This fall, for the first time ever, I was called for jury duty. I had no idea there were different kinds of juries. This was for a grand jury – sort of a hearing each case gets to determine if there is reason enough to go to a full trial. We heard more than a half dozen cases each day.
I’m grateful we live under the Rule of Law, imperfect though it may be. The alternative is Rule by Whim – and I’ve heard horror stories from too many people who lived under such conditions. However I have to admit I have nodded my head when others railed against the legal system as being biased, inefficient, and – most of all – not ruling the way my friends and I felt it should. Now I stand before you, proverbial hat in hand, ready to eat crow.
I knew nothing about what a grand jury did. Assuming that true for most of us, the court did a very good job of training us. The first day was dry, selecting jurors and reading the legal instructions. This wasn’t jury selection like you see on TV. It was more a matter of counting off, with the first 12 as the main jurors, the next 12 as alternates. We were sworn to secrecy, never to reveal any details of what we hear. Not a problem, especially with my iffy memory! They explained we would hear the same instructions over and over, because each case was a new situation and they had to make sure each person was given the same fair and legal treatment. OK, that makes sense. Our role in a grand jury was not to determine guilt or innocence but simply to see if there was enough to warrant going ahead with the charges. If so, the “target” would be “charged” and the case would go forward to a different kind of trial to determine if the “accused” was guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt”. We the jury were under the charge, not of the District Attorney, but of the Judge. We could say if any charges didn’t seem right or suggest adding other charges.
There was more to our training. When we convened, first case was a “mock case”, a simulation showing us the process and what our role was. The target was Donald Duck. Uncle Scrooge was missing his gold watch. During a party he’d found Donald and the nephews up in his room. The next day a jeweler had reported to the police that Donald had brought the watch in and asked its value. Hmm, was this enough to charge Donald with theft? If so, the subsequent process would allow him the opportunity to refute or explain. We read the related laws and noticed differences depending on the value of the watch and on the situation. We heard the witnesses and asked our own questions. While the “case” was amusing, it also raised some critical legal points and gave us practice in considering the laws involved. As a professional training developer, I was impressed!
For each case the Assistant District Attorney tells us who the target is, who the witnesses are, and what charges are being proposed. Each witness comes into the room and is questioned by the DA. Most of the witnesses are police officers. They give their credentials, how they became aware of the situation, what happened, what actions they took and what outcomes occurred. They are very detailed and precise in their descriptions. What fascinated me most is that then WE get to ask questions of the witness. All of us. Not just the main jurors, but also the alternates. We are very different people – different ages, different backgrounds, different skin tones, both men and women – and we all have different viewpoints. The questions we ask reflect that. In a way, it was as though the “target” has all of us as representatives, testing the facts presented to see if the charge seems fair and substantiated.
The other thing that impressed me was the approach of the officials. Very professional and at the same time surprisingly compassionate. I think I had expected them to be jaded or into power plays. Not at all! They were clearly real human beings who were doing the best they could to make sure the targets, the witnesses and we jurors were treated well.
I had an epiphany during my jury duty experience. Sure, the process is tedious, perhaps inefficient, even though it seems fair and effective. It reminded me of state government which, as I found in my six years working there, is also often tedious and inefficient. That did not mean the agency I worked for was ineffective. To the contrary, they did very good work in spite of conflicting pressures from officials, clients, suppliers, political appointees, and others. I was also reminded of the World Service business meetings for a twelve step program. While at first I thought the parliamentary process was tedious and inefficient, I quickly realized it was very effective in letting the different groups from throughout the world be considered in decision making. My epiphany? ANY process committed to taking into account a number of differing viewpoints feels tedious and inefficient! To tell the truth, what I find tedious is anything which is not my own viewpoint. So anything considering others who have interests different from mine is going to feel like it drags. As Plato said, “Democracy is a charming form of government, full of variety and disorder, and dispensing a sort of equality to equals and unequal alike.” Let’s hear it for disorder, tedium and inefficiency!!!