Rhonda Walker: My experience serving as a foreperson for a local jury

Rhonda Walker Jury Duty (WDIV Local 4)

SOUTHFIELD, Mich. – Since it’s now public record, I can share a bit about the case I heard.

I arrived at 46th District Court in Southfield at 9 a.m. and didn’t leave until almost 7 p.m. that evening, long after the courthouse closed for the day. I’ll share more about the case and what I did at the court for 10 hours in a moment. But let me go back to the moment I opened “the letter.”

You know the feeling when you get the letter in the mail. It’s a summons for jury duty, and it never falls on a good day. You have work, a business trip, doctors’ appointments, lunch meetings, childcare, a vacation day, volunteering at your child’s school and the list of reasons why you just can’t do it that day or any day for that matter, goes on and on. Then there’s the “what if’s.” What if I get selected for a jury, what if it goes longer than one day, what if I get selected for a jury that lasts weeks or even months!

Among all those initial thoughts, do you ever stop to think of the person counting on you to finally have their day in court and get justice? That’s your role as a juror; you decide the fate of a case.

In my case, it was a man who had been brutally beaten and hospitalized four months ago, and he wanted his attacker held accountable. There are countless cases every day in our judicial system that deserve to be heard, and the pandemic didn’t help with the backlog of criminal cases where the accusers have a right to a jury trial before their peers. And that can’t be done on a zoom call.

I’ll admit I never thought about the actual people in my community, my neighbors, the people I see at the grocery store that are seeking the justice they deserve. Innocent people whose lives were turned upside down. They are victims of various crimes, their homes or businesses broken into, valuable property destroyed or stolen, victims of domestic violence, abuse, landlord-tenant cases and the case I decided with five other jurors and an alternate.

Here’s how my day as a juror played out

I arrived at 9 a.m. and was sent to a waiting area with dozens of other jurors, and about an hour later, we were taken into a courtroom to hear a domestic assault case where a father was accused of beating his child. Several jurors were called to the jury box for the Voir Dire process when the judge and attorneys asked the jurors questions to select or reject jurors to hear the case. It took over an hour before a jury was selected. My name was never called and I along with the remaining jurors returned to the waiting area for another hour or so.

Then we were taken to another courtroom for Judge Debra Nance. We went through the same process for an aggravated assault case. This time my name was called and after a line of several questions and answers I thought may have eliminated me as a broadcast journalist, I was selected and the jury was seated, it was just after 1 p.m. We were given a lunch break of 35 minutes; the only time we could leave the court zip over to the closest local restaurant and hightail it back by 1:40 p.m. It was 1:52 p.m. when all seven of us began to hear the case with notepads in hand intently listening to every word said while jotting down notes and questions. We heard from six witnesses, including the accuser, two police officers and the defendant and by 5:30 p.m. the case was placed in our hands to deliberate and make a decision. The judge instructed us to take all the time we need and that they will wait.

I was the first to speak and start the conversation with my fellow jurors about the case. The alternate was randomly selected by the judge and absent from our deliberations. We reviewed the charges and agreed unanimously in less than one hour that the state proved its case beyond reasonable doubt and the defendant was guilty. The jury selected me as the foreman whose role it is to represent the jury and communicate with the court and judge on our behalf. Shortly after 6 p.m. long after the court closed for the day we returned to the courtroom, and I was asked to stand and deliver the verdict to the court with the defendant and plaintiff staring right at me. I returned eye contact and with a strong commanding voice said, “We the jury find the defendant guilty of aggravated assault.”

I can tell you I am so thankful I had the chance to fulfill my civic duty and I was shown great appreciation by the court, the judge, the prosecutor and the defense attorney for showing up and being attentive that day. They each came to talk to us after the verdict in the jury room to thank us and asked each of us for feedback. We were constantly thanked for being there because, without us, the case would not be heard or decided, and these victims would have had to wait even longer for justice. We owe it to our neighbors in our community to be more eager to serve rather than looking for any way out of it.

Yes, I missed a doctor’s appointment I waited 4 months to get, it’s now been rescheduled to the end of February, and I also missed the annual Christmas party that evening with women, dear friends, from a service organization I’ve been a member of for 17 years. And while I was bummed to miss both I know that I will see my girlfriends again soon and February will be here before I know it.

I ended the day with an unexpected date night dinner out with my proud husband where we enjoyed talking about my experience and fulfilling my civic duty as a juror.

About the Author:

Rhonda Walker has been helping Detroiters get motivated and ready for the day for the past 22 years. A confessed morning person, this award winning talented and versatile journalist starts her day at 2:00 am to co-anchor the weekday morning newscast at WDIV-Local 4 News. A position she’s held since 2003.