From the President: Serving On a Jury—Every Lawyer’s Dream?
by Ilene Lin Bloom
At the end of September, I received that (often dreaded) postcard to report for jury duty. On the appointed day, after dropping off the kids at the Warm Welcome Childcare Center, which exists in large part thanks to former DBA President Joe Dischinger, I made my way over to the shiny new Lindsey-Flanigan Courthouse. I watched the video for potential jurors with attention. I was excited and curious when my number was called.
I reported to Courtroom 5A for an armed robbery case, presided over by Judge William D. Robbins. Although I was not ultimately chosen to serve on the jury, it was a very interesting experience nonetheless. First, the defendant was representing himself pro se, something I was not expecting and frankly was confused about. All of the public defenders I know are top-notch, so I was unsure why someone would represent himself and risk going to jail when effective representation is offered. The only questions the defendant asked during voir dire were “Do any of you have anything against tattoos?” (his forehead was tattooed), and “Do any of you have any type of prejudice against anyone for any reason?” Not surprisingly, no one spoke up at that moment.
I was struck by how many prospective jurors tried to get out of serving. I also was struck by how many jurors were, sadly, victims of a violent crime. Judge Robbins then asked the panel if anyone had taken legal classes. I am proud I can say I am a lawyer, but it is never an easy thing to get up in front of a bunch of strangers and explain that from 1996 until 2002 I represented a death row inmate in Illinois in his post-conviction proceedings, all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Not that it should, but one might think such information would automatically get me stricken from a criminal jury. In this case, the prosecutor did use one of his peremptory challenges to excuse me from jury service.
Of course, I was curious to know what happened in the case. Luckily for me, I ran into the other lawyer on the panel at a recent Colorado Judicial Institute dinner. This lawyer was chosen to sit on the jury and served as the foreperson. In case you are wondering, the defendant had fired his public defender, and the defendant was found guilty.
“One of the most interesting and gratifying things about my jury experience had to do with the fact that every juror really took their duty seriously,” the lawyer told me. It was great to hear of this lawyer’s positive experience serving on a jury.
A few years ago I did serve as the foreperson on a jury in a sexual assault case in Denver. I was thrilled and surprised to be chosen. I also was dying to know what goes on in the jury room.
In the middle of the trial, one juror was excused and had to be replaced. The reason? The juror saw the victim in the bathroom after she had testified and told the victim, “You did a good job.” We were one down, but the rest persevered.
On to the jury deliberations! We took a secret ballot right from the start and all but two of the jurors voted “not guilty.” We went through all of the evidence. I think my biggest and most challenging job as foreperson was working with jurors who tried to consider something that was not a part of the evidence—something I anticipated may happen. (Interestingly, the attorney in the recent case told me that the other jurors in that case often seemed to consider things that were not part of the evidence presented). This might be inevitable with human nature, but I had to keep reminding the jurors what was presented as evidence and what was not.
After much deliberation, all of the jurors agreed that the People did not prove its case. This, of course, was a difficult decision for everyone, due to the nature of the allegations and the emotional testimony. It gave me some added faith in the system that it does work as it should.
It truly was a fascinating experience to serve as the foreperson on a weeklong jury trial. I became friends with someone else on the jury and afterwards, when people would ask us how we know each other, it is always funny to declare, “We sat on a jury together!” It’s also a testament to how intimate and intense serving on a jury can be.
I would like to thank Steven Earl for his assistance. Please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. D