While I had planned to arrive on time, before 8:20 a.m. I arrived at 8:25 a.m. feeling flustered. My pride in being punctual was wounded. Walking into the courthouse felt as if I were checking through TSA at an airport. A policeman took my purse and coat to be x-rayed. The metal detector alarmed when I walked through it, causing the officer tending the machine to lean forward and look down at my shoes. He grunted, “Buckles”.
Approaching a desk with a “Jurors Check In Here” sign, I apologized, “I’m sorry I’m late. I didn’t allow enough drive time.”
The jury attendant smiled reassuringly and said, “You’re just in time.” He led me down a flight of stairs to a room where about two dozen people were waiting. Within moments of my arrival we watched a film showing what was expected of a jury member. We were instructed to speak clearly, never nod our heads, say yes or no, answer only what was asked. Then we were led up a few flights of stairs to a courtroom.
As I slowly made my way up the steps, I thought to myself, “It isn’t even 9:00 a.m. yet and I’ve gone up and down six flights of steps. It’s a good thing my knee is doing as well as it is.”
The courtroom was large but there were no spectators in it. The case to be tried involved a young man contesting a DUI (driving under the influence) charge. A rap of the judge’s gavel signaled the start of the proceedings.
21 potential jurors had been summoned for the jury pool. In the following hour we were asked several questions to gauge our partiality, reducing the number of people qualified to serve. Questions like, “Have you or a member of your family ever been charged with a DUI?” If anyone raised their hand the next question was, “Will you be able be impartial in this case?” If they answered no, they were excused. Remaining potential jurors were approved or rejected through a collaboration between the prosecutor and defense lawyers. A DUI charge is a civil case, not a criminal one, so only six jurors were needed instead of the more familiar 12.
I wasn’t surprised when I was chosen to be one of the six jurists. I didn’t know the judge, defendant, either of the lawyers or anyone else involved in the case.
Sitting in the jury box made me feel anxious, almost claustrophobic because at home I am accustomed to frequently getting up to move around whenever I want.
Once the trial questioning began, I found the questions repetitious, asked over in different ways. The defendant said he couldn’t remember if he had anything to drink in the hours before he drove off the highway into a soybean field. The young man was able to remember who attended the party.
A passing motorist called 911 to report the accident. The policeman who responded to the call said the young man’s breath smelled of alcohol and he had slurred speech. When asked by the policeman the young man admitted to having had a few beers at the family party he’d left an hour earlier. This prompted the policeman to administer a field sobriety test which demonstrated some impairment. An arrest was made, and the young man was taken to a local hospital for a blood draw to test the level of alcohol in his blood. It tested above the legal limit.
The person who drew the blood testified, as did the second policemen who was at the scene of the accident, and as the person from Madison who had tested the blood.
The silence in that huge courtroom between testimonies almost made my ears hurt. When a tickle in my throat made me cough, one of the jury attendants jumped to his feet to pass a cough drop to me.
The defense focused mostly on the possibility of the blood drawn at the hospital being contaminated, the test being mislabeled or done wrong in Madison. Despite testimony to the contrary, the lawyer insisted that it was possible that contaminated blood could ferment before being tested, resulting in the elevated blood alcohol reading.
After lengthy closing statements made by the prosecutor and defense lawyers, and a lengthy instruction by the judge to the jury on how to deliberate the case, the four men, the other woman and I exited to the jury conference room.
Up to this point the jury attendants were ever present to ensure we didn’t discuss the case before the trial was over. After instructing us to knock on the door when a verdict had been reached, they left the room to give us privacy as we made our decision.
There was little discussion. Our votes were unanimous, an anti-climactic let-down. We returned to the courtroom where the judge read our verdict.
The judge and prosecutor thanked us for our service and my fellow jurors and I left the courthouse feeling as if we’d been let out of school early. I was happy because I had faithfully served lady justice.
Very well written.