Colorado Probate Blog - Wade Ash Woods Hill & Farley, P.C.

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Serving Time; One Lawyer’s Perspective on Jury Duty

I’m sure that it’s every lawyer’s dream to serve on a jury panel at some point in their lives (read this with a healthy dose of sarcasm). Personally, I’ve always been very curious to see the fact-finding side of a jury trial while the jury is in deliberation. This past August, I ended up as the foreperson in a three-day trial, and came away with some surprising observations and lessons learned.

The first lesson I learned was that being excused from one jury call may not necessarily result in sweet, sweet freedom. Upon learning that I had lost count of the DUI trials I had conducted as a prosecutor early in my career, the defense attorney kindly excused me from service in his client’s own DUI trial. Unfortunately, enough people had failed to respond to their jury summons that the first panel’s rejects, including me, were instructed to re-enter the jury pool for a second round.

The second lesson I learned is that the oft-heard adage of “no good deed goes unpunished” is generally quite true. The second jury call I was involved in was for a trial on charges of felony burglary and providing false information to a pawnbroker. Because the defendant was representing himself, I carefully described my practice background, including the fact that I was a former prosecutor, in the initial self-introductions we were asked to make.

To my surprise and despite my disclosures, the defendant asked me no questions and made no challenges, leaving me impaneled on his jury despite my background in criminal prosecution.

As with any proceeding involving a pro se litigant, the process limped along in many places, although I was endlessly impressed with the patience and professionalism of both the presiding judge and the assistant district attorney. After two very long days of taking testimony, during which we were allowed to take notes and ask written questions approved by the judge (to make sure that they met the requirements of applicable rules of evidence), and also during which the defendant himself took the stand, we were read the approved jury instructions and ushered into the jury room to begin our deliberations.

The third lesson I learned was the best of all: my worst fears of stereotypically apathetic or argumentative (or both) jurors were never realized. My eleven fellow jurors were among some of the most thoughtful, respectful, and considerate people I have ever had the pleasure of working with. We reviewed the physical evidence, discussed witness testimony and credibility in detail, and broke down the elements of each crime as they were presented in the jury instructions. We worked very hard to apply the evidence presented at trial in the most objective way possible. We accommodated each other’s opinions, viewpoints, and life experiences as applied to the evidence. In short, the process worked exactly like it was supposed to.

I know very few people who truly want to sit in judgment over another human being and, because of this, serving as a juror will never be an easy undertaking. Juries, however, are an indispensable part of our justice system. Trial by jury separates us from dictatorships and totalitarian regimes. Service on a jury is well worth the time and effort involved.

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