ER Nurse who sees children immediately following trauma such as this."
"I have 17 young grandchildren."
"My wife was abducted and raped."
"I am a victim of childhood incest."
 The openness of my fellow 80 jurors astounded me. Here we are, a room of complete strangers, telling each other about some of the darkest moments of our lives.

I debated whether I should raise my hand, because isn't it the case that we all have a reason for why serving on this jury would be difficult? I already told you about my immediate, visceral reaction to the charges against the defendant. However, as a professional (in training), I believe it is imperative to be able to put aside emotion sometimes, and look at things objectively. That is not to say in my medical career I will be making all decisions with solely my mind, the heart will surely have some say. But being able to hear from all sides and making educated decisions from all of the information is a critical skill. So, while of course I am against sexual assault in any form, I kept my hand down. 

And I'm glad I did. Because after hearing from the 40 or so jurors who were opposed to serving on this case, the judge had to clarify a few things. #1: we were not there to pass judgement on whether molestation and incest are wrong. It is illegal, and therefore already deemed to be wrong. #2: we were there to select a jury that will be the best fit to decide whether the accused is in fact guilty of the charges filed against him. 
After hearing that explanation, some jurors decided they would give a better effort to be impartial. However, there were still at least 15 jurors who were too scarred by life events to be a fair juror. It saddened me that sexual assault crimes had indeed affected such a vast percentage of people in this room with me.

Those with the most adamant refusals against serving were excused. Then the prosecution and defending attorneys took turns questioning the pool, and excusing people one-by-one.

I was juror #73, which meant that the odds of me being selected were slim, but not impossible. However, I obviously was not selected, or I'd be a real big illegal jerk for telling you all of this information. When the jury was finally selected though, they had made it up to juror #43. It took 43 jurors and 9 1/2 hours to find 13 suitable jurors to determine the facts of the case. 

I was torn between whether I had wanted to be chosen to serve, but I did let out a sigh of relief when I was finally excused. I'm sure it would have been a great learning experience, and I would have done my very best to serve impartially and objectively...but how could I have not been swayed emotionally upon hearing the testimonies of the 3 young girls? Upon being excused, I just had to take a few minutes to sit in my car and reflect upon the day. It felt like the precursor to an episode of Law and Order: SVU. The part you never see. But arguably one of the most important days of the entire trial process. For without a fair and impartial jury, how do any defendants ever stand a chance? What about those who are wrongfully accused? I know if I were ever a defendant in a case, I would appreciate the jury selection process, because it would give me the best opportunity to actually make my side of the story heard.

The whole drive home, I said prayers. I prayed for the jury, that they are able to remain objective and impartial, yet make a decision that makes sense to both their minds and their hearts. I prayed for the prosecution, that if this man is guilty, they do their job to prove this beyond a reasonable doubt. I even prayed for the defense, that if this man is not guilty, he is not wrongfully sentenced. 

It was an emotional day, an educational day, and a day I am glad I got the opportunity to experience. You know how I love a new experience :) 

Have any of YOU served on a jury before? I'm curious to know what the case was and how the experience was for you!

Cheers ---


  1. Oh my gosh, I don't even know where to start with this. Now you see why I love the legal system so much?!? It's always fascinating for me to see it in action and the rights and responsibilities other have in our society. I was called in for jury duty on a domestic abuse case where the ex-husband was accused of beating his wife and her new boyfriend to a pulp. I had many of the same reactions as you (although it would have been much harder if child molestation was involved.) I ended up staying all day and then getting dismissed after 9 hours but it was fascinating to me.

  2. Hi Kaitlyn, thanks for sharing. That would be difficult case to sit on. I was called once to jury duty and was somehow selected to actually be one of he jurors--felt like I should go off buy a lotto ticket! It was not an emotional one like yours was but I did my best to ensure the case was properly determined--it was a civil case instead of criminal. After we heard the case one of the jurors said, "let's just find for the defendant and get this over with." He was a hair stylist and lost money by being there. I told him that we needed to discuss what we saw and heard and that it's not fair to either party to not do so--and that is what he'd want if he was one of the parties involved. I won out--but we did find for the defendant anyway.

  3. As an attorney it is so refreshing to hear that there are at least a few jurors out there that are able to look at the facts and not immediately decide someone's fate!! Jury selection is one of the most important parts of a trial and probably the most depressing!! I've been through numerous trials and I can't tell you how depressing it can be to listen to all the heinous things that have happened to people, especially in sexual crimes!!! But, i'm really glad you got to experience the process and from all us attorneys out there, thank you for keeping an open mind!! :)

  4. I actually was called in for jury duty about a year or so ago...for BALTIMORE CITY! I was super nervous because if you know anything about Baltimore its bound to be either related to the HBO hit series the Wire (which is pretty darn accurate) or the fact that it is (or was) the murder capital of the US. There were 500 of us in that date and I ended up getting picked as an alternate. I had to sit through the week-long trial, but had no say in the verdict (unless another juror was thrown out). It was a long week, but very interesting. I did stay to here the verdict because I was interested...we were all on the same mind-wave with a Not-Guilty for the case.

    On a side note, I swear I saw the defendant at my gym the other day. Eeekss


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