Experiential Learning II

The Superior Court of Sacramento County

The Superior Court of Sacramento County

Students, have you ever considered a career in the justice system (lawyer, judge, court reporter, court clerk, jury commissioner, etc.) or law enforcement (bailiff, detective, peace officer, etc.)? Have you ever been in a courtroom, watching a case unfold? Recently, I (Heidi), participated in civic service as a jury member. It was an eye opening experience.

On a Monday morning, I was one of 66 potential jury members called to a courtroom. The  goal was to select a jury of 12 individuals, plus two (2) alternates. This process took more than one day! Once all 14 jurors were sworn-in, only six potential jury members remained seated in the courtroom, 46 individuals had been released. For me, that’s a wow! statement. From this portion of the process, I could deduct, a lawyer’s education must include more than just one Psychology course.

In this courthouse, each courtroom is referred to as a Department, and each has a number. Once the jurors were sworn-in, almost immediately, the lawyers gave their opening arguments. The judge, provided limited instructions, so it is my impression, as a potential juror, I was expected to know the basic proceedings of a trial and trial vocabulary. These things were more than likely covered in my senior year of high school Civics class, but that was a long time ago! Next time I am summons to jury duty, I am going to make sure I refresh my memory on those things, so I am better prepared.

This was a case of The People vs. ‘man’s name.’  When judges read the count(s) the accused is being charged with, as a potential jury member, it can be difficult to remember the accused is innocent until proven guilty. I estimate about half, of the 46 jury members who were released, said they already assumed the man was guilty, just after reading the counts. The Defense lawyers repeatedly reminded the jury, it was the responsibility of the District Attorney to prove (through evidence) the accused was guilty.

This case included 12 counts of criminal acts. Being asked to come to agreement on 12 counts is not an easy task, especially for 12 people who do not know anything about one another, other than we all sat through the same trial. Our deliberations were intense! I was impressed with the way everyone participated in each discussion and reasonably shared how s/he came to her/his decision with each count. In the end, we all didn’t agree on everything, but we scrutinized the verbiage of each law we were following, to decide on the accused’s innocence or guilt.

I strongly encourage anyone interested in careers related to the justice system to spend a day, or more, in a (large) county courthouse. On two separate occasions, college students observed this trial, courtroom observations were part of these students’ coursework. In this county, the general public is allowed in any courtroom with a trial taking place; check the website of the county you’re planning to observe, for information on general public attendance/observations, before arriving at the courthouse. If you’re ever summons to jury duty, embrace the experience with an open mind, and if selected for a jury, respect the process, and of course, the law!

Courtroom Instructions

Courtroom Instructions

 

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