What life is like sitting on a criminal jury

Hey everyone! You may have noticed I’ve been a bit quiet lately, and I promise I have a really interesting excuse. I’ve been serving on a jury for a criminal trial over the last 5 weeks!

We weren’t permitted to talk about the trial while it was ongoing, but now I can finally let you all know where I disappeared to for almost 1/10th of the year. However, there is still a non-publication order in place around certain details, so I won’t go into any specifics, just in case.

Many of you will know I’m a budding crime writer, with dreams of becoming a published author one day. The odds that someone like me (a crime writer with a criminology degree) would end up serving as a juror on a criminal trial, were non-existent – or so I erroneously thought!

Way back in July, when I turned up for jury selection on that wintery-cold Monday morning, I could never have imagined what was about to happen. I thought I’d be back in the office by lunchtime, takeaway vanilla latte in hand. I had no clue I wouldn’t be going back to work until Spring arrived.

pretty-woman-1509956_1920.jpg

Around 100 other people had turned up that morning to form the jury pool, and I remember feeling pretty safe, thinking I had a near zero chance of getting picked. I was half correct. Each year in Australia, only 9,000 people are selected to serve as a juror for a specific trial. Put that number against a population of 24 million and you have a tiny .03% chance of serving in any given year. The odds shrink even further for criminal trials. You have higher odds of getting published!

What I should have realised before attending court that day, is that the odds of serving on a jury increase to 6% the moment you are placed on the jury roll and receive a summons letter. Not great odds at all. But then, I thought the trial wouldn’t even go ahead. The last time I attended jury selection, the defendant pleaded not guilty before the trial had even begun.

This time around, my sense of safety dwindled as people began to drop away like flies. Everyone else had brought along paperwork so that they could be excused from the trial. All I’d brought along was a book, An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield, which I was happily reading until – it happened. We were escorted to the courtroom, where an actual real-life criminal trial was proceeding. As a law student, I’ve witnessed trials before. But this was different. This time… I would be part of the process!

adult-american-board-1157859.jpg

But I was still in denial. I truly didn’t think my number would be called. But it was. I was shocked, rather than excited when my number was pulled out of the ballot box by the Judge’s associate. The reason I wasn’t excited to be selected? I had a really important event coming up that Friday. My sister’s graduation ceremony. In Sydney. Which I consequently missed.

Sitting up there in the jury box and getting sworn in has to be the strangest thing that’s ever happened to me. My hands were trembling. I think I may have even had an out-of-body experience. I felt like I was watching a movie, albeit, a 3D, virtual reality movie. It was an alien feeling that persisted for a few days. Luckily, I wasn’t alone. There were 11 other champions riding along on the journey with me!

Despite the novelty, anxiety swamped me during the first week of the trial. I was still reeling from missing out on my sister’s graduation that weekend, in which we had planned a sisterly road trip down to Sydney on Thursday – with plenty of champagne and shopping squeezed in between! We were going to head back home via the coast. So not only was I going to miss out on the proud moment of seeing my sister graduate from an incredibly tough course, but I was also going to miss out on the beach, the sun and the surf!

beach-beach-chair-daylight-556961.jpg

By the second week, the reality of what I faced sunk in. Not only would I be required to remain focused all day, every day for the next 4-5 weeks, but my phone would be taken off me and I would be stuck inside the courthouse from 9.30am – 4 pm, Mon-Fri.

I was also not permitted to google any details related to the trial when I got home, lest I jeopardise my bias. For the first time in my life, I avoided google like my life depended upon it.

It was only after the trial that I read about how two jurors were found guilty of contempt of court. This was in the UK, which has a different legal system, but still, you can see why the Judge constantly reminded us to ‘not, under any circumstances, google any details of the case’.

adult-blur-caucasian-941555

For those 4-5 weeks, I existed in a twilight zone devoid of google insights and filled with the faces of my fellow jurors, the Judge, the sheriff’s officer who made us laugh, the defence counsel, the crown and the kind court officers.

Other, small, non-consequential things stand out in my mind. The tiny courtyard next to the jury room that allowed us to see the sky, the chocolate cream biscuits that were rationed to us every week, the much-anticipated pizza day. Food increased in importance. The process of eating enshrined and anticipated. I put on about 2 kilos in there, weight that is taking double the time to lose.

Oh and the notes! I’d almost forgotten. I think I wrote an entire book in there, by hand, like J.K Rowling. Shame it all had to be shredded! Coulda been a bestseller #LordOfTheJurors

coffee-cup-hands-6360

Thinking back over the past month, I suppose I could have blogged at night and on the weekends, but to be honest, the trial completely wiped me out. I barely had enough energy to write, let alone blog.

After every mind-numbing day, I was partial to a glass of wine over anything remotely creative. I simply didn’t have it in me to function like a normal human being. It was Netflix – and more Netflix – for me, every night. Anything to drag my mind away from the trial.

Overall, it was an exhausting process.

Yet… I count myself lucky. Privileged even, to have served as a juror on a criminal trial, to ‘peek behind the veil’ and take part in the mysterious (and very secretive) process of jury deliberation, a process most crime writers will never get to experience.

Serving as a juror has to be one of the greatest (and most unexpected) experiences of my life. I just wish I could have attended my sister’s graduation!

P.s I hope you all know how much I have missed you! And if anyone is wondering, I will officially be returning to the blogging world next week, I just needed a little break to recuperate after the trial.

Advertisements

49 thoughts

  1. Wow! This is the kind of real world experience that you can’t really get in a classroom. While you had to shred your book, I hope you’ve made notes while the experience is still fresh! The importance of food is such a telling detail, just the kind of thing you’ll want to hold on to.

    Like

  2. Wow! Hang on to those notes and try to spin some of it into a novel. Fiction of course. You have been missed and we are happy you’re back. You do realize how confused this American is when you mention July and winter in the same sentence? How is that possible???

    Like

  3. Great post, Millie, welcome back! All experience is useful, especially for a writer, eh?
    I too have done jury service in the UK, quite a while back. Only a week though (fortunately). I was picked for three short cases. The rest of the time we watched re-runs of ‘A Man Called Ironside’ on the TV and knitted squares to make blankets for Bosnian refuges – shows how long ago that was!
    The scary thing was that when I was in a small jeweler’s shop several months’ later, I recognised the girl we had convicted (for affray) for hitting her sister-in-law on the head with a heavy glass ashtray. Her two defence witnesses were in the shop as well and I was convinced they’d recognise me. They didn’t fortunately…
    Several months after that I discovered I could’ve been excused from jury service because I was a Trustee for a Victim Support Scheme. Always read the small print.

    Like

  4. Luck has a way of hiding behind a veil of unluckiness. I was distraught over being laid off my job of 11 years last 11/1. But if I hadn’t I wouldn’t be blogging so much, writingy book, and we wouldn’t have “met” (a far bigger deal to me than you, I’m quite sure, but I consider myself the lucky one in that equation), among many other things. Yeah, Milly, it sucks about your trip, but civic duty is a tad bit more.imoirtant than shopping, and surely your sister understood. Welcome back… PS what do you recall mme d on Netflix? When it occurred to me to drink wine I had some nice Shirazes from down undah. Hugs or handshakes.or bikes or whatever would be most awkward, A Dude Abikes

    Like

  5. Like many here, I missed you too, Milly (and I’m sure your sister did as well)! But I’m glad you got to have such an experience; it’ll likely be helpful not just for your writing but also for your law studies 🙂 Those pounds will eventually melt away, I’m sure of it 😉 It’s great to have you back, and I hope to see more from you soon!

    Like

  6. Like you, I thought I would never be selected for a jury in a criminal trial. At the time of the case, I worked for the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA). Anyone who has read one of John Sanford’s Prey novels or Virgil Flowers novels will know about the agency. The prosecutor and defense attorney’s simply asked if I could fair. I said sure, and there I was. Fortunately, my jury experience only lasted for three days.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You worked for BCA and you still qualified to be a juror!? Wow. I would have thought you’d be home free lol. That’s interesting that the prosecutor and defense attorney are permitted to question jurors. Is that normal in the US? In Australia, the prosecution and defense counsel can only use preemptory challenges to get rid of jurors (3 each) – so they have to go by appearances alone.

      Like

      1. I’ve served on juries in two different states here in the U.S. In both cases, attorneys were allowed to question jurors to search for reasons why they might be able to dismiss the juror for cause.

        Like

  7. I was on the jury for a (non-fatal) stabbing trial once. My mother-in-law advised me to “dress the way you usually do, they’ll never pick you.” It worked the first time my name came out of the tombola – a lawyer snapped out his objection before I was hardly out of my seat – but the next time I was not so lucky.
    It was an interesting experience, though, and fortunately for me, it wasn’t a traumatic case (the stabbee even testified in the stabber’s defence, albeit unsuccessfully).
    Glad to have you back! Bring on the cats in legal wigs 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks! That’s so funny, I was the complete opposite! When the numbers were being called, I was sitting there, totally chilled out and convinced I wouldn’t get picked. When I heard my number, I got this burst of adrenaline and was like ‘wait whaaaat!?’

      So I went up to the jury box, calmed myself down and thought ‘don’t worry, I’m sweet, they’ll challenge me, then I’ll step down and go back to work’.

      Like, I was CERTAIN they would challenge me. When they passed me over I was thinking ‘wait whaaaat!?’ all over again hahaha. As we were sworn in, I was like ‘wtf is happening right now!?’

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I have served on juries two times here in the United States (California). I found it to be fascinating, and great fodder for possible writing projects. I agree that it was exhausting, but it served to restore my trust in “the system,” and I was honored to serve, and would gladly do so again. The first trial was a domestic abuse case, and it ended with a “hung jury,” that is 6 votes against 6, so case dismissed. The second trial was an accident victim suing the at-fault driver in the accident. We ruled against the plaintiff and for the defendant; it seemed like she (the plaintiff) was trying to get money for legitimate suffering she had experienced, but it ended up that she had pre-existing conditions and had disobeyed her doctor’s instructions, which resulted in more injuries that were her own fault.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh wow thanks for sharing, that’s so interesting. I agree that it’s a privilege to see the law in action and view ‘the system’ from a common person’s point-of-view. I count myself lucky (even though at first I was a bit sad to be there). Everyone should get a chance to do jury duty, but of course, that’s not possible. In California, when there’s a ‘hung jury’, does the case get a retrial with a new jury later on?

      Like

  9. I had no idea you were studying law. Interesting.
    Thanks for sharing your experience with us.
    I didn’t think it takes ALL day every day. Just a few hours. At least that’s what I’ve been hearing from others. Or a day here, a day there. Not 5 weeks all day every day. I can totally understand how that wiped you out.
    Watching movies/ TV series is exactly what I do when my brain is overloaded. No creativity in sight. I don’t even feel alive in such instances.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m actually not studying law anymore 🙂 Initially, I wanted to follow in my family’s footsteps and have a crack at law (my grandad and great-grandad were barristers). Buuuut I learned very early on that law would clash with my creative writing, so I gave it up. I think you have to really, really want to be a lawyer to get through the degree. I just wasn’t passionate enough about it.
      Oh and yep it takes all day! We did get an hour for lunch and little breaks here and there, but you were stuck inside the jury room with no way to escape. So technically you’re ‘on the clock’ the whole time. That sounds terrible putting it that way, but it wasn’t so bad lol

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Hahaha, yeah vegans probably wouldn’t suit the standard food offerings for jurors!! Luckily, in Australia, you can select to ‘bring your own lunch’ every day and you actually get an allowance for that ($8). That’s $40 AUD a week! So not bad. Funnily enough, around the same time, my housemate wanted to try vegan for a bit and I offered to join for solidarity, but then court happened… and I decided to go with the in house food and subsequently threw my diet out the window! But pizza. And chocolate. And spinach & feta rolls. And burgers. Simply too hard to resist in juror-land.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Anne! Yes it was pretty fascinating! The most difficult thing is returning back to ‘normal life’ – probably should have included that hahaha. I actually really need a holiday after being on jury duty, but I’ve been away from work for so long that I can’t!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Milly, there’s this great line from the old movie, Twelve Angry Men: “There were eleven votes for ‘guilty.’ It’s not easy for me to raise my hand and send a boy off to die without talking about it first.” I thought of that when I read your amazing post. – tony

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Hi Milly,
    Firstly thanks for following me at Blue Sky Days 365 🙂
    Being selected for jury service is something I hope never happens to me, and if it does would keep everything crossed for medical exemption! So well done for taking time out of your life etc.
    Looking forward to your return to blogging.
    Karen.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Lucky you I was on a Jury for a medical malpractice case; trial dragged on for 3 months, lots of adjournments and in the end we ruled against the Plaintiff.
    Then I was an alternate Juror on a Criminal case which lasted a couple of days the alternates were let go when it came to deliberations

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh wow, a medical malpractice case? For 3 months? Makes my 5 weeks look tiny! Did you get a break from being on the jury roll after the malpratice case? We get a 3 year break before we might possibly be placed on the roll again. I’m hoping I’m done for life!

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Fantastic stuff. I know the frustration you must have felt, missing the graduation.
    I was called in once only to have the whole process thrown out on the first day – the defence declared they had not been given sufficient time to prepare.
    By the time the court got around to the case, other people were selected and it took EIGHT WEEKS. Was I lucky or not!
    I am not sure I think the more experience you have of these the better….

    Anyway, well done for telling us your story.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. An eight week trial!? Argh no way, that would be tough. 5 weeks was enough for me! Did you actually get on the jury for that one but then it was thrown out?
      I’ve read about some people who have been on trials lasting 6-12 months. I can’t even begin to imagine serving for that long. I suppose I was lucky that mine was only a mediumish length trial!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I know, the odds! I think I have a pretty good understanding of how trials work now, which is something I could never have learned from my crim degree, or even from studying law. There’s no substitute for witnessing a criminal trial from beginning to end – or being part of jury deliberations!

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s