Derek Gentile: Verdict is in on jury duty
By Derek Gentile, Berkshire Eagle StaffPITTSFIELD -- So I had jury duty earlier this week. And when I told people about it, I got the usual moans and groans of sympathy. Story Body:
By Derek Gentile, Berkshire Eagle StaffPITTSFIELD -- So I had jury duty earlier this week. And when I told people about it, I got the usual moans and groans of sympathy.
"Oh, it’s horrible."
"I’d hate to have to go through that."
"I feel so sorry for you."
I don’t know where that comes from. I mean, I guess I know where it comes from, but I can never understand it.
Yeah, it’s boring. Yeah, it’s a lot of hurry up and wait. And in fact, there ended up being no trials the day I went, so I didn’t have to serve anyway. A free day off.
But come on, it’s really that horrible? One or two days out of three years? Or usually more, actually. Because while jury selection is random and we’re told we won’t get called for another three years, I usually don’t get called for seven or eight years at a time.
The irony is that most of the time, the people with whom I talk after they have completed their service say it was one of the best day or days that they ever spent, and a very good insight into our justice system.
My old boss, Steve Fay, used to say that, in court, whether it’s district or superior court (or, I guess, federal court, although I’ve never served on a federal jury), it is true human drama.
After I covered court for a while, I understood what he meant. One of the perceptions by the people that haven’t been sucked into the court system is that the folks who have are flawed in a more fundamental way than the rest of us.
That’s a comforting notion, I guess, because it seems that the Bad Guys are really, you know, Bad Guys.
They’re not. A lot of them, anyway. They’re people who found themselves in difficult circumstances and didn’t really know how to escape their lives. A lot of us find ourselves in those types of situations, but we have more wherewithal, or resources, or knowledge of the law, and we find a legal way to extricate ourselves.
I realize that there are indeed some bad people in the world, but believing that everyone is like that is, for the most part, self-defeating.
So when you find yourself on a jury, you have to make some tough decisions. I remember being on a jury for the prosecution of a pretty well-to-do couple who were breaking and entering and robbing homes through the county and into Vermont and New York states.
And they, at one point, both had good jobs and good lives, but they developed an addition to crack cocaine, and they had difficulty functioning on a regular basis. So B&Es were the best option, to them. I’ll admit, it was probably not the best option for most, but sometimes, you don’t see the forest for the trees.
Anyway, they were found guilty and, to be honest, I don’t know how they ended up. But you realize when you make these decisions that you have changed someone’s life, and the lives of their families, forever.
So that’s one reason it’s important. The other reason it’s important is that jury duty is a seriously fundamental aspect of our government. Like voting, it is something we should always accept as a duty that is part of being an American.
I’m not trying to be preachy. One of the fundamentals of why we desired autonomy from the English crown is that the English trial system did not fairly represent individuals who were not of royal birth.
So the point is, if we don’t participate, and if we don’t accept this as a duty to be performed as part of being American, then this part of the legal system would become seriously flawed.
And I’m aware that the jury system sometimes seems flawed as it is. Many times, people are frustrated by verdicts that seem unfair, or badly thought out.
My response to that is that while there are decisions that may seem ill-informed or just plain bad, rarely do I detect, either watching on television, or when I’m in court, the intent to subvert the system.
As I said, what I have noticed is that jurors have very, very tough jobs at times. I never envy their position, but whenever I’m called, I don’t have any qualms about serving.
Share your jury duty experiences with Derek Gentile at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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