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Monday, May 06, 2013

jury duty, accountability, and the light

At the age of 45, I've only been called for jury duty three times. The first time (age 26) I was excused for exams in seminary. The second time was in 1999 and though I reported for service, I was not needed and went home after an hour. Then I was called last week. We were told there were only three trials, two shorter civil cases and one criminal case projected to last the week. I was called right off the bat to a pool of 40 for the week-long case. We spent the whole first day in jury selection and as we were closing in on 5pm, with the jury of 12 finally selected, I was called up for consideration as the first alternate juror. After about 10 minutes of questions, the defense passed on me and I went home. Sound boring? Far from it...

Mind you, I only heard the most basic description of the case. But the 5-6 hours of jury selection were one of the more fascinating and revealing things I've witnessed.

The Process

We were randomly selected from voting registrations and driver's license registrations in our large county. If you aren't familiar with how jury selection works, an initial 12 people are put into the box, but then the judge, prosecutor, and defense have opportunities to ask questions and dismiss jurors for a range of reasons (from "cause" - like a mother whose infant had just gone to the hospital - to either the prosecution or defense not thinking a particular juror would be fair to the case). It was not made clear how many people or times the attorneys could pass... but each juror was questioned thoroughly, either as a result of group questions or individual questions.

Humanity on Display

I have what I think is a pretty realistic view of the human condition (i.e., our ability and propensity to sin and otherwise misbehave), but I was surprised that among the original 12 jurors there were at least half with drug charges (including two who had court dates later that week), 2-3 who had been charged or convicted of domestic violence, several others who were victims of domestic violence (in one case a victim of domestic violence had to sit next to a convicted perpetrator of domestic violence). A bit later in selection, one juror asked to be dismissed because he had been convicted of a murder charge, served his time, and been released (which is why he could be called, I think), but strongly believed he had not had a fair trial and could thus not offer an open mind as a juror.  There were others as well - a nurse that was dismissed for (presumably) bringing too much compassion to bear as a juror.  It was an interesting question that elicited most of this: "Have you ever been inside a courthouse? For what reason?" In several cases, the prosecutor (district attorney) asked if his office had not prosecuted several when they mentioned drug charges. Prospective jurors were (of course) expected to answer truthfully, and the early indication I got was that they would be caught if they tried to avoid answering the courthouse question, especially for those with former appearances in this county.

In the Light

However, my point isn't the background or record of the potential jurors, as surprising or abundant as those details were. What more profoundly occurred to me was how much was brought into the light for all those present. I don't think juror ___ woke up that morning anticipating that he would have to announce loudly to a room full of people (including the defendant) that he had been arrested of domestic violence (or, in other cases, drug possession, brawling, or murder). I would have guessed that the defendant would be "on trial" for actions, motives, and more; I did not anticipate how much the potential jurors would have to reveal about themselves, their actions, and their motives. Each juror had to answer the "Have you been inside a courthouse" question and the District Attorney was not satisfied until every occurrence had been noted. Many would quickly admit to a speeding ticket or watching a friend's trial, but then the attorney would always ask, "Were there any other times?" He would continue until the answer was clearly, "No, that's it." In many cases, these admissions were whispered with heads ducked and voices low. But the attorneys and court reporter had to hear it, so the potential juror would be asked to repeat the answer louder. Again, the answer would not be loud enough, so then a microphone would be passed to them and finally this or that 'sin' would boom through the sound system, "I was arrested on a domestic charge.... she pushed my buttons."

Again, my thought was not, "What a bad person," BUT how much was being drug into the light (and amplified through a sound system). And it's not like one could easily side-step this; when summoned, you have to appear. When asked, you have to answer. Refusing in either case would just put you afoul of the law.

Spiritual Realities

My preacher-brain was firing on multiple pistons. The whole experience was a powerful (if stark) demonstration of the unyielding nature of the law. The judge was the sole interpreter of law - both attorneys made that clear on numerous occasions. All movement, speech, activity, attention, and more inside the courtroom was diligently overseen and directed, with the bailiff at hand to enforce it. And when asked a question, truth was expected.

The jurors were not "on trial" - but our pasts, presents, and hidden secrets were brought into the light. And that did have bearing on our perceived (or real) effectiveness as jurors.

I think analogies between this earthly courtroom scene and spiritual realities are imprecise at best, but there was much about the scene that struck this pastor's mind as real and true. All will be brought to light; all will be known and held accountable. The jurors were not on trial, but they were accountable to the judge and to the truth.

I believe all humanity and each of us is and will be accountable to Jesus Christ, who is the Truth. Serving on jury duty was a sobering reminder of that, even as I was reminded of the great mercy shown to me through Jesus Christ.

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