20 November 2016

Jury

Fourteen years ago, an official-looking brown envelope landed on our doormat. I had been selected for jury service.

It would involve two weeks off work just before Eastertime. To tell you the truth, I was delighted. It meant I would miss a particularly hectic period in the school year. It would be like a little holiday. Hurrah!

On the Monday morning, I turned up at Sheffield Crown Court ready to do my duty. I was led to a spacious waiting room with easy chairs, coffee tables, televisions and a kitchen area. There were twenty other jurors there - a random cross-section of Sheffield's citizenship. Soon, a grey-haired court official arrived to explain to us how the next two weeks might unfold and how some jurors might not be needed at all. My heart sank.

However, later that morning, my name was called and with eleven others I was led to the jury room connected to Court Number One.  A foreman was appointed and we trooped into court. The others swore on The Bible that  they would fulfil their duties honestly and to the best of their ability but I read out the alternative atheist pledge. 

Then the lone defendant was led into the court. He was a muscular mixed race fellow aged thirty two with mean black eyes. He gave we twelve jurors several cold stares before the case commenced. The allegation was that he had assaulted a police officer while he was being checked in at a police station following his arrest for other crimes.

Two key pieces of evidence I remember were (a) a photograph of the police officer's swollen mouth and broken front teeth and (b) a photo of the defendant's right fist with red teeth marks upon the knuckles, Still he pleaded not guilty, claiming he had been set upon by policemen at the station and he was just an innocent victim of police brutality. His victim's testimony painted a very different picture. The case unfolded over two and a half days.

Back in the jury room we started to weigh things up but very soon one of the jurors announced that in his view it was all very clear - the police wre to blame and not the defendant. Everybody else protested and then we hunkered down to consider the evidence.

The next morning we reached a majority decision of eleven to one that the defendant was indeed guilty. We returned to the court and informed the judge of our verdict.

It was only then that we discoverd the defendant was already in prison at Leeds for previous violent crimes and that he had a criminal record as long as your arm. The judge added another two years to his sentence.

As the defendant left the court, his mad black eyes scoured the jurors as he yelled that he knew where we lived and warned us to watch our backs - with a few unsavoury expletives thrown in for good measure. I felt like yelling back, "And I know where you live ! In a stinking prison cell. Enjoy it sucker!"

Five years ago, this same unpleasant young man's name appeared in "The Sheffield Star". He had been killed in an underworld revenge shooting. Apparently, drugs and drug money were involved. Unsympathetically, I concluded that the world was probably better off without him. He would be no great loss

And that was the first case of my jury service. It took up most of the first week. Tomorrow - the second week and the second case...

34 comments:

  1. I couldn't resist making a comment when I saw the post had been on for 17 seconds. I've been called for jury duty twice. They have a pool of about 50 people they choose from. The first case the guy elected to appear before a judge only. The second case they had 12 people chosen before they got to me. Guys like you describe are their own worst enemy. They even get killed because of their miserable behaviour.

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    1. Perhaps they didn't pick you because you are a Red (i.e. communist).

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    2. Well a panel of the people should include all types even commies!!!

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  2. I'm not sure what that lone juror was thinking, this guy was obviously a career criminal. Some people are beyond reform, unfortunately. At least he can't hurt anyone else now.

    Jury Duty (like most involuntary public appearances) gives me great anxiety. I've been called once, there were a few dozen of us that were called into a room and then, after about two hours of waiting for an assignment, we were separated into two groups. One group was told to leave the room, and a lump formed in my throat. I thought they were free to leave... but once they cleared the room my group was told our services were not needed. Huge sigh of relief for me, though I'm sure I'll get picked one day.

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    1. We are all different. Having read "Pedestrian Writer" I can appreciate why this would have caused you anxiety. For me it was a happy and peaceful time. As a teacher, the spotlight is always on you but here I was sitting back and quietly observing.

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  3. I've never been summoned for jury duty despite being registered to vote since I was 18. I have friends that get it every couple of years. Strange, but I'm not complaining!

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    1. You are still a young woman Jennifer. They will call on you one day.

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  4. Not something I've ever been called to either - thank goodness. It would be frightening to think that some villain had remembered your face and knew where you lived. I think I'd move !

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    1. Watch out CG! Some of Britain's worst villains now reside in the Spanish Costas. Perhaps tat is why you are there. Were you a gangster's moll?

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  5. Although for some of my life I've been ineligible for jury service (and I'm now at the legal age where I can refuse anyway) I've never actually been called. Mind you the number of jury trials here is very small.

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    1. I guess most trials in Stornoway involve sheep but some of the evidence will be quite woolly.

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  6. I've never been called to be a juror, but if I were, I'd probably be rather excited about it, as it would mean a completley new experience for me. Does that make me sound bad?

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    1. No. It mirrors the feeling I had upon being called. Perhaps I'm bad too...

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  7. A prudent move you made by not yelling out to the defendant. Sometimes it's far better to keep one's mouth shut and thoughts impounded in one's brain!

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    1. You are right there Lee. Just occasionally verbal reactions have poured from my mouth spontaneously and without control. This can get me into hot water.

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    2. I've had a couple of times this week that I've found it difficult to not say what I've felt like saying. I succumbed once, but yanked myself back before doing to much damage! But, I wasn't to blame for my wanting to express my thoughts...it was the words of others!! ;)

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  8. I was called for jury service about 39 years ago…..but when I said that I was due to give birth that week, they let me off! A friend was on a very long case in St. Albans involving body parts that were left in various areas of the countryside..an arm quite near to where I walk the dog, if I remember rightly. She said it was " harrowing". Is there an upper age limit for when they might call? I am probably too old now…I hope.

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    1. Frances the upper age limit for jury service in England and Wales at the moment is 70 but there is a proposal to raise it to 75. In Scotland you may decline to serve if you are over 71.

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    2. Personally I think it is rather ageist to discount our elders. They would have more wisdom and experience to input compared with twenty something jurors.

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    3. Yes YP I agree. That's why they are increasing the age in England and Wales. In Scotland you just have the option not to serve if you are over 71. I think it all stems from the time when 70 was considered old.

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  9. I have never been called to Jury service and as long as it was a non violent or sexual type case I would love to experience it..although a friend sat for weeks and weeks on a tax fraud case and nearly died of boredom.

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    1. I think I was quite lucky with my two cases but I would have happily sat on a big murder case jury lasting many weeks, even if this meant missing a couple of school terms. That's a cross I could have borne in the cause of justice.

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  10. I too have never been called to judge my fellow citizens and am not sure how I would react either...

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    1. I suspect that there'd be a sudden increase in death penalties.

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  11. Wow! Quelle drama! When I served on a jury I had a similar experience, in that I thought the case was clear-cut and the minute the jury adjourned to deliberate, another juror announced a conclusion diametrically opposite to my own. The difference was that we had to have a unanimous verdict. We deliberated for three days before we acquitted the defendant.

    In your case, it definitely sounds like most of your group reached the right conclusion.

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    1. Truth can be a very slippery phenomenon.

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  12. I served on a jury years ago in West Palm Beach, Florida, in which a man accused of stealing a boat and then fraudulently registering it through a forgery was acquitted. Today I think the man was guilty but the defense attorney raised real reasonable doubt about a third person they couldn't produce and the prosecuting attorney was smug and over-confident. Strange how things work.

    I have been summoned twice for jury duty here in Georgia and even interviewed once but wasn't selected either time. Mrs RWP was once summoned to be on a Federal jury in Atlanta but didn't have to participate because she "had a child aged 10 or younger at home" -- our youngest turned 11 a few weeks later.

    Life is what happens to you while you're making other plans. I think John Lennon said that.

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    1. I am so pleased that I actually got to experience jury service in court. One or two of the would-be jurors who turned up that first Monday never got to do the job. I would have felt very disappointed.
      P.S. I would love to sit on a jury in which you are the accused - probably for committing the crime of deriding your neighbouring state. Of course the verdict will be guilty - no matter what evidence is presented in your defence.

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    2. Truth is a defense against libel.

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  13. Regarding age limits for jury service: I was called up aged 70, when I had been retired for over 5 years. Having to go into the city every day was like going back to work and I found it very tiring. It was a fraud case that required a lot of concentration and lasted for 5 weeks. One morning I actually fell asleep as a result of some medication I was taking!

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    1. Oh dear Margaret! Falling asleep while on active jury service! It is a blessing that you didn't finish up in a prison cell yourself. Pyjamas with arrows on would not suit you.

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    2. Knowing where he livea made me laugh.

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