Jury duty is dreaded. Everyone who is called for jury duty finds it annoying and a waste of time. I know, I understand but it is really is important. It is not only our civil duty but one day you may need a jury to help you out on a case that is important to you. Some aspect of your life may depend on it.
I just finished three days of jury duty on a civil trial case in Queens, NY. I have been called for jury duty many times but I was never picked until now. In the past I have testified as a witness in a number of cases in front of grand juries and mediation so I am familiar with the court process. Here’s what my experience was as a juror.
Day one of the jury selection process is where at least 150 people wait to be doled out to the different courts. It is a grueling process because there is a lot of waiting. This is where I was picked for the civil case.
Day two is where we showed up in the afternoon to weed out jurors who wouldn’t be good candidates for this trial. After the judge made his selection of 6 jurors and 2 alternates we hear the opening statements of the attorneys and call the plaintiff to the stand.
Mr. K representing the plaintiff began because his client brought the case. In this civil case we were asked to decide only who was at fault in causing a car accident that happened two years ago. There were no other details given about the case. The plaintiff is an 81 year old woman and the defendant is a 20 year old man at this time. Mr. K asked all of us if the age of each driver was an issue in deciding whether a driver is a capable driver and can we be unbiased in deciding the case without age being an issue. He explained how the accident happened on behalf of his clients understanding and reminded us to reconstruct the details based on testimony to find the truth.
Mr. N the attorney for the defendant did the same and added he believed the plaintiff believes her own truth but the pictures entered as evidence could prove his client was not at fault.
Here is where the fun started. The plaintiff takes the stand to testify.
Mr. K began questioning his client on the stand to bring her out as a capable and aware driver. The plaintiff testified and was asked to recall the details of the day of the accident. She reminded me of a sweet senior who was traumatized by this incident and wanted some recourse or retribution in having her car totaled by ending up smashing into a tree with the defendants car squishing her like an accordion. She said she was in the correct lane advancing to her destination. We were shown pictures of the deployed air bag, points of impact on both cars, mangled front ends and back ends, black scrapes on the light car, white scraps of paint on the dark car and the poor tree victim. There were pictures of the road and questions about how and which way she was going. It was noted she was going to pick up MRI films and that was her intentional destination.
The plaintiff had an easy time recalling some of the details but most questions were answered vaguely and with I don’t remember.
I was riveted with attention in listening to the words used and watching the body language of the plaintiff and the two attorneys. Mr. N cross examined the plaintiff and was in fine form in working for his client. His launch began. His questions where direct and fast not to confuse but to prove the plaintiff was not recalling the details as they actually happened. What were the names of the street? Why don’t you remember? Do you usually go this was? Why did you go that way at that time? Which lane were you in? Mr. K objected at least ten times to Mr. N’s questions and the judge sustained seven times with three side bars. Each attorney was giving their best on behalf of their clients. After about half an hour it was wrap up time until the next day. We were advised by the judge not to talk to anyone etc, etc, etc. We were then dismissed.
Day three was about hearing from the defendant and his two witnesses. Mr. N questioned his client in a way that showed him to be a responsible and efficient driver, student and part time worker. Asked to recall the moments leading up to the accident the defendant says he was already in the right lane and the plaintiff came from the center without signaling, smashed into his car hooking his bumper on to the other car and the both went up on the sidewalk with the plaintiffs car crashing into the tree and the defendants car right behind hence producing the accordion effect. I can imagine the sounds and confusion of the moment.
Mr. K cross examines the defendant. Why did he not know the exact second he tried to apply his brakes? Why did he leave his home without a licensed driver with him because he did not have his adult drivers license yet? Why did he pick up his friends? Where they paying him to pick them up? Mr. K was launching an offensive to save this clients case. Mr. N cries objection, judge sustains, there are three more side bars.
The defendants witness testified with the same information as the defendants. Here come the closing arguments. Mr. K revisited the testimony presented and asked us to seek the truth via testimony. Mr. N revisited the testimony and asked us to see the truth via the pictures in evidence.
I was completely absorbed in the process, it felt important. As we, the jury, left the court room, I had a hard time looking anyone in the eye because I didn’t want to feel anything. I liked everyone, I didn’t want to choose. Stuff happens and it is unfortunate to have to litigate about it. If the parties in a court case cannot settle, litigation will bring hard feelings because it was important enough for someone to have their case heard. It was important to win and be right.
The court officer brought us to a small stuffy room and briefed us on the paperwork to be filled out and promptly left. Once inside the energy was high with each of us handling the pictures again. It was exciting to collaborate and join together as a group. Juror 1, the plaintiff wasn’t believable, Juror 2, the damage on the vehicles show the defendant did nothing wrong, Juror 3 the plaintiff was not cooperating with the line of questioning. Juror 4, they hooked onto each other so the plaintiff had to be in the center lane moving to the right. Juror 5, the pictures show the truth, Juror 6, The defendant was bumped by the plaintiff sending them into the tree and sidewalk.
I felt sad to pick one over the other because both sides and their attorneys were nice guys and in a perfect world, in my world, there would have been a compromise. But in this sad reality we had to objectively pick a winner. So we did pick in favor of the defendant unanimously.
Here I have come full circle when I remember the cases I testified on. I won each case and was a believable witness because I told the truth and sought justice. The jury that heard my cases listened to me the same way I listened to this case. Those jury panels were more important than I gave them credit for and I truly appreciate their time and effort and I know my time and effort was deeply appreciated too.
Jury duty may be your civil duty, and despite the temporary inconvenience, you are helping all parties involved to get justice, you help the attorneys service their clients and you have mediated justice in a lawful and objective way. And done so without any pre-qualifications but only as the law states: Trial by an impartial jury. Period
The next time you are called for Jury Duty don’t look at it as a time waster, look at it as a service to someone who needs your help in getting justice. It’s good Karma and you never know when you may need a jury to help you too.