I’ve served as District Court Judge for almost seven years. Before that I practiced law for 14. I have been part of dozens of jury trials as judge or attorney. Each time jurors amazed me by how conscientious they were in fulfilling their jury service.
Some jurors deliberated for half-an-hour before returning guilty or not guilty verdicts.
Some jurors deliberated for a time and returned multiple questions for clarification. Each time the wording of the question made clear that they were carefully considering the facts of the case and my jury instructions.
Some jurors deliberated for hours or days on the most serious charges, as well as the least serious, before returning verdicts that made total sense.
Just one juror blatantly disregarded my jury instructions, and the others on her panel immediately told me about it so the jury wasn’t tainted by the indiscretion.
I have never reversed a jury’s verdict, which means the verdicts were supported by the evidence. Indeed, in my almost seven years on the bench almost all of my jury verdicts would have been the same had the trials been before me without a jury, known as bench trials.
Whatever the path of my trials and the deliberations of jurors, they always affirmed my pre-trial statement to them that they are the most important cogs in the 6th amendment guarantee of trial by jury.
The above said, something is bothering me: the ignorant rantings of citizens who never served on juries yet are convinced that jurors are idiots. I have too many awesome experiences—as do my colleagues on the bench in Sedgwick County—to put up with such nonsense. I defend jurors who willingly serve far more vigorously than citizens who do all they can to disqualify themselves from service, or who bloviate while sitting in the jury pool to the point that no lawyer in his or her right mind would not use a peremptory strike to remove them. Until you have served on a jury, shut up.
If you have been a victim of a crime and the verdict didn’t go as you hoped, or lost a civil case and likewise disagreed with the verdict, you are the exception to my admonition regardless of how legally sensible a jury’s verdict may be. You have a unique perspective we must respect.
My disdain for juror bashers applies to high profile cases we have a hard time understanding, such as O.J. Simpson’s murder trial, and to more typical low level crimes we never hear about. Until you serve and experience the gut-wrenching that comes with gross and horrific testimonies from child witnesses or murder scene photos and are asked to send someone to prison or set him free because there’s “reasonable doubt,” stop. Respect jurors if not the process. Indeed, if you ever serve on a jury you might find yourself respecting the process too.
Perhaps Sedgwick County citizens are more deliberative than those in other jurisdictions. Perhaps some of our fellow citizens are speaking out about something they know nothing about. If the latter, I suggest you take advantage of the constitutional guarantee of a public trial by observing a trial to see what jurors, judges, and lawyers see in courtrooms. You will probably change your mind about jurors and see them as I do, wise citizens committed to fulfilling one of their highest civic responsibilities and thus ensuring that our legal system remains the best in the world.