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'Madam Foreman' tries hand at jury duty

November 9, 2012 12:10 am

WHEN I was summoned for my third term of jury duty, I had one wish.

Please let me be part of a jury this time.

I never made it to a trial the previous two times I was called.

As luck would have it, I was seated on not one, but two juries this go-round.

The lesson here? Be careful what you wish for.

It's not that jury duty was unpleasant. I learned a lot, especially when the defendant decided to represent himself.

I came away with a clear idea of what NOT to do, if I were ever foolish enough to try the same.

I didn't mind making the decision about guilt or innocence. Both cases were so cut-and-dried, I wondered why the defendants thought they had a chance with a jury.

Without giving too many details, let me say the first case was about a person caught on camera stealing store items, and the second was a driver caught on radar speeding.

The evidence made it easy to say "guilty" to both.

Determining a person's sentence, as we had to do with the shoplifter, was harder. This was more power than any of us ladies and gentlemen of the jury wanted.

Because the shoplifting charge was a repeat offense, the defendant could be sentenced to a few days in jail or up to five years in prison.

That's a pretty wide range. I was uncomfortable with the task, as were several people around me. Someone with more knowledge of the judicial system should have made that decision.

But the judge gave us our orders, and we obeyed. And believe it or not, we came to an agreement fairly quickly. Maybe it was because the jury foreman was so adept at bringing about a conclusion.

I'm smirking as I type this. Just because I wanted to see the paperwork on the case once we were in the jury room and started noting the more interesting details, the jurors named me foreman.

Or "Madam Foreman" as the judge called me.

I told my family I'd like to be addressed as such in the future, but no one went for it.

After my third term of jury duty, I've thought about a few aspects of the session.

Mainly, I wondered why I was picked this time. The judge said not to take it personally when you're rejected from the jury--and when I was in the past, I did, of course. I wondered if it was how I looked or carried myself or what I do for a living.

After being selected, I have the same questions. I also wonder if I somehow look more sympathetic or intelligent in my 50s than I did when I was in my 40s or 30s.

I like the formality of the court system, the way the "Madam Foreman" hands the verdict to the bailiff, who gives it to the judge, who reads it, then passes it to the clerk, who announces it.

I did not like the way my name, as foreman, was read after the verdict.

I was somewhat surprised by the demographics. Both days in court, I didn't see a single person of color among potential jurors.

Young people were hard to come by, too. I saw a woman who might have been in her late 20s on the second court day, but am certain most of the jurors were mid-30s or older.

Females clearly were in the majority. On the first day, when 12 jurors were needed, 10 of those picked were women. The second time, six of seven were women.

One of the token males on the first jury joked afterward that he thought women would go easy on the defendant.

He was surprised we found her guilty so quickly.

Guess he hasn't reached the same verdict that's obvious to me--and clear to attorneys who pad the jury box with females. Women aren't just the kinder and gentler sex, they're also the smarter one.

Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425
Email: cdyson@freelancestar.com





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