Dickson: What it’s like to serve on a jury

Jun 12, 2024, 12:00 PM

A sign at the Matheson Courthouse in Salt Lake City is pictured on Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. (Kristin ...

A sign at the Matheson Courthouse in Salt Lake City is pictured on Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. (Kristin Murphy/Deseret News)

(Kristin Murphy/Deseret News)

This is an editorial piece. An editorial, like a news article, is based on fact but also shares opinions. The opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and are not associated with our newsroom. 

I was potential juror #68. Out of 75.

This is the fourth time I’ve been tapped for jury service, but I have yet to be selected to sit on a jury. This time felt more impactful in light of the current spotlight on juries around the country. I am humbled by the courage and commitment to service necessary to sit on the jury in the cases against Chad Daybell and Lori Vallow Daybell. I cannot imagine sitting on the jury of a former president or the son of a president.

I thought about that as I looked at my fellow jury candidates this week. The jury selection process for this trial in Salt Lake County was virtual. We all joined via WebEx.

“Raise your right hand”

The clerk started by showing us a video designed to put our minds at ease about the nature of jury service. It included former jurors talking about their experience, saying things like: “I shouldn’t have been worried. It was fine.”

Then the judge swore us in.

Raising your right hand and swearing to answer all questions truthfully is always a moment for pause, even on your computer screen. I looked at my fellow citizens, taking time from their work, their families, their lives to be here and raise their hand beside me. Respect.

We met the judge a short while later. She explained the process to us, and told us a little about the case. She told us not to Google anything about the case, the name of the defendant or the names of the attorneys. (I wonder when the no-Google instruction was added to the intro.)

Then we were divided into smaller groups and waited. And waited. We waited about 4 hours. From time to time, one of my fellow juror candidates would chime in, “Is anybody still here?” One or two of us would reply, commiserate, and then turn our cameras and microphones back off.

At long last, the judge came back on the screen. She told us that they had seated a jury. She read the juror numbers of those who had been selected. She asked the attorneys if they had any objections to the panel, and then she thanked all of us, even those who were not selected. “All of you are crucial to the jury process. We have to call more potential jurors than we will ultimately need. That is part of the process. Thank you for your service.”

What former jurors say about jury duty

I have to admit — I really wanted to have the experience. Having been in the media for nearly 40 years, I have reported on many, many court cases. When I was a lawyer decades ago, I participated in jury selection with the more senior attorneys. But I have never been on that side of the courtroom, never felt the weight of it.

I asked my friends on Facebook if anyone had served on a jury. Many were willing to share their experiences with me. I will not identify their last names to protect their privacy.

Sandy: “It was gut-wrenching and difficult to hold someone’s future in my hands. I had to remind myself the consequence wasn’t mine to give or pay but had been chosen with the act.”

Leif: “There were open discussions. I was careful to make sure nothing was missed before giving a guilty verdict. I still think of that experience and hope the convicted individual has improved. ”

Sharon: “I served on four different juries. One lasted 6 weeks! Each deliberation was different. All of them included review of evidence, straw poll of the members and lots of conversations until we agreed on a verdict.”

Drew: “I’ve been called up five times and got dismissed each time, either because the case went to settlement or I was disqualified. I have a strong suspicion that lawyers, especially in Utah, don’t like the idea of a highly educated, left-leaning, non-affiliated independent, gay, married, white, military veteran on their jury.”

Della: “The worst one I was on took 4 days and there was lots of arguing and even screaming by one juror.”

Kiersten: “I was on a very agreeable jury once. It was a case with four charges. We had to look at each charge and decide on each charge one by one.”

Dan: “Some jurors made up their minds before deliberations, and even before testimony/arguments were complete. I worked hard to find a compromise and appeal to logic among the jurors. Many jurors will vote with the majority JUST TO BE DONE WITH IT.”

Andrea: “I served on a criminal jury in college. By the time we were allowed to discuss the case, we were pleasantly surprised to realize we were all on the same page.”

Amanda Dickson is the co-host of Utah’s Morning News and A Woman’s View on KSL NewsRadio. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

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Dickson: What it’s like to serve on a jury