If you are ever fortunate enough to be selected to serve on the Grand Jury in your County, by all means be grateful and look forward to it with great expectations. I have served twice now and it was a very satisfying experience both times.
But you might be inclined to say, Oh, I’ve been selected for Jury Duty before and it was very disappointing. I showed up several mornings and was never selected. But that was a horse of a different color. I am not talking now about a trial jury, which sometimes is, by its very nature , a disappointing experience when you are rejected. But that is something else entirely.
When you are selected for the Grand Jury, your very selection guarantees that you WILL serve. You attend on a certain day of the week for a definite number of weeks. In my case I went every Tuesday for nine weeks, from 9:00 in the morning until the day’s cases were finished, usually around lunch time.
So, what did I find so great about serving on the Grand Jury? I can name several things that made it well worth my time.
First of all, there is the excitement that you feel when you begin to sense that you are a part of something important, something that deserves your very best and honest effort.
When a person is caught in a criminal offense, he/she is charged by the prosecuting attorney, in our case the District Attorney, through a document called an indictment. The District Attorney of our county would bring a group of these indictments to the Grand Jury each Tuesday morning. On a typical day we would hear between thirty and thirty five such indictments.
On each indictment the procedure would be the same. The District Attorney would come into our meeting room and, after a few introductory remarks, would bring in the first witness. The witness was usually one of various types of law officers but could also be a sales person in a department store or grocery store when a crime like shop lifting was involved.
The District Attorney would then administer the oath to the witness and then ask the witness to give his/her testimony as to what happened in the case. We could ask any questions that we had, at any time, of the witness or the District Attorney. Questions could be about any of the specifics of the case or about questions of law that the facts of the case raised in our minds. There was always a sense of fairness to the Law, to the witness, to the accused, to anyone who might have been the victim, and to the Jury.
When all of our questions were answered the District Attorney and the witness would leave the room. In complete privacy the Jury would discuss and then vote on the indictment, taking as much time as we needed. If we had further questions we could recall the District Attorney and/or the witness.
If we felt that the facts presented were evidence that a crime had been committed that warranted a trial, we would vote true billand then the case would be eligible to go to trial. If we felt that the facts presented did not show probable cause, that is, did not seem to us to show that a crime had, indeed, been committed, then we would vote a no billand the case would probably not go to trial.
It was a very democratic procedure. We were never rushed or coerced in any way. We were always respected and our questions and opinions were always taken seriously.
The second great value to me was that the Grand Jury experience was a constant source of new knowledge about the law. The District Attorney was always very careful to define any new terms as they were introduced in testimony. She would take whatever time necessary to clarify any questions we had and we had many.
We learned the real meaning of terms that we had, perhaps, heard many times in our lives but never really understood, like the difference between malice murder and felony murder, or between murder and manslaughter. We learned the meaning of aggravated assault as opposed to simple battery. Each day we added new vocabulary and new concepts to our note books. After nine weeks we were considerably smarter about the law than we had been before.
The third value was the sense of team spirit and oneness that developed. There were 23 of us on the Jury. Roughly half of these were male and half female. Half were black and half, caucasian. Our ages ranged from , perhaps 35 to my 76. The District Attorney was a young woman who was attractive, open, very serious and knowledgeable about her work but at the same time able to convey a warm and often humorous enjoyment of what we were doing as a team.
The Assistant District Attorney, who headed several of our sessions, was also enjoyable to work with. An added plus was the many Deputies, Detectives, and special Agents, male and female, mostly young people, who served as witnesses. Perhaps the best indication of my sense of team spirit might be that, every time I see a police car, after my experience with the Grand Jury, I feel somehow that I am a part of the team that the police car represents. It is as though I would like to go up to the police car and just say, Hello my friend!
There are other enjoyable facets to the Grand Jury experience but I will just name one more. Even though the events that we considered each day were of a serious nature that impacted many lives, it was, nevertheless, an exciting series of personal vignettes that were a kaleidoscope of suspense, human error, and even humor. Sometimes, in fact, there were blunders on the part of the would be thieves that would have made an entertaining episode of I Love Lucy. But every day was different and, truly, there was never a dull moment.
Would I want to do it again? Oh, yes. I would be glad to do it again every year. First, because I believe it is an important part of maintaining safety and justice for our society but also, selfishly, because I really enjoyed the time I spent with the team.
So I say again, if you are ever selected to serve on your local Grand Jury, or whatever might be the equivalent in the country where you reside, don’t try to avoid it by some means. Instead, look forward to a very enjoyable and enlightening experience.