Catholic Free Press

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Doing your civic duty – serve on a jury

Posted By May 1, 2017 | 12:55 pm | Local
Cronin_BobColor

By Bob Cronin / Senior Scene

 

Several weeks ago I got a strange looking piece in the mail, not an envelope but a rather legal looking document that prompted some close inspection. It informed me that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts expected me to be at the District Court in Fitchburg at 8:30 a.m. on a Monday morning several weeks hence possibly to serve on a jury. The notice amused me at first reading and I laughed to think that at my age anyone would want me to serve on a jury. Then I gave it some further thought. I had to practice what I preached!
I have taught citizenship classes for many years and one of things I have always stressed are the responsibilities that go with that privilege among which are the right to vote and the obligation to perform jury duty. After telling so many classes what their obligations were, how could I not follow through and perform accordingly? Although I could have been excused because of age, I held myself to a higher accounting after all the new citizens I had urged to sit if called to duty. I was sure it would be a quick trip. They would never call an old geezer like me.
I reported into the Jury Room with a few minutes to spare and there were probably a dozen folks there before me. Soon a personable bailiff gave us some preliminary instructions and played a tape illustrating the part we were to play. In short order we were given numbers and shown into a courtroom.
The judge introduced himself and the assistant district attorney who would prosecute the case and the defense attorney. He then questioned several of the panel about their eligibility and soon seven members were chosen to sit as a jury. To my amazement, I was one of them.
The other folks who were not chosen were thanked graciously for having reported and for their willingness to serve. Throughout the entire process we were treated with the greatest civility and respect even in the smallest matters. We were made to feel that we truly were an integral part of the judicial process.
The judge explained in detail how the trial would proceed, who each person was and the part they had in the trial. He spelled out what the charges were and what that meant in everyday terms. He stressed repeatedly that we were to consider nothing except what heard in the courtroom and there was to be absolutely no supposition or conjecture on our parts.
We had been told earlier that seven would be picked for service but one would be chosen by lottery to become an alternate and that six would be the final jury members and the alternate was available if a regular was not able to perform. We also learned that any verdict we reached must be unanimous.
We were introduced to three persons who would be witnesses in the case and then the charges were read to the defendant, He stood and faced the jury as he heard the details of the assault charges which had been filed against him. It was difficult not to have some compassion for the anxious and disconcerted young man standing before us, but we had sworn to go by facts and not opinions, by testimony not supposition.
After we heard from the witnesses and the lawyers, the judge gave us our instructions. He spelled out in detail what the charges were and what circumstances and details would have to be met to come back with a guilty verdict. He stressed repeatedly that the only facts we could use on which to make a judgement were those presented in the courtroom by witnesses, lawyers and our own common sense.  Then the case was given to us, we the jury, to decide.
Both sides had presented the facts of the case well and there were few questions. Now six of us would make a decision which would affect the future of the young man who appeared before us. As we retired to the Jury Room and sat there was a prolonged silence. It seemed as though we all realized the importance of the task and were not ready to discuss it yet, even among ourselves. Finally, the quiet was broken and we began our discussions
Our group consisted of five ladies and “yours truly,” and I think we performed our duty as expected. Each member had questions, asked about presentations and raised some interesting points of view. After about 20 minutes it was clear that we were all thinking alike, when we were told that it was lunch time. Lunch would be on the Commonwealth and the pizza would be along shortly and after lunch time, court would be back in session at 2 p.m.
During that hour of munching pizza we got to know a bit about each other, like the young lady who was studying sociology at an area college or the lady whose grandson was at Worcester State University. I had been asked to serve as foreman of the jury, so as 2 o’clock approached we got back to the business at hand, arriving at a verdict. We went around the table one more time and reached a final and unanimous verdict in the case. I signed the verdict sheet as foreman and passed it around for all to inspect. At precisely 2 o’clock we summoned our ever-present bailiff and announced we had reached a verdict.
The court rose as the jury returned and we were asked if we had a verdict  We said that we had. I  was asked to announce the verdict and the judge polled each of us as to whether or not we agreed, He then asked us to retire back to the Jury Room where he would meet with us.
In a few moments the judge sat with us and thanked us for serving, and asked if we had any questions. He asked sincerely if we had any suggestions about how things might be improved.
We were told that we would not get another call to serve for at least three years, but I know this. In three year’s time,  if they are willing to take a man in his 90s, I’ll be there.
Enjoy the spring weather and God bless!