Sunday Column: Juror No. 13

The way I had it imagined went like this: I was going to have my name called from the pool of about 50 potential jurors at the Lee County Courthouse last week, and as soon as I uttered the words, “newspaper editor,” I would have been politely excused.
I get to go back to work. End of story.
It didn’t quite work out that way.
Instead, I survived the choosing of 12 jurors but had my name called to be a potential alternate for a criminal trial against a man accused of kidnapping (or attempting to kidnap) his wife in Sanford back in November, 2006. Upon questioning from prosecuting attorney Byron Beasley and defense attorney Richard Hager, I was even more confident I would go home.
“Would you, as a newspaper editor, have a difficult time avoiding coverage of this case?”
The answer, had we decided to cover the case, was yes. It didn’t seem to matter. I apparently goofed when I said “yes” to the question, “Would you make a fair decision based on the facts presented in this case?”
Silly me.
Jury duty isn’t as fun as it’s made to look in the forgettable Pauly Shore flick, Jury Duty. Nor are most trials as provocative or dramatic as you’ll see in the movies. Boston Legal’s Denny Crane wasn’t a lawyer this time around.
Real criminal cases are repetitive. There are a ton of breaks. It’s slow.
In other words, it doesn’t wrap up in 60 minutes like L.A. Law.
All that said, the trial I was asked to be a juror for did have its share of intrigue. I won’t go into many of the details of the trial — a local woman accused her husband of trying to kidnap her after he attempted to knock her out using chloroform — and I’m not going to use names, as my purpose here isn’t to exploit the trial or embarrass the parties involved.
But I will say the trial was interesting. There was flashy evidence (chloroform, rope, duct tape), there were tears on the stand and a strong closing statement from the defense. The jury’s choice was to convict the accused of either 2nd degree kidnapping or false imprisonment or to find him completely not guilty.
The jury chose false imprisonment (a misdemeanor), despite the evidence and the testimony from the prosecution’s many witnesses.
As an alternate, I was not in on the final verdict. I was there to hear the entire case (I did sit in the jury box) and to serve as a juror in the event one of the other jurors had to be dismissed. And to be honest, I’m glad I didn’t have to make that difficult decision.
But it was probably the right one, based on the evidence and the jury’s instruction to follow the letter of the law and to only convict if the decision is made beyond a reasonable doubt.
When you’re watching court shows or mysteries on television, it’s easy to sit there and blurt, “guilty, guilty, guilty.” It’s another thing to sit there and have somebody’s future rest in the palm of your hands.
This case wasn’t easy for any of the jurors because no matter the verdict, a family was being torn apart. I suppose they call it “jury duty” and not “jury time” because “duty” is a stronger word, and because it’s really serious stuff you’re dealing with.
I stated earlier that I completely expected to not be asked to serve because I work for a newspaper, but when it was all said and done, I’m glad I was picked.
It gave me a better appreciation for our justice system, and, more selfishly, I felt like I actually contributed to this community by serving. If you’ll recall, Lee County made statewide news last year at this time because so few people actually showed up for jury duty that the judge had to send deputies to the Wal-Mart parking lot and pick people at random.
This wasn’t the case this time. Like I said, about 50 people showed up for this trial, and each of them were compensated (a little) for their time. That’s right, you do get paid for your service ($20 a day, though some employers require you pay them back if you’re doing this on their time).
Because of my service, which ended up lasting a week, I get a two-year pass from having to serve on a jury again. And as an alternate, I suppose I got the best of both worlds … getting my service out of the way and not having to make a decision that would change somebody’s life forever.
All in all, a pretty good experience.


2 thoughts on “Sunday Column: Juror No. 13

  1. Isn’t jury duty kind of a form of false imprisonment in itself?

    I don’t know. It just always seemed weird to me that the government could force you to serve like that…Of course, you do get $12 a day…

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