Last week I did something for the very first time — I served as a jury foreperson and guided jury deliberations. When I was called to jury duty, I thought hard about putting in for an exemption. I had just been in court one week earlier finalizing my divorce. I had serious court fatigue plus a long laundry list of things to do as a result of my new marital status. Although, I was concerned that finding a way out of the jury call would open me up to call later in the summer that would seriously conflict with my performance schedule. Therefore, I acquiesced to my future calendar constrictions and answered the jury call. Besides, the summons was just to come to the courthouse, there was no guarantee that I would even see a court room, right? Wishful thinking.
As soon as I arrive at the courthouse, I just knew I was going to be picked. It was a gut feeling, and generally my gut feelings are spot-on. Nevertheless, my Facebook community tried to arm me with all sorts of tactics to use to encourage the lawyers to decline to empanel me. My favorite was to swat at invisible flies over my head. I had all of those suggestions in my mind when I was called to a court room with 49 other potential jurors. Once in the courtroom, I was then called to the box in the first group of 14 to be questioned by the judge. No swatting for me. I followed all instructions and answered all questions honestly. Sure as my gut had told me that morning, I was 1 of the 5 chosen from that group to serve on the jury the following day. This was really going to happen. Luckily the judge said the trial would only last one day. He actually promised. So, I wiped my mind of any frustrations and cleared the path to evaluate the case that the state planned to present.
It was an absolute surreal experience. Scratch that, it was an absolutely life-changing experience. With all of the high profile cases that have been in the news and playing out in real time on television for all the world to see, the job of a juror has been on my mind. However, true understanding of what that job really entails wasn’t clear to me until I sat in that box myself. As the foreperson on the case that I as empaneled for, I gained an even more unique perspective of the process. I was in charge of making sure that the discussion remained fair and balanced, reminding people that their opinions mattered while also reminding them that so do those of their fellow jurors. It was also my job to call for votes, communicate questions and requests with the judge, and keep the conversation on task and flowing until a decision could be reached. It sounds relatively easy, but that’s the deception; so is the call from the lawyers for jurors to use their common sense. Common sense isn’t so common these days and it definitely isn’t as simple to identify as you might think. To be an effective juror what you really need is a clear sense of the law, because that is why you are in the room — to provide a verdict based on the law, not your personal feelings or your version of common sense.
There is no such thing as a small case because every verdict has an impact, on someone, or several someones, really. I felt that to my core sitting in my forepersons’ chair. I would like to believe that I left my chair a more aware person than I was when I sat down.
The next time you are called for potential jury duty don’t swat at imaginary flies above your head — do your duty. Every defendant deserves a jury of citizen peers that do understand the law and don’t shirk their responsibility in upholding it.
Here are 30 do’s and don’ts of jury deliberations:
1. Do encourage everyone to share their thought.
2. Don’t be afraid of silences.
3. Do remind people that all opinions are valid.
4. Don’t let people talk over each other.
5. Do consult the exhibits in evaluation of the state’s case.
6. Don’t damage the exhibits.
7. Do re-read the instructions periodically throughout deliberations.
8. Don’t ignore the law.
9. Do consult your notes.
10. Don’t let another juror be your memory.
11. Do ask questions of the judge.
12. Don’t try to fill in the blanks with conjecture.
13. Do judge whether the state proved their case.
14. Don’t judge innocence.
15. Do take into account how you feel about the testimony the witnesses gave.
16. Don’t let your personal opinions about the judge or the lawyers in the case influence your judgement.
17. Do remember that a defendant is innocent until proven guilty by the state.
18. Don’t let the way a defendant looks or how they are dressed affect your verdict.
19. Do fault a states attorney for not putting up a strong case.
20. Don’t fault a defendant for not putting up a defense.
21. Do change your vote if you change your mind.
22. Don’t change your vote just to be done with deliberations.
23. Do convict someone if the state provided credible evidence proving they did it.
24. Don’t convict someone because you think they probably did it.
25. Do remember that reasonable doubt is based on your sense of reason not someone else’s.
26. Don’t choose a verdict that you do not feel confident about.
27. Do focus completely on your present case.
28. Don’t try to right past wrongs.
29. Do give justice.
30. Don’t give up.
If you enjoyed this empowering piece please read Telling Kids The truth About Standing Up For Themselves, 13 Tips For Taking Selfies That Will Get You Noticed, 5 Tips For Better Tweeting and Miss Lori’s South Walton MLTVvacay Travel Giveaway
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