I had the pleasure of serving on a grand jury this past spring.
For those who don’t know how this commitment works, here’s a rundown.
At least here in Southern Oregon, potential jurors are first sent a letter via snail mail, which states the time period required for duty. In our county, this duration is just two months, with one weekly meeting in the afternoon that lasts about four hours.
I filled out and returned the detached postcard, which was required but probably not followed up on.
Then, since there are close to 90,000 residents in our area, I forgot about it, figuring any further correspondence was slim at best.
So, I was surprised and excited to receive a second notice a few weeks later stating I’d been selected for duty. Later,
I learned that getting picked is luck of the draw, since all names are randomly pulled from the Oregon Department of Motor Vehicles.
The second notice gave a date, time and place to meet for orientation about a week later. Thirty-two of us gathered at eight o’clock on a cold Monday morning near the courthouse, where we were briefed on the history of grand juries;
the importance of being a part of this service, and the fact that we’d receive $20 for the first two times we appeared, and $25 per meeting after that.
We are also told that all of the cases we’d hear had felony charges attached, and that we’d be privy to an underbelly of persons and criminal acts that hardly ever made the news.
Then, standing up together and raising our right hands, we recited an oath of service. Finally, we were given
I was chosen as an alternate.
This was deeply disappointing because I’d been looking forward to taking a bigger part in the process.
To hopefully remedy this, I patiently waited to speak to the scheduler after the meeting.
Face-to-face with just this one person, I told her I’d be happy to pinch hit at any time, even with no notice. This willingness also meant that instead of being in only one group of eight jurors, I’d potentially get the chance to interact with every one of the three groups.
As it turned out, that’s what happened, and I ended up coming in nearly as often as those whose instructions were to show up every week. Once, I was called three days in a row.
Another note for clarity: unlike traditional jury duty, grand jurors don’t vote on a defendant’s guilt or innocence.
Rather, we only had one job to do: to determine if there was enough evidence in each case to see that case move forward to trial.
My notes had to be left behind. But, a few things continue to stay with me.
One, every grand juror took every case seriously.
At any given meeting, there were half a dozen to 10 cases to vote on, all summarized by the district attorney handling that particular case. Sitting in front of us in a conference room, this DA laid out the facts, and then, mostly in person but sometimes via Facetime or Zoom, interviewed the victim or victims, witnesses and law enforcement who had been called to the crime scene. We were always encouraged to ask questions after the presentations.
In about 99 percent of the cases I was on, the grand jurors voted to move the crime forward.
There were an inordinate number of DUIs, which is how I found out that per capita, my county has the most drunk driving incidents in the entire United States. There were also many victims threatened at gunpoint — Oregon allows the open carrying of handguns or long guns for those 18 or over, except for felons and in a few other cases — most of whom knew the alleged perpetrator.
Making and selling methamphetamine is also big business here, and some of those weapons charges appeared to overlap with illegal drug shenanigans.
Two, we heard at least one domestic abuse case every time I reported for duty.
All involved girlfriends who had mostly been strangled; one woke up to her boyfriend’s hands on her neck. She had known him since elementary school. Another was a woman instructed to get into her partner’s car for a ride to a sketchy part of town, so that crime had an extra charge of kidnapping. Many of the victims were teary; had to be coaxed to speak louder, and swore they should have known better.
I hoped they might make better choices next time.
A couple of cases have stuck in my craw.
The first was a DUI that left an experienced motorcyclist with permanent and severe injuries. That victim had signaled and was about to make a left turn into a convenience store, but was then hit head-on at a high rate of speed by a heavily intoxicated driver.
The latter was so drunk that a multitude of beer cans flew out of his car on impact. Unrepentant, he told officers he drank every day and got drunk every day. This case was also what’s called a secret indictment, meaning the perpetrator is currently a fugitive.
The crash had occurred a year earlier by the time we met the victim. He could walk, but it was really a slow shuffle, and he was propped up with a head-to-toe walker and his grown daughter helping. He had no memory of the accident, waking up in the hospital the next day minus an eye. He will never be able to work again.
Because the injuries were so egregious and the perp so carefree, the grand jury asked to add charges. We were able to do so and if this drunk driver is ever caught and tried, he’ll face a dozen additional years behind bars.
That felt good.
The other case involved a brave eight-year-old girl I’ll call H.
Both parents work long hours and last summer, she and her siblings were sent to stay with a grandmother during the day. That woman lived in an apartment complex that boasted a large courtyard, and it was here that H spent a lot of time playing with other children. One afternoon, a tenant approached H, telling her that he had noticed her toy monkey had gotten dirty.
The middle-aged man was happy, he told H, to wash the toy for her if she came up to his place.
H was informed by a playmate that the man was “creepy” and that she shouldn’t go with him. But, H did. After putting the toy in soapy water, he took her to his bedroom and had the little girl lie down, then lifted H’s top up and began blowing on her stomach. He then asked H about men’s private parts.
At that point, H ran, closing the man’s apartment door behind her. However, she didn’t tell anyone about the encounter until a few months later, when she blurted out what had happened to a parent.
H’s story was then reported to the police almost immediately, and with a specially trained social worker in a quiet setting meant to put her at ease, she was interviewed. H was shy and withdrawn — something her parents said H had never been before the incident. Still, she recalled many details of the man’s apartment, including where the bed and television were, as well as the different types of sports equipment in his bedroom closet.
By the time law enforcement got involved, the perp had relocated a few times. When he was found months later, he begrudgingly agreed to an interview. Confronted with H’s detailed account, he was arrested and in custody when we were presented with the case.
H was more than courageous.
Her willingness to tell her story has likely saved other children from this alleged pedophile, who I can only hope will be sentenced to a very long time in prison.
I was sad when my grand jury duty ended last month.
In a small way, I’ve helped my adopted community, and that’s A Very Good Feeling.
While the county DA can’t call me again for two years, I can get a notice to serve on a federal grand jury one town over.