I’ve had three previous summons for jury duty, but never sat on an actual jury. First time I had a scheduling problem and the court let me off the hook. Second time I was actually sitting in the jury box, but the defense attorney didn’t like the look of me and used one of his disqualifications to send me home. Blame my shifty eyes.
Third time I sat around for a few hours before they decided they didn’t need me.
Recently, I was called to jury duty in Prescott, and shockingly I was actually selected to sit on a jury. I had always been told that journalists weren’t usually welcome. While we can definitely be fair and consider both sides, we deal with people trying to persuade us all the time. Because of that, we can be a cynical lot.
Or, that could have just been some balderdash another journalist once told me to explain why he didn’t get selected.
The case before me and five other Prescott residents involved a woman accused of driving while under the influence of a prescription drug. It was a one-day trial, and I found the entire process educational.
Biggest takeaway was how exceedingly fair and honest everyone was. People in the jury box before me freely admitted their own biases (which cleared the way for me to sit in judgment).
My fellow jurors obviously cared a great deal about coming to the right decision and ensuring we were being fair to both sides.
We the jury asked some really good questions, I thought, showing we were engaged and doing our best to get to the truth.
When we walked into the jury room to deliberate, I was torn, thinking I could go either way. There were problems with both sides in my head that I hadn’t resolved, so I was eager to hear what my fellow jurors thought.
For the prosecution, I wasn’t quite buying the case that the defendant was so inhibited by the prescription drugs she took the night before that she couldn’t even step up on the curb after she was pulled over. Main reason: She was coming home from work, and she had worked a 10-hour day in a medical building. If she was that out of it, someone there should have noticed.
No such evidence was presented.
For the defense, I could buy their case of it just being bad, distracted driving that caused the police to pull her over. However, there was a drug in her blood test that, according to the expert, should be gone after eight hours. She claimed she took them the night before. Why was that drug still there?
My fellow jurors said they shared the same concerns. It appeared five were leaning toward not guilty, and one favored guilty. In the end, we decided we had enough reasonable doubt for a not guilty verdict.
I don’t know if it was the right call or not. Perhaps she had a bad back that afternoon and took a muscle relaxant, and that’s the drug that showed up in the blood test. Perhaps that is what caused her bad driving, and not the phone and food as the defense claimed.
But there was not enough evidence for us to go in that direction, and each of us has witnessed bad driving because of phones and food in our daily lives.
I ran into the defense attorney on the way home and she came up to thank me, telling me how much it meant to this young woman.
It felt awkward, because that played no role in my decision. I was just trying to get it right.
The whole experience makes me feel better about my community, my fellow citizens and our judicial system.