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I Served on a Jury and I Hope You Will TooPosted December 01, 2017
By Jonathan A. Karon
Years ago I was amazed to be seated on a jury. At the time, my practice consisted of personal injury and criminal cases, so I figured there was no chance I wouldn’t be struck by one of the lawyers. But, even though I had tried a case in the very same courtroom about a month before, I found myself on a jury of six people listening to a juvenile case in Dedham District Court. Should you ever be selected, I think you’ll find it’s a great experience.
Now, I know that part of this is colored by the fact that I am a trial lawyer and being on a jury was a great education. But my fellow jurors all really seemed to enjoy the experience. That’s consistent with most surveys that show, that although most folks don’t look forward to jury duty, if they’re actually picked, they’re usually glad they had the opportunity to serve.
Of course, the experience started with a fairly boring wait in the basement of the Dedham Courthouse. If you are called for jury duty, I advise you to bring something to read, because it may be awhile before you’re called into the courtroom. Eventually all of us prospective jurors were brought to a courtroom and seven of us (six jurors plus one alternate in case someone got sick) were picked to be on the jury. The trial lasted about three days and concerned whether a teenager had assaulted a police officer.
The experience was really like the movie “12 Angry Men”. The six of us came from different backgrounds and together we tried to work through what actually happened and come to the correct and just result. We discussed the testimony and reviewed the evidence and really tried hard to follow the judge’s instructions and get it right.
It was fascinating for me. For one thing I learned that a lot of what trial lawyers agonize over really isn’t very important. My fellow jurors were far more interested in evaluating the information presented than they were the quality of arguments or personal qualities of the lawyers. I came to the conclusion, which I still believe, that the lawyer’s main job is to make sure that the important information is clearly and accurately presented. If they have the necessary information, jurors will try to do the right thing.
Of course, we didn’t always agree. I remember getting into a vigorous (but civil) argument with a fellow juror over whether the arresting officer would have needed to have been from the planet Krypton to see what he claimed. We did work through it and eventually we reached a unanimous verdict we all felt comfortable with.
So, bottom line, being on a jury re-affirmed my faith in the jury system. Recently, I heard a judge remind his audience that jurors are Constitutional Officers, charged with deciding cases as the voice of the community. I doubt that I’ll ever have the chance to serve on a jury again. But I hope that you will have a chance to serve on a jury someday. I know that it can be inconvenient and disrupt work or childcare or family plans. But, I think if you get the chance, you’ll have fun and you’ll be doing something vitally important.
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