30 May 2006

My day on the Jury

I was summoned to jury duty here in Alachua County, and reported as directed last Monday, May 22nd. After a relatively speedy orientation, we were separated into groups and assigned to trials. A portion of us were then selected for an 18 person panel and questioned by the attorneys. All of the questions were pretty inocuous, mostly referring to potential juror's relationships with law enforcement and employment. I happened to see an acquaintance from High School who is now an elementary school teacher. She was later excused (you'll see why later).

The final questions had to do with the subject of the case, Child Pornography, which I was surprised to learn must depict some kind of sexual conduct. Images of naked children do not qualify as child porn and are therefore legal to possess. This makes sense in the case of a parent that takes a cute picture of a baby in a bathtub, but there are other areas that are, to use a non-legal term, creepy. We were asked if we would be uncomfortable dealing with the issue. The sentiment was almost unanimous in the affirmative, but everyone on the panel felt that they could carry out their duty to decide matters of fact in the case. Of the 18 panel members, 7 were selected for the jury, and I was among them.

The case began the next Friday and we arrived at the Courthouse ready to go: a professor, a full-time volunteer/business owner, 2 students, a waitress, an art dealer, and me. I was impressed with the diversity of the group and also with the determination of each juror to abide by the rules. This meant that we were not permitted to discuss any aspect of the trial until deliberations began later that day. As you can imagine, the content of the trial made it difficult to avoid conversation, but we did so. It was interesting to return to the jury room during recesses and shoot the breeze, which was exactly what we were expected to do. There were times where the mood was a bit more somber, owing to what we saw.

We were required to look at 7 images entered as evidence. It would be up to us to decide if the images depicted both children and sexual conduct. I was excited to be on a jury, but not excited by the charges and to have to see any photos. Initially the defendant was arrested for possessing 29 images. I don't know why the charge was reduced to 7, but 7 was quite enough for me. I found out later that each count carries a possible term of 5 years.

In the end the case was pretty straightforward. After the sides rested their case I was actually excused having been randomly selected as the alternate. It was disappointing as deliberation would have been the reward for sitting through an entire day. The case itself was somewhat mundane, as different things have to be substantiated that don't ever make it into a one hour episode of Law & Order. A fellow juror called me afterward to let me know that there was not much to decide. He was found guilty on 6 of 7 counts (there was one ambiguous photo).

All in all, I was glad to participate in the experience. I would do it again. I was impressed by the responsibility of providing a just verdict. I think we did that.

We also had an excellent lunch at Big Lou's New York Style Pizzeria.

No comments: