Friday, March 21, 2014

Juror #6

Today finally ends the jury service I started back on March 6th.  Like most people when called for jury service, I was hoping to get out of it, and planing what I would say to the judge to make him/her understand how indispensable I was at work.  I waited in the jury room with lots of other people.  Finally, the announcement came over head that would tell me what judge my group was assigned to.  Hearing the name Judge Julia Allogiamento I was thrilled.  I know her!  She lives in the same community/neighborhood that I do.  Our kids go to the same school (but different grades),  my boys have played little league with her son.  Pete and I even contributed to her campaign to be elected judge. And on top of all of that, her husband is a physician so she would understand why I couldn't serve.

We were called into her court while she explained the process, and how important it was to serve in jury service.  She made it quite clear the reasons she would find acceptable to dismiss someone, and because their absence at work would be an inconvenience on others was clearly not going to cut it.  I can not begin to repeat the speech she gave, but I was sincerely moved and decided that it was truly important and I wasn't special just because I was a physician.  I decided at that point not to even bother with an immediate dismissal--I did not want to offend her.  I decided to stay put and take my chances with the selection, with the comfort that per Pete "they never choose physicians to be on a jury anyway".  Then she read the charges.  A man was accused of sexually assaulting a  9/10 year old.  I was both horrified when hearing the charges, and excited because of course a PEDIATRICIAN would not be chosen to sit for a child sexual assault case, right?  RIGHT??

Right.  We were dismissed for the day and told to return in the morning to begin jury selection.  Score!  I know the judge AND it is a child sexual assault case.  I went home that night sure that I would be released the next morning.

The next morning jury selection started and I was in the very first group called up.  It immediatley came up that I knew Julia and how.  I was asked if that would somehow make it hard for me to be impartial.  Well no, of course not.  Neither lawyer had an issue with it, so I stayed.  Then came question time.  Those that have been called before know that it is a long, slow process of many questions asked, people being dismissed, more being called up to fill the seats, and so on and so on.  They knew I was a pediatrician, and a mom,.  Still I stayed.  By the end of the day Friday we still were not quite done, but it was clear to me that I was not going anywhere.  Each lawyer had many chances to excuse me, but they chose not to.  By Monday afternoon I was officially juror number 6.

We were given our trusty badges (which got us to the front of the security line daily--yay!!) and sworn in.  I was shaking and truly terrified.  This was a serious case.  I was going to have to decide this mans fate.  What if we chose wrong and wrongly sentenced a man to prison, not to mention labeled him for life.  On the other hand, what if we chose wrong and a young girl was made to believe that no one believed what happened to her, and she never gets over it.  I never thought before what it would be like to be a juror and to have such a big part in a persons fate.  It is power and it is scary.  I admit I also felt a bit honored that both of these lawyers put that trust in me and believed that I could be impartial and make such a decision.

The trial itself was exciting at times, with lots of down time and waiting around at others.  In the course of the 16 days I read 2 Nelson DeMille books (which are LONG- over 400 and 600 pages each).  I will spare you the details of the acts themselves (but will tell you in person if you ask), but was a 10 year old girl (14 now, 10 when it happened) who was molested by her Dads cousin (40 years old) on 2 separate occasions, for a total of 3 different charges.  The family life was chaotic, with a mom in prison at one point, drug use, kids left with different people, entire families living in 1 room, etc...  The defendant had lots of family there supporting him in court, and they were a rather rough and frightening group.  Other than the mom and dad and one aunt (who said she was molested by him when she was young) none of the other family believed the girl.  They were all there to support him.  There were crazy things happening and antics by the defense lawyer.  I felt like I was on an episode of Law & Order.

So what was the ultimate verdict?  We spent about 5 hours deliberating.  I was chosen to be the foreman by my fellow jurors (another honor I felt).  I was in charge of running the deliberation and keeping us all on track.  It is my signature on the final verdict documents.  It was initially difficult and there were some differing opinions on whether an 11 year old would/could lie about these particular acts.  It was emotionally draining.

The final verdict was guilty on 1 charge of "oral copulation of a minor", guilty on 1 charge of lewd and lascivious behavior, and not guilty on the second charge of lewd and lascivious behavior.

The DA had undercover cops acting as her body guards while the verdict was being read.  The defendant had about 20 family members there and they were not happy.  A bailiff escorted us out the back door, and had us wait for while, hoping the family would leave.  Some did not.  We left as a group, with a police escort, out the back stairs and were escorted to our cars to make sure we were safe. I was shaking.  But I made it to my car safely, and said good bye to the people I spent the last 2 plus weeks with, a mostly nice group.

A pen from the court, that only jurors get!
I need some time to digest the experience, and all that it meant.  I learned a lot and would say that it was a good experience over all.  Did it renew my faith in our judicial system?  Yes, I think it did.  Not sure about my faith in humanity though after some of the things I heard in court!  I think everyone should do it at least once--consider it next time you are called.  I learned a lot about our court systems, and saw things I would never (well hopefully will never!) have the chance to see and experience otherwise.  It was challenging (and expensive!) not being at work for 2 weeks, and did put a lot of work on Pete.  I would happily take on the extra work for him to have the experience of jury duty.

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