Jury Duty Better Than Its Reputation


Several months ago, I received a questionnaire in the mail from the clerk of the Superior Court regarding jury duty. I threw it away, realizing that there was probably no way the court would allow a crime reporter to serve on a jury.

At the last minute, though, I retrieved the form from the circular file and filled it out, feeling that, by doing so, I was doing my civic duty. At the bottom, it asked whether I wanted to be excused from jury service. I answered "no," but elaborated by informing the court that, as a reporter, I may be called upon to cover high-profile crime case.

Lo and behold, a few weeks ago, I received a summons to appear for jury service. It was the second such summons I had received. The first one arrived just as I was leaving to work at a newspaper in New Mexico for 10 days. A quick call to the court explaining my absence was all it took to be excused from that one.

As instructed, I headed to Globe last Wednesday to report for jury duty. I had no idea what I would face when I got there. It turned out to be a lot more fascinating and a lot less hassle than I expected.

Arriving at the courthouse, I checked in with the clerk's office, turned and saw a roomful of familiar faces. By the court's own admission, this jury pool tapped more northern Gila County residents than usual.

"We take the voter registration and the driver's license lists from Gila County, and put both of those into the computer," said Clerk Margaret Toot. "The computer then merges the lists and then the names are drawn from that list."

The number of jurors summoned depends largely on the type of case, said Superior Court Judge Edd Dawson. "For instance, if we're trying a child molestation case, we call more jurors than usual, because we know that a lot of people will try to get out of it."

The summons to appear for jury service is an actual court order, Toot said. Failure to comply with that order could lead to serious consequences, which could include a charge of contempt of court and a possible fine.

Roughly 50 of us took the summons seriously and stood around discussing local politics, the state of the court system, where the best Mexican restaurants were in Globe -- important stuff.

When we were finally allowed into the courtroom, 25 of us were called to the jury box for questioning about possible service.

I was the second person called.

Once in the jury box, we were sworn in, promising to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Then began the questioning by the judge.

"Excuses are in the eye of the beholder," Dawson said following the trial. "It's up to the discretion of the judge whether a juror is excused or not."

Most commonly, he said, jurors request an excuse due to vacations with non-refundable tickets, doctors' appointments that can't be changed, or because service would create a hardship at work or in the family.

"I've had people call from some of the larger companies, like the mines or APS, and say 'so-and-so is my foreman and is needed at work,'" he said. "I doubt if Cyprus Mines is going to shut down if they're without one foreman."

The judge told us this would be a two- or three-day trial. Immediately, hands started shooting up. One woman had a vacation planned for Friday, another had a doctor's appointment. They were excused.

Next, we were informed that the defendant was charged with aggravated DUI and misconduct involving a weapon. More hands went up. One woman said her sister was just killed by a drunk driver. Another woman said her boyfriend was killed less than a year ago by a fatal gunshot. Both were excused.

We were then introduced to the prosecution and the defense teams, and the witness list, which was made up primarily of law enforcement officers.

Now, I raised my hand, informing the court that I have worked closely with the prosecutor and most of the officers involved in the case during the past six years.

"Do you think that will influence your ability to make a fair, impartial decision," the judge asked.

"Ah, no. I don't think so," I said.

Whittled down to 25 potential jurors with no more viable excuses, we were then excused for the attorneys to decide who would be the final 13 --12 jurors and one alternate. Attorneys for both sides are allowed to strike jurors for any number of reasons, like being a jaded crime reporter. I knew, and everybody else in my pool confirmed, that there was no way a defense attorney would select a reporter who's worked with the police for so many years.

I was the second one picked for the jury.

For the next few hours, and the following morning, we listened to opening arguments, heard testimony from the witnesses, and listened to closing arguments. The charge of aggravated DUI was fairly easy to rule on: the defense conceded that the defendant was driving, that he knew his license was revoked and that there was nothing wrong with the intoxilizer test.

The weapons charge was a little trickier, but in the end, we just didn't feel the defense proved its case. We deliberated for roughly 30 minutes, and returned with a guilty verdict.

Judge Dawson then excused us with the thanks of the court.

Driving back to Payson that afternoon, I realized what a bum rap jury service gets. Most people react to jury duty the same way they would react to getting their teeth pulled.

Quite the contrary. I've had teeth pulled. Jury duty was painless and extremely interesting. Court personnel treat jurors with the utmost respect and hospitality.

Jurors remain on call for a period of three months and are paid $12 a day plus mileage for every day they're called.

"I wish people would just give it a chance," Toot said. "It seems like a lot of people react negatively to jury duty. They feel they can't judge people. They don't have the time. I don't want to do it. I don't know anything about the law.

"I think that if everybody would make a point to do it and serve on a trial, I think they would really come away from it with a different point of view."

I certainly did.

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