An acquaintance contacted me recently and asked how, as a prospective juror on a criminal case, she should handle a sensitive situation.
I told her what I thought she could do, and wished her well.
She contacted me again a few days later with this account of how it went:
You’ll never know how much you helped me, but briefly I will try to tell you. They impaneled 99 jurors for this somewhat high-profile case of six counts of sex charges against a physician. I was one of 18 in the first group chosen for voir dire. I found myself feeling incredibly angry, vulnerable, even ashamed (I never pressed charges in two very similar cases in which I was the victim. Two of the counts duplicate my victim experience exactly.) Had you not told me I have the prerogative to answer some questions confidentially in a sidebar, I would have not asked for confidentiality. I would have broken into tears, and felt terribly raw and miserable telling some 105 people my experience. At no time did the judge give us the option of being confidential in telling him why some of us don’t feel we could be impartial.
And when asked about crimes I’ve suffered, or close friends or family….and I said I would prefer to answer these questions confidentially….the judge was not kind. He grumbled about the time it would take. I nodded, but because of you, I knew I could do it.
So when it came time for the sidebar, it was STILL really difficult to tell both sides and the judge and court clerks my brief story. But a million times better than having the whole room hear about it.
As you predicted, I was excused ultimately, the first juror to be excused. This experience has shown me that this is still a wound, and I am convinced so many women our age just “took” various kinds of abuse in our teens and 20’s and 30’s. We didn’t have recourse. Or the ramifications of turning someone in were frightening, or bad for our career, or intimidating, or maybe felt threatening to our relationships. This is a story still to be told, I think.
Well, THANK YOU SO MUCH, and bless you for saving at least one piece of sanity I retain!
This woman’s experience of being violated by an authority figure and feeling too intimidated, threatened or at a loss at what to do about it is without any doubt a far too common occurrence. It’s a total outrage that it happened to her and has happened to others and that it continues to be the plague that it is today.
Even more outrageous, though, is the judge’s callousness. Pitiless–and pitiful–people like him, particularly those in positions of authority–are one reason wounds like this woman’s don’t heal. Shame on him and on everyone like him who spurn or miss the opportunity to be, at very least, understanding.
I will have everlasting respect for this woman and for her courage.
A judge I know always states before voir dire starts: “In the event anyone should ask you a question that is difficult to answer in this public setting [the courtroom] , such as have you ever been the victim of a crime similar to those presented in this case, please say so and we can discuss the matter more privately at the sidebar with just myself and the attorneys. But please understand that due to the serious nature of these proceedings we need to have your full and accurate answers to our questions concerning your ability to serve as a fair and impartial trial juror.”
I have heard judges make similar statements to prospective jurors. The judge on the case in question here, I believe, is atypical. How can a judge think a juror can be impartial if s/he has been victimized in a crime similar to what the defendant has been charged with? Amazing that the judge on the case in this woman’s experience considered his time more valuable/important that consideration for the people who were going to sit in judgment and expected to render a fair, objective verdict