In a democratic society, jury duty is a citizen’s sacred obligation. The right to be judged by a jury of one’s peers is the bedrock of the Canadian judiciary system. It is the ultimate safeguard of our nations’ constitutional rights.
Jurors are required to determine the facts and render a verdict in accordance with court instructions. In Canada, citizens were randomly selected into a jury pool, and the jurors for each trial (civil or criminal) will be chosen from the jury pool by prosecutors, lawyers and judges, based on their competency and suitability.
Several years ago, I was summoned to a jury duty. On a Monday morning, I arrived at University courthouse as instructed, becoming a member of jury pool. I stayed in a large courtroom with over a hundred of potential jurors waiting to be selected. But with a limited knowledge about this civic duty, I freaked out. I was quickly dismissed after I had sought exemption for several reasons – from financial burdens to poor health conditions.
But not until I had more knowledge about this civilian’s obligation, I didn’t know what I had missed.
Jury duty could be intimidating experience for many people. Jurors are required to sit in the courtrooms during a trial to examine evidence and to deliberate for weeks and even months on end to reach a verdict. It is a tedious job. Between the late starts, early dismissals, frequent delays and insufferably long recesses, jurors probably spent only a few hours listening to testimony and arguments on any given day.
For many jurors, jury deliberation could also be a nerve wracking experience, and an emotional roller coaster.
The graphic, gruesome and potentially upsetting evidence could be frightening. In jury selection process of the high profile trial of Lukka Magnotta -- the convicted killer of Chinese student Lin Jun, several juror candidates were scared off by the disturbing evidence and begged off.
Some jury deliberation can turn ugly. Rui Wen pan, who was convicted for killing and dismemberment of his girlfriend – Chinese student Selina Shen in the 1980s, had gone through a marathon legal proceeding during his murder trials. Pan hadn’t been convicted until after the third trial. The first ended in hung jury. The second was declared a mistrial after a juror sent judge a note alleging that she was under pressure from other jurors.
Nonetheless, jury duties could turn out to be a rewarding and a life-time experience that is enjoyed by many people. According to a criminal lawyer interviewed by CBC story, many people sat on juries have almost uniformly found it to be one of the greatest experiences that they've gone through as an individual.
As a juror, you have the privilege to hear and view the arguments and evidence that is deliberately planned and presented to you. When the jurors return to the jury box with the verdict, they would gather the attentions from everyone in the courtroom, including the prosecutions, the defendant, the defence attorney, and the families of those involved. At this moment, the courtroom is filled with overwhelming sense of tension.
When the verdict is read out in the courtroom, jurors could experience the biggest adrenaline rush they’ve ever felt. The stakes are really high – their verdict can exonerate the person facing charges, or forever change the lives of the defendant and devastate his families. It could bring some closure to the victims’ loved ones.
As James Forcillo faces murder trials in the death of 18-year-old Sammy Yatim, the high profile trial marks historical moment in Canada. Amid a growing public and judiciary scrutiny of police actions, the jury’s verdict can be a game changer for police officers facing charges in the death of civilians.
Jury duty is a most sacred obligation for new Canadians, particularly those from a country where the jury system is restricted and jurors are unable to perform the legal function independently.
It could also be fascinating experience for many. If I am lucky enough to be selected again, I would rather sacrifice financially to take on this incredibly sacred job one could ever imagine.
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