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.
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!
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!
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’.
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
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.