Observations from the Jury Box

I’ve been summoned for jury duty before, but never even had to appear at the courthouse. This time my number came up — and I was seated on the jury for the trial of a man accused of  criminal sale of a controlled substance in the 3rd degree, a Class B felony. He was arrested for selling $20 worth of heroin.

Here are a few impressions:

If you get called for jury duty, you probably will not serve. 150 people were summoned in my group and 14 were chosen. Everybody else was dismissed. We were told upfront, before selection even began, that our trial would last just two or three days.

Albany County Court gives jurors the VIP treatment. We were handled extremely well by court personel who went out of their way to make sure it was a positive experience. After the trial, the judge, Hon. Thomas A. Breslin, visited with us to thank us for our service and answer our questions about the trial. He would not address sentencing, which will not take place until August.

Court can be a lonely place. Our courtroom could accomodate nearly 300 spectators — and every single seat was empty. The defendant stood alone without friends or family. The charges that will send him to prison were not even interesting enough for a reporter to show up.

The whole case hinged on whether we believed the tesimony of an informant who conducted the drug buy. Initially, several jurors harbored doubts about her testimony — but as it turned out, theirs were not reasonable doubts. One would need to believe that she concocted an elaborate scheme to fake her drug buy and frame the defendant, all right under the nose of the police who had her under strict control. Could there have been some sort of conspiracy against the defendant? Yes. Was that a likely scenario? Absolutely not.

Overall, it was a fascinating experience.

Everyone should see what happens during a real trial first hand, if not as a juror then from the gallery. The prosecutor primed us in his openning statement by telling us this would not be like on Law & Order. He was right, it was not. And nothing you’ve ever seen can prepare you for being part of the real deal.

2 responses to “Observations from the Jury Box

  1. 1/12 of an Angry Man

    Rob – loved this post. I also just recently completed a four-day trial as a juror before Judge Breslin on a felony D.W.I. case…we unanimously decided to acquit…the DA’s office didn’t prove its case. Deliberations were made more bearable by a county-sponsored sandwich and soda…! It was my second time as a sitting juror in a criminal case…I do like watching Judge Breslin work….he runs a tight ship. See you in six years! 😉

    • Our deliberations were intense at times. It was not until we had a read-back of the informant’s testimony and listened to the recording from her wire that the dissenting jurors came around. The recording was very difficult to understand — but it was clear enough to tell us that she dealt only with the defendant.

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