What is it like to serve on a jury in Pima County’s Superior Court? Having just done my duty for the first time, it was the high drama part that surprised me.
My jury experience started with a summons to appear for duty on September 25, but with no time of day given. For that information, I was instructed to login to a Pima Jury Duty Website after 3:30 P.M. the day before my report date.
I reported for duty at the courthouse at 8:30 A.M. and was greeted by a sea of very diverse people. We were all assigned to one of four groups, 45 people per group, and squeezed into a large first-floor room awaiting instructions. Orientation consisted of a well done, 15-minute patriotic video about jury service in Arizona.
I waited five hours—fortunately I brought a good book—before my group 122 was asked to follow the bailiff to the courtroom of Judge Carmine Cornelio on the fourth floor. After waiting for 30 more minutes, 18 members of our group were identified and asked to take seats in the jury area. The rest of our group, which included me, was asked to sit in the visitor’s section and listen to the proceedings.
After everyone was seated, the judge reported that this was a criminal case, identified the defendant and her attorney, the prosecuting attorney, and read the charges. He explained that in this case—a potential three-time DUI conviction—some people may be excused based on their biases. He asked several well-thought-out questions and solicited each potential juror’s opinion. His professionalism, sense of humor and respect for everyone was remarkable given the fact that several people rambled on about their personal beliefs, not able to answer his questions.
As the judge did his Q&A, both attorneys wrote on sticky notes the names of potential jurors they liked or disliked. The judge was also doing some weeding on his own. After he’d excuse a potential juror, he’d call someone sitting in my section to take the vacated jury seat. Finally my name was called. The judge had excused 20 people before he asked those seated as potential jurors where we lived in Tucson, did we have bumper stickers on our cars, what were our hobbies, etc. Some of the answers disqualified more people. At 4:40 P.M. the judge asked the bailiff to find ten more people awaiting assignments on the first floor. He conferred with both attorneys, and reported that more people needed to be screened. The group seated as potential jurors—18 people—should report to the courtroom at 9:30 A.M. the next day; the ten new people in the visitor’s section were asked to report at 8:30 A.M.
Before the day started, I thought jury duty was a significant inconvenience. Now I had second thoughts about this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
On my second day of jury duty, I waited outside the courtroom for 30 minutes before I took a seat in the visitors section, along with 22 potential jurors. The judge said that we had all been prequalified to serve as jurors, but only nine of us would be called. I wanted to be one of those jurors. Then the names were called, “Juror number one is Casey, number two Andrew, number three Aaron, number four Don, number five Jade, number six Rachel, number seven Caren and number eight is Sherri.” That’s when I knew my name would not be called. But as I dejectedly prepared to get up and go home, I heard, “The ninth juror is Richard.”
As I walked to take my seat, I was light-headed. After sitting down, I felt surreal, having miraculously dodged another uneventful day in the life of a 68-year-old retiree. The jury was given a 20-page booklet with instructions on what we could and could not do during the trial and emphatically admonished not to talk to anyone, including fellow jurors, about the case until after the trial was over.
The responsibility of making a good decision, the correct decision, was ever present on my mind throughout the trial. After two days of hearing evidence, the judge reported that the case was now in the hands of the jurors, giving us a 22-page booklet with specific instructions. But only eight people would make the decision. The judge explained that one of us was serving as an alternate and would not participate in the final decision. Knowing I was juror number nine, I thought I’d be the one to go; not what I wanted. He then stated that the alternate juror would be determined by lots. His clerk reached into a box, picked out a sheet of paper, and read, “Sherri.” I wanted to serve to the very end and breathed a sigh of relief.
Once settled into the jury’s deliberation room, we voted for Aaron to be our foreman. There were four counts against the defendant and on each count there had to be unanimity for a conviction. Aaron carefully read each count. Based on the relevant facts in this case, did we believe the defendant was guilty, not guilty or were we not sure? It didn’t take long to reach a unanimous decision—guilty on all four counts; a tough decision, but the right one. However, that was not enough. He thought it prudent to have each of the jurors explain why he or she had made their decision. In so doing, I learned a lot about my fellow jurors, their rational thinking skills and the wisdom of the jury system. While it may not always work, my guess is that this system is one of the bright shining stars of the U.S. Judicial System.