Jury Duty & the Death Penalty February 8, 2008Posted by davegoblog in Cleveland, Law, Personal.
I couldn’t say it in my last post, but the case for which I was a possible juror on Monday was a murder with the death penalty being a potential judgment. Fifty of us crowded into the courtroom on Monday afternoon to listen to the charges (including breaking and entering, arson, murder, and attempted murder) brought against the defendant. After being sworn in and hearing the allegations, we were escorted out of the courtroom to fill out a questionnaire about our general feelings toward the death penalty as well as whether our religion said anything about it, or if any close relatives had differing views. I never really thought too much about the death penalty and didn’t have any strong feelings one way or another. Part of me wanted to have it as an option (if the trial came to it) and to apply it if the law so deemed. Another part of me was concerned about the chance that I may be sending someone to their death. The black and white of hypothetical questions suddenly became very, very gray.
After returning to the courthouse on Tuesday, we found out that the defendant had decided to plead guilty to avoid the possibility of the death penalty and was sentenced to 40 years in prison. Click here to read more about the case.
The rest of the week was not as intense as the first two days. I mostly read and did sudoku on Wednesday, but was called again on Thursday. We again went to the 20th floor and waited for about 15 minutes before the judge came into the jury assembly room to let us know that this defendant waived his right to trial by jury. Since the case load was light after that, the Monday jurors were not needed to return on Friday.
Overall, I found it to be an informative experience, but not much like the court dramas seen on TV. You don’t usually see the hundreds of potential jurors waiting on Matlock or Law & Order. Both judges I saw were both very grateful and thankful for our services as jurors, and they expressed their respect for our legal system and its tradition of trial by jury as something that’s not available to everyone in the world. It was a humbling to hear them speak like that, and I felt a connection to our American forefathers who guaranteed that right in the Constitution.