I was called to jury duty this week in the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis. This happens every 2 years for me; this was my fifth or sixth time. Although I’ve sat through voir dire several times, I’ve never been chosen. This probably has to do with the fact that I’m a lawyer. Today’s case was a criminal case, and I come with special baggage, since I was a prosecutor for the state of Missouri for four years, after working for the state juvenile court two years before that. This is the kind of background a defense attorney would rather not deal with, so I was not chosen to hear the case.
In today’s proceeding, the defendant was charged with the sexual assault of several teenage girls, while using a gun. These were very serious charges, indeed.
The reason I’m writing this post is that I was overwhelmed with the amount of serious crime that has touched the lives of the 75 people on the jury panel. Ubiquitous crime appears to be the new normal.
We were only asked about two types of crimes, gun violence and sexual offenses, but it seemed as though most of the prospective jurors were victims or at least their close friends and families were victims of these types of crimes. About 20 jurors discussed their encounters with sexual predators. About half of the 20 approached the judge to discuss their experiences in private—you could tell from their faces that these were, and still are, emotionally wrenching experiences. Many of the jurors openly discussed their experiences in front of the full courtroom. The victims includes young and old, men and women. Two men on the panel stated that when they were children they had been sexually violated by babysitters. Several of the jurors had difficulty speaking of the incidents, because they were overcome by emotion. More than a few prospective jurors stated that they would be unable to sit in judgment of today’s defendant because of the continuing emotional impact based on their own history.
Then the topic turned to gun violence. More than half of the 75 prospective jurors spoke up. Many of them, like me, had a close family member or friend who was robbed at gunpoint. Probably 10 of them mentioned that their family member or friend was actually shot as part of the robbery. Several of the jurors themselves were shot. More than a few of the prospective jurors were personally robbed at gun point. Many of the jurors mentioned other serious crimes too. I mentioned that in 1988 I walked into my own home while a burglary was in progress. Crime involving guns affect prospective jurors of many professions, including health care workers, police officers, teachers and social workers.
Then the topic turned to whether one’s family members had been accused of serious crimes, and the answer was repeatedly yes. Approximately six of the jurors related that their own siblings or children were accused, convicted and often still serving time for serious time.
We were called to court today because one man was accused of serious crimes. I left feeling like society at large was on trial.
Category: law and order