Filling the juror’s seat

Receiving a jury summons to report to court is something citizens are called upon to do. Serving as a juror means the right to a trial by jury is accomplished and that peers make the decision of guilty or not guilty. Pictured is the juror box in District Judge Janelle Haverkamp’s court.

Hollywood often depicts the courtroom as a dramatic and intense setting, and it often is with the prosecution standing to summarize and then rest their case and the defense stating their client is innocent of the charges.

After all the talking is through in the courtroom, after all the witnesses have taken the stand, after all the displays of evidence admitted have been reviewed and after both sides rest, the attention is turned to the real stars of the scene — the jury.

The jury panel sits in the jury box throughout the trial to listen and take in the information and evidence presented.

When both counsels rest their case, members of the jury receive instruction from the judge and are then ushered into the room where together they will discuss, deliberate and eventually make the decision as to the fate or the outcome of the trial. After returning to the courtroom they present their verdict to the judge before the court — guilty or not guilty, and to what degree?

 District Judge Janelle M. Haverkamp of the 235th Judicial District Court said that in criminal cases, the defendant has the absolute right to a trial by jury and in most civil cases, either party can demand a jury trial.

“The jury decides questions of fact,” Havekamp noted. “The judge decides questions of law.”

Some local citizens weighed in on serving jury duty and answering their jury summons.

Ronald Evers said that it is sometimes a hardship for him to serve on jury duty.

“Because I am self-employed, if I get put on a jury, how do I make ends meet?” he asked. “One time I served, but the company I was working for then paid me my usual salary while I was on the jury so I was able to do it.”

Evers said he hates to defer his service or try to get out of it, but sometimes he has to do it.

Beth Kelly said that she has been summoned for jury duty several times, but never picked to be on the jury.

“I feel though that it is my duty to serve,” Kelly said.

Gloria Burgan noted that being summoned as a prospective juror was not that bad.

“There wasn’t that much of a wait, from what I remember,” she recalled.

Burgan said she was not actually selected for the jury because the case was about someone driving under the influence, and Burgan’s moonlighting job is teaching defensive driving, and a cardinal rule is “do not drink and drive.”

“They booted me off pretty quick,” she noted. “I’m surprised I haven’t been called back.”

Marge Clement said that she has never been selected for jury duty.

One local citizen, who asked not to be identified, said that her husband is often called for jury duty. The last time, he did not show up at the courtroom and he then received the second letter sent out to those who do not show up, with the notice for a potential fine. He then reported to the court.

Charity Belton said she served on a jury about one year ago and it was a positive experience. Her employer was very understanding about it, she recalled.

Belton said she felt good about the decision she and the other jurors made and that she felt she was participating in an important process.

“It made me feel good to serve as a citizen,” she noted, “and I would like to serve as a juror again.”

Haverkamp said that one hardship right now for local jurors is that while the Cooke County Courthouse is being restored, there is no place for jurors to sit and wait, Haverkamp noted. The tentative schedule is to move back into the Cooke County Courthouse in the summer of 2011.

“We also do try to be very respectful and mindful of the jurors and prospective juror’s time,” Haverkamp added.

The right to trial by jury did not take place when Kings and Queens ruled much of what is now called, “the free world.”

“That’s one of the big reasons we had the big war with England,” Haverkamp noted, “to preserve our right to a trial by jury.”

One thing that most people don’t know is that women did not get the right to serve on a jury until 1955, she added.

“I mean, the jury service is the one time the citizen has the say-so,” Haverkamp continued. “They have the ultimate say so, what happens in that civil case, what happens in that criminal case.”

Haverkamp said she has great faith in jurors being part of the legal system.

 “In my experience, the juries generally get it right,” she said. “Juries, they make the right decision.”

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