Thursday, September 16, 2010

Ready for the bar exam

I really hope I'm not breaking some sort of oath by making it known to the general public that I have recently served on a grand jury. Today was my last day. Last week I showed up on Tuesday and the clerk asked me if I was here for grand jury. In my ignorance, I didn't even know. Then I glanced at my jury summons and noticed that, in giant bold print, it said GRAND JURY. hmmm... Maybe I'm not the person they want on their jury if I can't even pay attention to something that obvious. I didn't even know there was a difference. As we finished our last case today, I reflected back to what seems like months ago (which was only a week and a half) and was amazed at how much I've learned about law, law enforcement, and crime in my own community.

So, since I imagine many of my readers are as clueless as I was, I'll explain what a grand jury does. We were picked by a judge last week and were told we would serve every other day for two weeks. Half of us would be on Tuesday/Thursday and the other half would be Mon/Wed/Friday. The Tuesday/Thursday group would have an additional service requirement of touring a prison facility. That's right. I went to prison. Anyway, we got about a 2 hour crash course in law and crime and learned everything from the difference between theft, robbery, and burglary, to what kinds of questions we're allowed to ask witnesses, to what amount of money stolen turns a theft into a felony ($1,000 in case you were interested). Then we were "ready". Basically, the District Attorney's office brings cases before us, almost always including at least one witness, presents any other evidence that is available, and we vote and decide if there is enough evidence to send the case on to trial (an indictment). We don't hear from a defendant and usually there is a lot more evidence yet to be uncovered.

What more can I say? I was not prepared for the severity of some of the cases. I am not fearful of my community now, but I am shocked at the nature of the lives that other people lead within blocks from my home. I cannot summarize this experience without giving my hearfelt gratitude and expressing how deeply I am impressed by the law enforcement officers in Salem and the surrounding areas. I have no idea how many patrolmen, detectives, sheriff's deputies, and drug officers I met. Every one of them was incredibly professional, extremely courteous, and it was apparent they took their job very seriously and were giving their absolute best effort every day to protect our community. I just can't say enough how impacted I was by my contact with them.

I must say, I had more than one person ask why didn't I just try to get out of it. First of all, if I believe God to be sovereign, then I have to believe He had this in mind for me. I have enough support that I was able to find childcare. I am not a breastfeeding mother. I possibly could have claimed that I was the sole caregiver of my children, but I'm not sure the judge would have excused me. More importantly, I felt pretty strongly that I needed to serve. I figure that if I was accused of something, I would want someone like me on their jury! I'm thinking that the person that has no life, for whom it is no inconvenience to be on a jury, one who is making minimal contributions to society - this person I'm not too excited to have on my jury.

On top of all the experiences concerning our cases, God had other things in mind. I began a conversation on our second day of service with the man who sat next to me. He was a retiree and was reading a book that I had noticed was about the apostle Paul. Well, we proceeded to "discuss" Christianity for the next 45 minutes. He disagreed with just about everything I had to say and was quite patronizing of my faith. His final request was that I admit that others could be right. I apologetically said I just couldn't agree with something that contradicted the Bible. During this whole conversation, only one person had left the room. I was in a room with 5 other people, very plainly claiming my faith in Christ for my salvation and my belief that the entire Bible is inspired by God. It doesn't get any better than that for growing your faith!

The other thing I would expand on was something I mentioned earlier: I went to jail. Yes, I spent time in the slammer. Every prison is legally supposed to be toured by a grand jury every year. We toured the Oregon State Correctional Institution yesterday. We saw many inmates. We talked with two men serving time for murder. We saw their cells. It was quite a sobering experience. I'm not sure why we have to tour the prison, but one of my thoughts is that because of that, there are people in our community who have seen inside prisons and are telling others of what they witnessed.

This whole experience, in fact, was just so eye-opening. Of course I was not naive enough to think bad things weren't happening around me. However, as a result of this experience, I have a broader understanding of pain and struggles that are happening literally down the street. Also, I have had direct contact with the real-life faces of "law" and "order". Those DAs are working so hard to get and keep criminals off the streets. I really have a renewed faith in our legal system. Even my fellow jurors took their job very seriously. Boy, these last 2 weeks will not be quickly forgotten.


  1. Wow, what an educational experience. Thank you for sharing what you learned and your thoughts. It was thought provoking just reading about it!

  2. I really loved writing about the criminal justice system when I worked for the paper. I found it completely fascinating and was very impressed by most of the professionals I met who worked in the justice system and law enforcement. I actually think I would like to serve on a jury--like you said, I think I'm a reasonable, level-headed person and that if I were on trial, I'd be the kind of person I'd want judging me. The one time I got called up, I was a breastfeeding mother and they let me be dismissed.

    Maybe the prison thing is just so that at some point, there are members of the public touring the prison. "Outsiders" providing some sort of accountability to the prison staff.

  3. I'm proud of you! I think it was very tough physically, (finding childcare) and mentally and emotionally. I know you're exhausted but I would definitely want you on my jury so I'm thankful for your sacrifice and service.

  4. I am very proud of you. Thanks for serving so well and for helping those of us who haven't served have a better understanding of the process and responsibility. I often pray for Officer Keith because I know him. This encourages me to pray for all police officers and those in our legal system. Blessings and love to you, Erin!

  5. I am so proud of you, Erin. For a busy mom at a busy time, you made the harder but responsible choice. You will never know the extent to how God used you at this time.

    I know I would DEFINITELY want you on my jury if I was accused of something. I am thinking they probably wouldn't let you serve on a jury against your mother, though.