Jury Duty – Defendant’s Perspective

About a month ago, I was summoned for jury duty. I was highly surprised because I have been 18 for only 3 months, but that’s the beauty of a randomized computer program, and I was selected. I decided to take off of school because it is a real-world experience that would educate beyond the classroom – something I prefer doing. I learned a lot from the 2 days I was at the courthouse undergoing jury selection. From my experiences, I was motivated to write a letter to the judge:

Dear Judge _________,

My name is Jenna and I was in your courtroom Monday, March 27th and Tuesday, March 28th for jury duty. I don’t expect you to remember me, I was one face in the back among 60. However, I will always remember my experience while sitting there.

I am only 18 years old, still very young, yet considered a legal adult, which is why I was summoned for jury duty. I was so excited to see the process of picking a jury. My whole life, all of my civics teachers have told me that as a citizen of the United States, it is my civic duty to serve on a jury. To me, this is what marks the transition into adulthood. The opportunity to be a juror was my first chance to contribute to society in a bigger way than I have been able to in my life thus far. Your Honor, I love America. I have so much pride in our country and the way it is run. Sitting in your courtroom, I learned to appreciate our judicial system even more than I previously did. I realized how important a fair trial is for a person so that they do not sit in jail for something they did not do. It is someone’s life, and it should not be taken lightly. I found it so cool listening to everyone’s answers to the Prosecution’s and Defense’s questions. All 60 jurors came from different walks of life, have experienced different things, and believe in different ideas. It was incredible to see the diverse makeup we have even here in Hillsborough County. It made me appreciate how a fair trial is made up of every type of person, so the jury really does represent the defendant’s peers.

However, as I sat there, so excited to participate in my first real “adult” activity, I couldn’t help but think I was surrounded by people acting like children.  Out of the 60 potential jurors, I think I heard over 40 of them say how inconvenient jury duty is for them. Now I understand that people have to miss work, appointments, and even school in my case, but I feel those things are not half as important as why we were there. Jury duty is a part of life in America. It is one thing out of many that makes America the greatest country in the world (in my opinion, and I believe in many others’ as well). We are able to work, go to school, and have doctor’s appointments because of the way our society functions, and I think that is amazing. I was flabbergasted as I listened to people’s reasons for wanting to be excused. By the end of the day, I felt I was going to explode if I heard one more person say that they did not want to be there because it was a burden on their lives. It was amazing to hear people say that they know it’s their civic duty, but now is just not a good time. I did not realize there was a specific time when we are supposed to act as a United States citizen. To me, that is every day that we live here. As an 18-year-old, I felt I was going to be the one learning from everyone else in that courtroom, and I did, however I feel we all could have learned a lot more if we sat and observed, rather than speaking the first thing that came to our mind.

As I observed the happenings in the courtroom, I watched the attorneys, the clerk, the bailiffs, you as the Judge, and the defendant. Everyone had a part to play and they knew what their part was. I deducted that the Prosecution and the Defense had prepared significantly for this trial, and it is not something they take lightly. I saw the clerk working hard on his job, as well as the bailiffs who were walking around constantly to ensure everything was in order. I saw you making notes and listening intently because this case is important to you, not because you may feel particularly for one side or the other, but because you feel strongly about justice and the right to a fair trial.  Lastly, I watched the defendant, noticing that he was taking notes and paying very close attention to the answers we gave, and I could not help but feel badly for him. Not for being on trial, not for being accused of his crime, but because he had to sit through nearly 50 people tell him what a burden he is, and what an inconvenience he is, and list the numerous places they would rather be than in his presence. Suddenly, it didn’t seem like a fair trial anymore.

Your Honor, I know that a lot of people who come through your courtroom may have done awful things. However, they are still people, no matter what they have done, and I feel the jury forgot that. I do not feel that they would have openly said that to any of us sitting with them, to you, or even the clerk, but they were saying it to the defendant. To me, no matter what he did, his actions do not warrant people to make him feel less than, so I am sorry. I am sorry that my fellow jurors did not, for one second, put themselves in his shoes. They never once thought about what they would want to hear if it was them on trial, and I feel sorry for them, because one day, when they need someone to be fair and impartial, they will hear what a burden they are to someone else. I also apologize for their words, because through what they were saying, though they may not have realized it, they were talking down upon your work, the attorneys’ preparation, and everyone’s time in that courtroom. I apologize that so many people did not think beyond what they were saying to determine the effect it may have on everyone present.

Judge ______, if I learned one thing from being in your courtroom, it is that I will never complain about jury duty, no matter how inopportune the timing may be. The defense asked some parents in the courtroom what they would tell their children about jury duty. I did not think much about it at the time because I am not a parent. However, after having time to think about it, I have decided that beyond my children, I will tell everyone how important jury duty is. I will give them the regular spiel of how it is their “civic duty,” but I will go so far beyond that. I will explain to them that every minute they spend in that courtroom, is a minute that they are helping our society function. I will explain that they are a part of a process that is bigger than they could ever imagine. I will beg them, that if they ever feel the need to verbalize the inconvenience, to hold back. I will ask them to keep that part to themselves in respect of everyone around them. No one’s work or presence deserves to be labeled a “burden” by people who are too small minded to see the bigger picture of what they have the chance to be a part of. Judge _____, I respect you, your time, and your work. I hope through you, I will be able to extend my respect to the attorneys, bailiffs, clerks, and defendants who come into your courtroom who deserve nothing less. I apologize for the excuses my fellow jurors provided, and I ask you to extend my apology to everyone who comes through your courtroom in the future, so they may feel that their time and presence is valued – even if only by one person.

Sincerely,

Jenna; Juror #60, 3/27-3/28

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