In this post, I’ll tell you a bit about the trial and what happens when you’re on a jury. I won’t go into the specifics of the trial I participated in, except to say that it was a criminal trial regarding an armed robbery, the witnesses included a DNA expert, which was interesting, and we returned guilty verdicts on all counts. I can’t say anything at all about the jury deliberations, because it would be a criminal offense to do so. Our system differs significantly from the US system in that (and other) areas.
Each jury is assigned a jury constable and a room near the courtroom where the trial is taking place. You spend a lot of time in the jury room waiting to be called into court. When court isn’t in session, you’re not sequestered. You’re free to go anywhere for lunch, and you go home every night. The only time you might have to stay overnight is when you’re deliberating. Once a jury begins deliberations, nobody goes home until the verdicts are in. When you’re in the jury room, you’re locked in. You can knock on the door to call the jury constable.
Court convenes at 10 a.m. and adjourns at around 4:30 p.m. When you arrive at the courthouse, you go to a designated meeting spot in a public area. The court constable has to escort you to the jury room. In fact, he or she has to be with you whenever you’re not in a public area of the courthouse, and you always move as a group. This is to avoid the jury running into the accused. You get a morning and afternoon break, which you have to spend in the jury room. Refreshments are provided. If you have smokers on your jury, the jury constable will take them out for a quick fix (the only time the jury splits up while on break).
You have to avoid contact with everyone associated with the trial, except for your jury constable. You’re not allowed to use the elevators in the courthouse, because you could end up trapped in a confined space with a witness or a family member of the accused. You’re also encouraged to leave the courthouse for lunch. There’s a cafeteria in the basement, but since the lawyers, family members, witnesses, etc. often use it, you’re told not to go there.
Now to the trial itself, which differed quite a lot from what I’ve seen on TV and in movies (not surprising, since Canada’s system differs from the US system). It’s possible that depending on the judge, the type of case (civil vs. criminal), and the lawyers involved, things might go differently in other trials. I can only comment on my experience. In point form:
– the jury comes into court last, and everyone (including the judge and the accused) stands until the jury is seated. That’s different than what I’ve seen on TV, where the judge is the last to enter. The lawyers’ and judge’s robes and the steps the court registrar (Madame Registrar, in our case) had to follow sometimes gave the proceedings a theatrical air.
– when the jury is called into court, the jury constable knocks on the jury room door. You line up according to your jury number. When we entered the courtroom through the jury door, jury members 1-6 filed into the front row of the jury box, and 7-12 climbed a step and filed into the back row. Each juror always sits in the same seat. I was Juror #7, so I sat in the back row directly behind Juror #1. I was the farthest away from the witness box and the judge. I was close to the Crown and the spectators. In the courtroom I was in, the accused sat directly across from the jury.
– You’re provided with paper and pencils to take notes. When you leave the courtroom, you leave your notes on your chair. You only take them with you when you leave to start deliberating. When you’ve finished deliberating, you leave your notes in the jury room. They are destroyed.
– I didn’t see a gavel. The judge never used one.
– the judge was more active than I’d expected. He’d often take the time to address the jury regarding what we’d just heard and seen, he’d ask the lawyers questions, and he’d ask the witnesses questions.
– there was much less drama than what you see on TV (no surprise there). There’s no grandstanding, no dodgy questions meant to plant ideas in the jury’s heads and that are then quickly withdrawn. No grandiose speeches or demonstrations. In fact, the Crown (prosecution) and the defence lawyers are respectful to each other and ask intelligent questions. I didn’t hear the words objection, sustained, or overruled once.
– if there’s any contention at all between the lawyers, or any other issue, the jury is removed from the court. On some days we were in and out several times. It wasn’t like on TV, where the lawyers approach the bench and discuss a point of contention while the jury is sitting there. The moment there was an issue, out went the jury.
So how was the jury experience? Interesting, humbling, and bizarre. For almost two weeks, I spent every weekday in the company of the same eleven people and away from my usual life. We underwent an intense experience together that led to a joint decision that affected the lives’ of others in a significant way. Then we waved good-bye to each other and will likely never cross paths again. I don’t know how the others felt, but the day after we were done, I thought, “WTF just happened?” Then I got back into my regular routine, and my days at the courthouse have faded away.
That’s it for my jury duty experience. I hope it has given you a taste of what you’re in for during the jury selection process (or the waiting process), and if you end up on a jury, a glimpse at what the trial might be like.