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Jury Duty: Don't Miss It!
Susie McGraw, KIM 100.3 FM Radio

Recently, I spent two days serving on a Jury. I had never been called before although I have been a licensed driver and a registered voter for more years than I care to share. When I received a Jury Summons, I reported for duty at the appropriate time. Here I was, in a room with more than 100 people. The first group of 40 was selected and I was so disappointed that I was not one of them. After all, if you put out the effort to be there, you surely want to do something. I was selected in the second group, with 40 other people and taken to a courtroom.

Since I was the first person called for this trial, I was also the first person placed in the Jury box. Then, the District Attorney and the Defense Counsel selected 25 of the initial group of 40. We were asked to fill out a brief questionnaire allowing the attorneys to review each of us. Then it was time for the interviewing process. We were not individually asked the same questions. Each attorney picked a question and selected one of us to answer it. From this, 12 people were excused and 13 jurors were selected. This creates a jury of 12 and one alternate. It was interesting because the alternate was not told of the alternate status until the entire trial was complete.

This was a felony menacing case including three different counts that had to be evaluated. We heard the testimony on one day, went home, returned the next day and heard the closing statements from each side and were then sequestered to reach a verdict. Think about it. Twelve people who had never met before, with different backgrounds, different personalities, different in every way, thrust together to decide the fate of another person. I was elected the Foreman. Those friends and acquaintances that know me said, "Go figure!" It###s a joke since I do have a tendency to "take charge." This placed even more pressure on my abilities to fairly deal with each of these people and reach a unanimous decision. Sound easy! NOT!

The first thing I did was to call for a vote on Count #1. If we were all in agreement then we could move on. I ended up with six not guilty votes, four "I don###t know" and two adamant guilty votes. It was time to discuss the case. I had to allow each person the opportunity to discuss their reasons for their decision. Things got out of hand a couple of times—too many people talking at once. Once I restored order, we were able to come up with a plan which would allow each person to have "their say." The hardest part for me was to appreciate the fact that not everyone agreed with me. Since my personality is at times dogmatic, I knew I had to be receptive to each of these strangers### points of view. It###s easy to say that you respect someone else###s views, much harder to put into practice. We were hopelessly deadlocked after two hours and then it occurred to me that we needed to move on to Count #2. If we could all agree on something then we could move on. And move on we did.

Count #2 was a little easier. I ended up with ten not guilty votes and two "I don###t know." OK, then let###s get some input from everyone. It was important for those two to explain to the rest of the group why they weren###t sure. Perhaps we were overlooking something. Let###s review Count #3... they couldn###t make it easy. Same two voted with guilty pleas. OK, let###s go to lunch which in itself was an experience. Once you###re sequestered, you do nothing alone. I had to laugh during the morning session since I decided I wanted a break for a smoke and guess do nothing alone. So with a bailiff escorting us, all twelve of us went downstairs. I felt a little guilty. But once downstairs there were four of us out there for the obvious reason and the rest seemed to enjoy the fresh air.

Lunch was a similar experience only this time we had two bailiffs in tow and off we marched to lunch together. It was a good diversion since we were not allowed to discuss the case and it gave us an opportunity to learn a little more about each other, like our first names for instance. You don###t use name tags. This is serious business. When we got back, one of the jurors, who had stuck to her guilty vote, felt she was being "picked on" with looks and innuendoes which indicated that she wasn###t cooperating. Once I was able to put that fire out with a firm lecture that no one was to make any one else feel uncomfortable for their views, we moved on. There were several items that kept coming back to me and so I took the floor again. After expressing these items, most of my counterparts agreed with me. From that point on, we were able to maturely discuss the case and get back to the job that we were there to do.

As it turns out, we returned three votes of not guilty. I will say that the Prosecuting Attorney was excellent. She was professional and handled herself well in the Courtroom. The Defense Attorney was a joke. He stammered and it was obvious that he had not spent enough time with his client. So, you ask, "How is it possible to return not guilty votes?" Quite simply put, the prosecution was not able to prove guilt to us "beyond a reasonable doubt." And that###s the system.

I am a person who believes that one person can make a difference. This comes from someone not in a role, in everyday life, of authority or great wealth or abundant education other than life. I was astounded at the responses from people when they learned I had been called for jury duty. Each and every one of them gave me advise on how to get out of jury duty. They all had similar advice but the one that really surprised me was the lady who said that was why she didn###t register to vote—so she wouldn###t get called. I laughed out loud at this. OK, so now do you not only do not have a say in the judicial system, but you have no say in the government as well.

Apathy abounds in this world and I refuse to allow this to deter me. We live in the greatest country in the world because we are given these choices. Shame on everyone who chooses not to get involved and shame on everyone who chooses not to make a difference.

Susie McGraw has been in radio for a total of twelve years. Susie enjoys writing and the challenge of trying to figure out her home computer.