Monday, November 13, 2006

Until we meet again, Justice

I spent the last month stressing out about having been summoned for jury duty in a criminal case, here in Montreal. I was truly torn between wanting to do my duty as a proud citizen of a country lucky to have such institutions, and what it could translate into for my family, employer and self over what can be a draining experience, lasting months to complete in some cases...

So I went this morning, going from shuffling ideas in the back of my mind on how I could get out of it, to almost be excited to be a part of an experience that might not present itself again in my lifetime.

After being briefed on the details of the case, which I cannot elaborate on for legal and decency reasons, we were offered the opportunity to ask the judge for an exemption. I would say almost half the room (we were about 100) rushed to do so, only for the large majority to be told they were not entitled to one. I decided not to ask for one myself, concluding that the least I could do was to let the process take its course, and leave it to the court to decide if this was meant to be.

Sure enough, I was drawn to be in the first twenty people to be evaluated by the prosecution and defense. Both parties are allowed to refuse up to twenty jurors without any further explanation. They can refuse more if needed, but past 20, they have to start justifying their decisions.

I was eighteenth in the first batch of twenty. When it came time for me to pass in front of the judge, prosecution and defense, only 4 jurors had been retained.

I was asked to state my name and occupation. The prosecution accepted me right away, but after a few seconds of what looked like intense deliberation, the two defense lawyers deemed that I did not fit their criteria for this case.

I have to say that I was relieved the decision had been made for me. This is because the next step was to swear under oath that, among other things, I would only make a decision based on the proofs presented to us during the case, and on the proofs only. I do not think I could have sincerely sworn to this, because I don't believe that a legally untrained person could swear to leave their personal beliefs and judgments behind to act as some kind of legal robot, particularly in a murder case. I am not arguing against the system, but I could not pretend to be prone to this kind of detachment myself. And if I wasn't going to lie to weasel myself out of the responsibility, like so many others tried to do, I certainly was not ready to do so to falsely get into it either, regardless of what the consequences might be.

So if I understood properly, it now means I cannot be called for jury duty for another five years. I'm almost curious to see if and how life might change my opinion with a few more years under my belt, should I be randomly drawn from the electors list again.

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