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.

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