Last Tuesday, June 17, something that many of us dread interrupted my life at a most inconvenient time. Yep, I was not only in the jury pool for our county, not only did the trial actually take place, but I was also selected to serve in a six person jury on a criminal case. And, perhaps amazingly, I learned some very valuable lessons.
- The jury system will find thinking people. I met five new friends on the jury and was impressed. Two women, four men. Age range from mid-twenties to mid-sixties. A production worker. A nurse. An insurance agent. A housewife. A retired grain elevator worker. Me. Blue collar. White collar. No collar. A genuine cross section of our community. And every one took the task seriously, despite the hassle it was for each of us to be there. Not a hint of flippancy or boredom with the issues at hand.
- My expectations were jolted. The attorneys, the defendant, the victim all put the outcome, willingly, to the collective judgment of the six of us. This somehow amazed me. Perhaps I’ve been too jaded by media coverage of high-profile cases in which everyone seemed to be an actor. In this local case, it was a genuine dependence on the assessment of six virtually anonymous people.
- "Why didn’t the dog bark?" Our case centered on two different stories of the same event. Was it or wasn’t it a crime? Which story would we believe? It came down to the classic logic of the old Sherlock Holmes story; Holmes looked at what didn’t happen, not only what did happen. Our decision hinged on one such "non action".
- A court doing plus/delta? At about 5:15pm, after a full day in court, we delivered our verdict. The judge thanked us, dismissed us and invited the six jurors to his chamber. We were kind of amazed, but went to his office, where he came in shortly and asked us "What went well? What can we improve for you as jurors?" He listened, asked good questions, made notes, explained issues. He explained earlier changes they had made. We had a 45 minute rehash of the day. Fascinating. Yes, a county court system can do continuous improvement, too.
- Visual systems work. One improvement the judge told us about was the mandate by the Indiana State Supreme Court that jurors now receive written preliminary and final instructions. It seems that until earlier this year, the jury only received oral instructions. Tuesday, we each received photocopies of the instructions as well as oral statements. It was critical for us to have such "standard work instructions" as we deliberated in private. The documentation was crucial to get it right.
- The system works. Justice was served. The verdict was right and fair.
I hope this is helpful.
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