Tuesday, June 21, 2011

My Experience as a Newton County Juror

Well, it finally happened. I've been a resident of Newton County Georgia for over 7 years but have never been summoned for jury duty. I finally got a summons in early May. This may sound crazy, but I was actually excited about it. I have been waiting for this opportunity for years. After filling out and mailing back the juror information form, I showed up at the appointed time with bells on. Potential jurors are kept in a large room away from the court rooms. The Newton County clerk seems very organized. I was instructed to check in at the window and have a seat. The clerk then started calling names off the juror roster and we were seated in the order she called our names, Apparently, all the people who had been summoned were already  assigned as potential jurors for specific cases and she was making sure the right people were seated together.

After they arranged us the way they wanted, I was seated in one of the first rows. When our "panel" was called, we were ushered into a courtroom where the judge informed us that we were potential jurors for a DUI case. He instructed us to stand up and introduce ourselves to the attorneys. The attorneys then proceeded to ask us general questions about our experiences with the police, car accidents, prescription drug abuse, etc... Based on our responses, certain jurors were subjected to extra scrutiny by the attorneys. Since neither attorney had any extra questions for me, I pretty much knew that they would pick me and I was right. I mistakenly thought that the trial would happen the same day. No. Jurors are picked for all the cases scheduled for that week. So, the first day is just to seat the jurors for each trial. Depending on when the case you get picked for is scheduled, you have to come back later in the week. Lucky for me, my case was scheduled for the next day.

I arrived at the courthouse thinking that the case was a run-of-the-mill DUI case and we should be out of there in a few hours. It turns out that the case involved prescription drug use, not alcohol. The defendant had not submitted to a drug test so other than the officers' suspicions, there was no clear evidence of her guilt. Alcohol cases are so much easier since most people can't cover up that telltale smell. I was surprised to learn that the defendant had actually run off the road and crashed into a building. When the officers arrived on the scene, the fact that she was disoriented and a little incoherent made them think she was under the influence of something. Every time the prosecutor mentioned her demeanor, I thought to myself she just had an airbag explode in her face. What was her demeanor supposed to be like?

The trial was over around noon. We took a short break for lunch and then came back to deliberate. Everyone was pretty much in agreement that the county did not prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. The defendant may not have been completely innocent but we really could not identify any proof that she was guilty of DUI. We deliberated for a little over an hour and let the bailiff know that we had reached a decision. We had to wait for a little while because the judge had another trial in session. We were escorted into the courtroom, the judge read our verdict and then we were excused. About two weeks later, I received a check for $50 in the mail for my two days of service.

I know people tend to think of jury duty as a chore but I was happy to be chosen and I really enjoyed the experience. When the clerk said that jurors who were selected wouldn't be called again for at least another year or so, I was disappointed. It might take another 7 years but I'm sure I'll be called upon again. I'm already looking forward to it.

1 comment:

Lisa Evans said...

Thanks for this! I have just been called for jury duty in Newton County for the first time, too. This blog was really helpful!