I arrived at the Superior Courthouse yesterday morning, Jury Summons in one hand, my book tucked inside my purse and a cup of coffee in the other hand. I was prepared for my long day of sitting around and waiting.
My least favorite thing to do. Sitting around and waiting that is.
Three hours into my morning, a few chapters of my book read and my name was called. I followed along with 40 of my fellow jurors up the escalators, across the bridge to the Courthouse next door and finally arriving at the assigned courtroom. We were all sworn in and took our seats and waited as 24 names were called. 12 to fill the jury box and 12 alternate seats in the audience section.
My name had not been called and I was both relieved, yet antsy for something to do, other than sit around and wait.
This part of the process is called Voir Dire.
"Voir dire is the opportunity to examine the jurors before their appointment as regards to their integrity and balanced approach. Voir dire means to see the person and talk to him personally with a purpose to evaluate him. Jurors are interviewed by judges and attorneys before assigning the case to them."
While the 24 potential jurors answered a litany of questions and were screened by the Judge, we (who had not been called yet) were asked to also answer those questions to ourselves so that if we were ultimately chosen to take a seat made empty when one of the 24 were excused, we would be up to speed.
The question that kept coming back in every scenario brought up, was could we as jurors be fair and impartial? Despite any strong feelings and opinions we may have about illegal drug use, the drug epidemic in the U.S. and despite our own experiences with law enforcement,whether positive or negative and any effect that drug use by loved ones impacted our lives or the lives of the people we cared about, could we, in this case, still be fair and impartial? The attorneys had a tough job at this juncture and we had to do a lot of soul searching and answer honestly. We MUST be fair and impartial. We must decide on facts alone. We must also use our common sense and life experience to help us.
Listening to the questions and answers and applying them to my own life helped the time pass quickly. I was captivated. Several jurors of the original 24 were excused before our lunch break and our numbers had dwindled. As we were dismissed for a lunch break, I was of about 8 others whose names had not yet been called.
After we returned from lunch, the prosecutor and defense attorney both began to ask questions of the jurors. This process also eliminated a few more and my name was called to replace Juror #8. Now it was my turn to answer questions. It was my first time inside of a Juror box and it was an interesting perspective.
It was late in the afternoon and it was time for the prosecutor and defense attorney to take turns excusing jurors. This process is called a Peremptory Challenge.
A Peremptory Challenge refers to a right in jury selection for the defense and prosecution to reject a certain number of potential jurors who appear to have an unfavorable bias without having to give any reason.
During this part of the process, the defense attorney called my name and excused me from this trial. Since this was a criminal case, I believe factors including my occupation in the legal field and having relatives and friends in law enforcement played a big part in the defense excusing me from the jury panel.
This was a good experience and though the day began slow and boring, eventually became an experience to evaluate what it means to be fair and impartial and truly question what affects each one of us in our ability as a juror to be able to do that.
I left the courthouse yesterday afternoon with a deeper appreciation of our justice system and the intricate pieces of the process of selecting a jury.