Saturday, December 15, 2018

Jury duty: summation

The words I would use to describe jury duty are interesting, intense, and gratifying.

The court system, of which jury service is a part, is interesting. Everyone is entitled to equal protection under the law: the right to have the same access to and to be treated equally by the law and courts. It was interesting to experience and gain a juror's perspective of how the court works in Hennepin County. We found that everyone from the security screeners to the jury office to the officers of the court to the deputy sheriff bailiffs to the people running the cafeteria conducted themselves with professionalism and courtesy.

Criminal trials are intellectually and emotionally intense. If a case goes to trial, the defendant has pleaded innocent, and is presumed innocent until the state proves guilt beyond a reasonable doubt — to the jury, not to the judge or prosecutor. In spite of all of the law degrees and titles in the room, the outcome hinges on the decision based on the experience and judgment of twelve everyday residents of Hennepin County. Every day when we entered the courtroom, the jury was seated last. The jury has the final word. With that power comes the ability to change the lives of those involved in the case: defendants, victims, and their friends, family, and acquaintances. At times we were overwhelmed by the gravity and tragedy of the case.

It was gratifying for us as a jury to play a role in the justice system. Jury duty required us to interrupt our regular lives, but we gained a real appreciation for how important a responsibility it is to keep the courts running for the people. It was a privilege to meet and do important work with a group of honest, hard-working, kind, generous, intelligent, decent women and men — on the jury, but also the judge, clerk, court reporter, and the attorneys on both sides. Even though now we are free to discuss the case with anyone, there are still only twelve people in the world who experienced the case as we did, from jury selection through the verdict. This experience renewed my faith in the admittedly flawed but fundamentally good people of our state and country, and taught me that keeping our society free and just is up to all of us.

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