Jury duty makes good impression

Being called to perform civic duty is actually time well spent.


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Illustration by William Rerick/The Dakota Student.

Different things come to mind when people mention jury duty. Some people may picture a stuffy room filled with middle-aged business people wearing wool suits or nylons. Others may picture a court scene from a movie or TV show.

This is how I pictured jury duty — until I actually got to experience it for myself. It opened my eyes to how vital I was to the process while also humbling me with so much responsibility in the courtroom.

It all started when I went to check my mailbox. Along with the fistfull of flyers and coupons from various pizza places around town, there was also a letter addressed to me from the District Court Office of Grand Forks. It definitely had me intrigued.

Being 19, I never thought about having to go to jury duty. It always seemed like something that was supposed to happen when I was old. It never occurred to me that even though my billing address is my residence in Grand Forks, and I voted here last year, I was just as eligible as anyone.

I went into this endeavor completely dreading it. There would be a whole week of classes that I would have to miss, not to mention labs and quizzes. I’d be stuck making some difficult decision, and I’d have to do it with a bunch of strangers. But in the back of my mind, I knew that no matter how inconvenient it may be, it would at least be a new experience.

And from the time the whole process began, that’s exactly what it was.

When we arrived Tuesday morning for selection there were 70 of us. By the end of the day the counsel had it down to 13 — the jury was selected.

The trial started that afternoon and lasted all day Wednesday. On Thursday, we were able to discuss as a jury and make our verdict. The man up for trial was a 27-year-old defendant faced with two counts of gross sexual imposition and one count of corruption of a minor. We, as a jury, poured over evidence, and discussed the testimonies and eventually found him guilty on all three counts.

The first witness to testify was the victim. She was 16 this week when she testified, but 14 and 15 when the crimes were committed. As she was required under oath to tell the truth, I watched her shake and cower in fear as she could barely muster up what it took to describe what happened to her.

It took every ounce of strength I had to stay in my seat and not run up and hug her. As a neglected child who came from a destitute reservation, she had very little support in her life. Once again, I was humbled by my position.

As the trial went on, as more witnesses took the stand and as all the evidence was brought out, I took it all in. I learned so much — not just about the trial and the facts that both the state and defense presented to us, but also of the court system and how it all operates. I realized that even though this was a terrible situation and the crime should have never happened, the trial offered me something I didn’t expect going into it.

Experiencing the selection, the trial and the verdict helped me realize how each of us can make a difference in a court of law. I’ve never been a big fan of politics or government relations, but this opened my eyes to a whole new light. I was helping to decide this man’s fate. I would help make the decision whether he serves a punishment or walks free.

I believe as a jury we delivered the correct verdict. While I am confident in our decision, I couldn’t help but experience anxiety and feel a swarm of butterflies in my stomach as the verdict was reached and shared in court.

I now understand how important it is to fulfill your civic duty. Having a jury of your peers is an excellent example of equality.

Even though I dreaded the responsibility at first, it was more educational than I could’ve imagined. Alhough the crime was heinous and tragic, I came out of it with a better understanding of the courts and the judicial process, as well as a deeper respect for the individuals who practice and enforce the law for the betterment of our country.

Mary Ochs is a staff writer for The Dakota Student. She can be reached at [email protected].

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