- Special Sections
- Public Notices
Voting, private property and stable legal institutions are pillars of our society. So is trial by jury.
The United States Constitution, Article 3, Section 3, says “The Trial of all Crimes, except in Cases of Impeachment, shall be by Jury…”
In the New Mexico Constitution trial by jury is in Article 2, Section 12, between religious freedom and bail. “The right of trial by jury as it has heretofore existed shall be secured to all and remain inviolate.”
Neither constitution mentions peers, though in the common vernacular “jury” and “peers” go together like “love” and “marriage.” Jury impartiality is what counts. But one Internet source (criminal.findlaw.com) traces the use of peers back to the Magna Carta. Today “fellow citizens” is another phrase for peers.
To be on a jury, one is plucked from voter lists and just about any other official known database. A letter comes saying the court needs some possible jurors, and you are on call for a while, three weeks in my case.
The “you are it” letter included a really long, detailed questionnaire to be totally completed. Saying, “Thanks but no thanks,” is bad form. If you think you truly cannot serve, tell us why, the letter says; a note from your doctor helps. Being a new mom brings a temporary reprieve. Exactly six months later, the invitation comes again.
My call to be a peer came with instructions to appear on a Monday at the district court.
Each panel member got a bright yellow cell phone pass for the security check. The pass was noted the first couple of times through the security and then ignored.
The total group of potential jurors appeared to be several hundred. For each trial a smaller number of jurors is told to report to the jury room where the members of a given jury panel are called by name in what appears to be a random order, given a number and escorted to the court room.
In one of my cases, 65 potential jurors were summoned. One woman complained the approach felt like grade school. The number ties to a seating chart held by the attorneys and the judge who use it for questioning the jurors to assess impartiality.
Jury panel group demographics covered the bases. Age, race and ethnicity were apparent. Clothing suggested economic status. Some members of the jury panel knew one another. Two men were golf buddies. Through business I had met two men.
Courtroom questioning of the jury panel revealed occupation — construction, computer nerd, attorney, business owner, teacher, graphic designer, soldier, retired. The questioning found commonalities. Almost all had been robbed, some at gunpoint, some several times. Almost all had been in several auto accidents. Four is my wreck count, two vehicle, two motorcycle. Most had a favorable attitude toward the police.
A few people had topics for which they felt unable to set aside their revulsion and impartially weigh the case by the evidence. Sexual abuse was one such topic, raising the question of the ability of people facing such charges to get an impartial jury.
After the panel questioning, anyone needing to share something without involving the entire jury panel was invited to speak individually to the judge, the attorneys and the parties to the case. For me it was lawyer behavior. When beginning the panel questioning, this Baby Lawyer apologized for potential nerves, saying it was the first time to lead the examination. Wrong, dude. Never, ever apologize. The apology killed the credibility. I feared for the case. The judge and lawyers heard my statement, thanked me and sent me on my way. The process continued. I was not picked for that jury.