This article covers my being on jury duty, as well as also being a defendant in a civil suit, observing in traffic court, and being a witness for a woman in a case that never should have gone to court. The lesson I learned in each, is that being involved in a real court case is nothing like what you see on TV.
Only once did I ever have to serve on jury duty. Serving on a jury, years ago, was an event I have never forgotten. My experience had to do with a young man who was on trial for selling drugs. Back then, drugs weren’t as big a problem as they are now.
I was asked a lot of questions by the court before I was chosen to be on the jury. During the trial, a lot of the defense witnesses seemed to be friends of the defendant, who testified that he wouldn’t have sold anyone any drugs at all. At the end of all the testimony, we were given some instructions and sent to the jury room to vote on whether we thought he was innocent or guilty as charged.
As soon as we walked in the jury room, immediately one of the jurors very loudly said, “We all know he is guilty, so let’s vote that way and get out of here.” Wow, that was a shock.
Thank goodness there was someone in the room who finally said, “Wait a minute! I have to sleep nights and I need to be sure he is guilty before I vote that way.”
A lot of us were relieved at that moment, and so the process began. We were so split in our decisions, that we had to ask the judge to answer some questions pertaining to the findings. It’s not easy to remember all the in’s and out’s of the discussion, so I will just move on to the fact that it ended with him being found guilty.
It was then that we learned the guilty verdict would mean spending time in prison. With the law written as it was, that’s the way it had to go. I cannot describe it any better, than to say I was so upset over the whole experience, I didn’t want anyone on the witness stand to ever recognize me anywhere. So the very next day, I got my hair cut off very short.
I have also been in a situation when a jury was to decide something that was a part of my life. The point that I want to make is that when I took the stand to testify, the attorney for the plaintiff wanted to make me look bad in the eyes of the jurors.
So, the attorney tried to make a big deal out of the fact that I didn’t know the difference between a combine and a hay baler. Or was it a corn picker? Well, I didn’t know either one, but who cares? I’m not a farmer. That having failed, he tried to make it look like I didn’t own my own home.
He said that I lived in some apartment somewhere. And I told him that I did not live in any apartment, I owned my own house. Then he said that there was no record of my owning any property, thus meaning I was wrong.
That’s when I explained to the jury that I bought my house before I got married, so it was purchased in my maiden name, so wasn’t in the name I had then.
He still didn’t want to be wrong, so started asking other questions as to how much my mortgage payments were. Having a mortgage was just more proof that I really did own my house. So, the case proceeded from there. I had the whole experience of waiting the time that it took the jury to deliberate and have them come back in the courtroom and hand the judge their verdict.
We won the case, so it all turned out well. Of course, we had a wonderful lawyer at that time and I have always said she deserved a star. After that situation in court, I had a Survivorship Deed made out so as to have our property in both our names, and that included my name being changed to my married name that I have now.
While in high school, our Problems of Democracy class had to spend a couple of hours at the City Hall, where the Municipal Court used to be, while persons who got traffic tickets came in to plead their case.
The one case I have never forgotten was when the judge yelled as he bawled out a woman for running a red light. I sat there listening and was scared to pieces and right then I knew I would never speed anywhere or at any time.
And that ‘scared straight’ experience worked, because I have never gotten a traffic ticket. It took me a long time to get over the fear I had of that judge. Years later, I got to know him and found that he was a very nice person, but I never forgot how afraid I was of him while I was still in high school.
Once, I was asked to be a character witness in another court case of a woman I had known for several years. It was a minor case and should never have gone to court in the first place. Also, in that case, the prosecutor tried to make me look bad so as to discredit anything I said in favor of the defendant. Thank goodness, the defendant was found not guilty, so all turned out well.
You never know when you may have to appear in court. But if you do, may you have good representation, be able to speak in your own defense, and with jury duty, know you are doing your civic duty.
Kay E. Conklin is a retired Delaware County recorder who served four terms. She graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University with a degree in sociology and anthropology.