My jury service experience

"A jury verdict is just a guess - a well-intentioned guess,generally, but you simply cannot tell fact from fiction by taking a vote" - William Landay, Defending Jacob

Back in January I did my Stepping out of my comfort zone post, in which I briefly touched upon my two weeks of jury service which commenced at the beginning of this year. I find it rather odd because although I stated that it had been "one of the most rewarding experiences of my life", I still didn't feel able to go into great detail about it. Six months on, and it seems like a lifetime ago, again, which is odd because until the end of last month my mind drifted to the trial several times every day yet now I barely realise it even happened.

For legal reasons I can't discuss the details of the trial on here but what I can talk about is how the trial made me feel, my emotions, both then and now, and how I perceive it now - six months on.

When my jury summons came in the post (on my twentieth birthday) I felt like my entire world was ending. I realise that that sounds incredibly over dramatic and ridiculous but, for someone who worries about walking into lectures on my own, for me it was terrifying. For a few weeks I was in denial, I didn't read the pamphlets, I didn't research general details, I just pushed it to the very back of my mind. It's perhaps one of my many faults, that I don't face daunting prospects; I tend to avoid them at all costs, but this one I couldn't avoid. As the start date grew nearer I found myself feeling cross that it had to be me, that I had to lose a week of my Christmas holiday, that I had to go into a place I didn't know with people I didn't know and potentially change someone's life. Everything about it seemed ridiculous to me. I'm twenty years old I thought I don't have any life experience of my own hardly let alone enough to decide the fate of another. All I wanted was to be back at uni.

I was totally unaware before I started of how the trial would affect me and for how long it would affect me for. The trial involved many people of around my age and I think that that is what got to me the most. I found it nearly impossible to not put myself in their shoes and think about how terrified I would be if I had to stand in front of a court and have to discuss such graphic events. The secrecy of it all was also tough, I couldn't drop a text to a friend for advice; I had to make decisions without their input and they couldn't even know the minimal details. At the time I realised I had to detach myself from the case. In the court I was interested and invested but once I left the courtroom I was Kate the university student who had bills to pay and friends to see; the two simply couldn't overlap.

I believed I had done a good job at separating the two aspects of my life for the couple of weeks that I was a juror but it was only on returning to university that I realised the case had a funny way of creeping back into my life. Be it thinking I'd seen a member of the trial in the street (and taking a second, third and fourth glance to be sure I hadn't) or finding my mind wandering to how the lives of the people involved must have changed after the verdict. You don't often find out the actual sentencing, if the accused is found guilty, and that unknown also played on my mind. I was suddenly aware that my thoughts and actions had had a raw and direct impact upon another's life (and I didn't know how severely) and that I find scary.

"in a 1998 survey by the National Center for State Courts even after the shortest trials, one to three days, 27% of jurors said they experienced stress as a result of their jury duty... and 12% said 'something should have been done to reduce our stress levels" 

There have been many studies into the stress during jury service and the impacts of it but, when researching, I could find virtually nothing about the stress to follow (at the time my separation of the court room and home life minimised my stress and I was pretty content). I felt quite alone at times, not knowing why my mind was dwelling upon events of the past so frequently and, to be honest, it was quite scary. I'd find myself watching court scenes on soaps or reports about court cases on the news and everything would come flooding back, what was everyone up to now? And not just those involved in the case but also my fellow jurors, the staff and even the security out front. For two weeks of my life they were a constant; unknown strangers became friendly faces and in those short weeks that our lives overlapped we became accustomed to each other. No one wanted to be alone or isolated and so you sit and talk about day to day life, hobbies, you get to know each other. But now, their names slip my mind, their professions are unknown to me and I realise I'll never cross paths with them again. Strange.

All in all, what I'm trying to get at, I think, is that jury service isn't something that lasts two weeks, the impact of it lasts a lot longer. Whilst my stepping out of my comfort zone post highlighted my pride and feeling of success following jury service, down the line I feel very different. I still feel good to have done it, proud of myself for not getting into a complete tizz and feeling a nervous wreck (for the most part) but I also feel this immense weight of pressure and guilt for the outcome, I  have been responsible for playing a part in changing individual's lives significantly yet I am able to just walk away from it whilst them, and their friends and family, will live with the consequences for ever.


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