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Musings on the Jury System

Posted 8/31/2015

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  I begin by begging your forgiveness as this has nothing to do with cancer. I am just home, having been sprung from jury duty after spending 2/3 of the work day at the Middlesex Superior Court in Woburn. If you have to go to court for any reason in Middlesex Country, this would be one to consider. It is easy to find, just off 128, lots of free parking, in a big office complex. That is the good news.

  Actually, in fairness, there is more good news than that. We were treated fairly and kindly; the space was new and clean, and the system moved along pretty efficiently. Of course, I have been called for jury duty before, but I got further this time than I have in the past. Other times, I just sat with the crowd as some people were pulled away, and then was dismissed about noon. This time, holding number 68, I was called first thing with everyone holding numbers 1-86. We went upstairs and sat in a court room for the next four hours.

  Tidbit to remember: At least in this courthouse, electronic devices were allowed in the first assembly/waiting room. They were not allowed in the court room; fortunately, I had also brought a book. People who had anticipated being able to read or otherwise entertain themselves with phones or tablets or computers quickly became very bored. 

  The judge began by asking us seven or eight questions as a group. If our answer was "yes", we were asked to hold aloft our number card, and one of the court officers read off the numbers to someone who presumably wrote them down. The questions were things like: "Do you or anyone in your family work for the Corrections Department or the Police Department?" and "Have you or anyone in your family been a victim of a crime?" Before the questions began, we were given a very brief synopsis of the case, a criminal case involving a man who was incarcerated at the time of the incident. We were told the case would likely last all week.

  It was impressive to see the diversity of potential jurors. It was more impressive to watch as one after another, they spoke privately with the judge, the two lawyers, and the defendant. Many were dismissed, but others began to take their seats in the juror box. We had been shown a very good, very patriotic film earlier, so we were all presumably fired up by our citizen duty. When I am not being cynical, it is impressive that we have this system (and learned today that Massachusetts has the oldest constitution that is currently in use) and that, at least most of the time, it works. There were a number of people talking about how they hoped they would be selected, very fired up about the chance to "serve". And I was looking around the court room at all the people who were being paid by the state to be here (the DA, judge, court officers, secretaries, etc.) and thinking how much money we spent to try to give everyone a fair trial and justice. Something to be proud of.

  In all honesty, I was very relieved to be excused. I do not want to spend the whole week listening to the details of a nasty trial, and I have all too many preconceived notions both about prison guards and inmates. Better to side step those issues and come back, gratefully, to my usual world.


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