2003.10.10 – a hippie on the jury

Grand Jury. Sounds like it could be exciting, right? Well, that is where you would be wrong. Finishing up a Grand Jury term this week, I feel totally drained. Indicting people is exhausting. All we really had to do was sit and listen to witness testimony and prosecutors arguments, but it was draining.

Deciding the fate of another human being is not the easiest task. There is solace in the fact that our decisions were not final. The accused still have a chance in court with a trial jury.

New York is one of only 18 states in America that still uses a Grand Jury system. The other 32 states have elected to dispense of this antiquated system and simply have District Attorneys signoff on cases. Basically, the Grand Jury system is only around now to help the prosecutors. To show them if they really have enough evidence to take an accused individual to court for a felony. If there isn’t enough evidence, the Grand Jury can dismiss the case and the prosecutor must find new evidence in order to reopen the case.

The most striking thing about attending Grand Jury proceedings is how relaxed they are. On the first day of service I was expecting a very formal situation where I would need to continue to dress in my work clothes. This is not the case. We were ushered into a small room with 20 elevated chairs and 3 chairs at a desk, a small witness booth, and an even smaller desk for the prosecutor to question from. The stenographer brings in the stenograph at the beginning of each case. There are many breaks and we were able to eat in the room, even during testimony. Nothing like what you would expect. Although there were tense moments throughout the month (especially when individuals who were incarcerated testified and had to be accompanied by a very large guard), but overall it was an interesting experience.

Most people want to get out of jury duty, but you should think again before making up a silly excuse. Especially if you get paid by your company to attend jury service. It is a welcome break from the work week and it can be highly informative. Making you more aware of your surroundings and more interested in following the news in paper, radio or television form. It also gives you a clear view of how skewed the news media actually happens to be. When you know the facts of a case and then hear the news report later in the week, you realize that the local news just scrapes together what they can get to report on. They rarely have all the facts in a case and most of the time have misinformation.

The only real frustrating part of jury service is the fact that you have to keep everything completely secret. With Grand Jury it is even more secretive for the mere fact that if a case is dismissed the accused may never know they were being investigated. Leaking a story would be detrimental to those individuals who are truly innocent. I had a hard time the first week keeping things to myself, but by the end of the month I was a pro at it. The severity of some of the later cases was enough to keep me quiet. Nightmares are not uncommon and I’ll certainly be much more cautious when walking down the street now, but it is good to be informed. It is good to know what you are up against in life and especially in your neighbourhood!


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