Yesterday, I was downtown for jury selection. The case to be tried was a DWI case. The defendant already had two prior convictions for the same offense. Of course, I was not eager to follow the summons for jury duty — it’s so inconvenient. On the other hand, trial by jury is a right we who live in a free country must consider sacred. But aren’t there enough others who can do it?
So, when I was getting up at six in the morning (considerably earlier than usual), putting on my make up, and getting dressed, my brain was working hard trying to figure out what to say that would disqualify me as a juror. Alas, I came up with some statements that wouldn’t please both the prosecution and the defense.
But things turned out to be completely different than I had expected.
It was the second time I’d been part of the U.S. justice system. The first time, I was released right after the lunch break. This time I had the opportunity to experience the entire procedure of jury selection. And what can I say? I consider myself blessed to live in a country with a justice system geared at being as fair as possible to all parties involved. After all, it could happen to each and everyone of us. Chances are that we ourselves might end up in court, for whatever reason. I could be in the hot seat of the defendant someday or you might be the victim of a crime, fighting for your rights.
To make a long story short: I was at the Bexar County Justice Center from 7:30 am to 6:30 pm. But I must say that these hours were well spent. One pleasant side effect of the long stay in the jury selection room was that I’ve met some very nice fellow Texans; we had a great time just talking.
The most valuable experience, however, was watching both the prosecution and the defense pick their candidates. In this case, I would say that the prosecution appeared to be the least manipulative party involved while the defense attorney was working a little too hard to convince us of the defendant’s innocence before the trial had even started. At some point during this procedure, I even hoped I could serve on this jury — believe it or not.
There was also an unexpected, heart-wrenching side to this entire experience which touched me deep inside and eventually inspired me to write this post. I was shocked when I heard how many lives of potential jurors had been affected by alcoholism or the indiscriminate use of alcohol: fatal accidents; crippled daughters, sons, fathers; battered wives, abused children – so much pain caused by a drug most of us still consider relatively harmless. After each and everyone of those whose lives had forever been changed by this drug had made their statements, my stomach felt like lead.
All in all, I don’t consider the hours spent at the Justice Center wasted time any longer. I entered the building, passing through the metal detector, viewing jury duty as a bother. I left the building in the evening through the back door (the main entrance was already locked) considering myself lucky to live in a country with a justice system aiming to be fair to both the victim and the accused. Most of all, though, I feel so lucky that my live has not been touched by the tragedies so many of the people in the same room with me did describe.
So, I use this blog today to ask all of you to support our justice system by not avoiding jury duty; if you care for justice — really care — not only talk loud about injustice and corruption, go and be part of the system. You as a juror make all the difference!
Second: please, please do not drive, if you have consumed alcohol. You might become the person who destroyed a beautiful, healthy child’s life by crippling her. You might become the one responsible for taking away a caring parent from his children. You might be the one to shame your own children and family for having done what you have done.