Calling Juror #10

Hawaii Jury Service

One Tuesday morning, I walked into the judiciary building. I put my bag on the conveyor belt, walked through the security check-point, and took the elevator to the third floor. I waited with a small crowd – some on their phones, some looking sleepy or bored, only a few people talking to each other. After a late start, we all filed into Classroom A – it even had a chalkboard and student desks. We went through roll call and basic instructions, and then we were sent to wait outside a courtroom. It was the start of jury selection.

Members of the jury pool sat on wooden benches in the chilly courtroom, listening to the judge’s welcome speech, and waited to see whose names would be called. It was like a reverse lottery. Everything was quiet except for the shuffling of papers as the judge and attorneys wrote down the names of prospective jurors. The 12 seats in the jury box started to fill up. I was the tenth juror called and I sat in the front row close to the witness stand. One person was excused because they felt they could not be impartial; another was excused because of English language proficiency.

The prosecuting attorney and defense attorney began rounds of questioning that lasted almost two hours. The judge explained that we should answer truthfully and that there are no right or wrong answers. The attorneys posed simple, everyday scenarios. The prosecuting attorney focused on consequences and what should happen if someone doesn’t follow the rules. The defense attorney focused on intentions and stressed three ideas: the defendant is presumed innocent, the prosecutor has the burden of proof, and the evidence must be beyond a reasonable doubt. As the attorneys dismissed jurors without explanation (peremptory strikes), the round of questioning would begin again, directed at the new jurors and two alternate jurors.

The trial was conducted in one afternoon. Under the judge’s attentive gaze, we listened to opening statements, witness testimony, and closing arguments. The attorneys paid close attention to details – exact times and dates, locations, and precise wording. The judge’s remarks were formal and thorough – from introductions and an overview of the trial process to the pages of instructions about jury deliberations.

It was cold in the jury deliberation room. All of our phones and electronics went into a cardboard box. We were strangers picked to decide a stranger’s fate. We didn’t even take the time to introduce ourselves. After an uncomfortable silence, someone agreed to be foreperson. Hesitantly, we began discussing the case. We took an informal secret ballot to find out where we stood on the verdict, and what concerns needed to be addressed. In this case, I thought there was more to the circumstances than the jury knew – but those circumstances were irrelevant. I wanted to give the defendant the benefit of the doubt, but in the end I was convinced beyond a reasonable doubt.

After a brief sojourn in the courtroom, here are three things I learned from jury duty service:
1. Be very sure of your decision before you start any legal proceeding. The law moves slowly, but it is tenacious – even if you change your mind.
2. Be very clear about what you want government and the law to do for you. It’s not about intentions or interpretations; it’s about facts and evidence.
3. Our government really is committed to the law and due process. We spend a lot of time, effort, and money to give people a fair trial.

Have you ever served on a jury? If yes, what was your experience?

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