Do you want to contribute something to the community? Unable to donate money, lift heavy objects, or stand for long periods? You can also volunteer your mind and time.
The Office of the Bronx District Attorney (DA) is always in need of volunteer mock jurors for their felony trial training programs’ jury days, which are held once per year in June at their offices on 161st Street.
Each year, this program trains attorneys to become new assistant district attorneys (ADAs), so they can prosecute felony cases in Bronx courts on behalf of the DA. The mock jury day is one small — but very important — part of the months-long training for ADAs.
I first heard about this program a few years ago when I attended one of my local police precinct’s community council meetings. Raeshawn Horry, Community Engagement Coordinator in the DA office’s Community Affairs Unit, invited community members to participate in the training program as mock jurors.
Ms. Horry and her co-workers attend all the police precincts’ community council meetings throughout the Bronx each month (at those meetings, residents can voice concerns to the police, politicians, and the DA office). They also recruit volunteers at local community centers, clergy meetings, and neighborhood associations.
Each year up to 100 volunteers from all Bronx neighborhoods take part in the event. I have participated as a mock juror for the past three years.
Volunteers are divided into groups for morning and afternoon sessions. Most mock jury selections are held in conference rooms, but one fortunate group even occupies a small mock courtroom in the DA office.
It includes actual jury seats, a witness stand, and a judge desk/bench. As I hadn’t yet served on a real jury, this gave me familiarity with what a real courtroom felt like.
One of the staff, acting as a mock judge, then asks the volunteer jurors many of the same questions a real judge would ask potential jurors to prequalify them to serve: about your neighborhood and job and your previous experience serving on a jury.
Jurors are also asked if any family members work in law enforcement and if anyone you know, or you yourself, ever have been a victim of crime — and whether that would prevent you from objectively listening to police testimonials on the witness stand and fairly rendering a verdict based on the facts.
Each ADA trainee is then given 10 to 15 minutes to “interview” the mock jurors. Some use real-life felony court cases (without revealing identities or specific details) to ask hypothetical questions such as how much evidence you as a juror need, whether you can evaluate an incident on certain key facts, render a verdict following the law, etc.
There are no right or wrong answers — the ADAs simply want to determine whether you would be a good fit as a juror for their specific cases.
At the conclusion of each ADA trainee’s presentation, we give feedback to them on how effective their presence and questions were and how they could improve.
Staff who coordinate the program have repeatedly told us in the past years that our feedback is very valuable to their trainees and the program could not be completed without our participation.
Last year I noticed that the DA office added their interns to our jury groups as well. Ms. Horry informed me that this was intended to diversify the mock jury pool so all age groups are represented. In the past, mostly retirees served as mock jurors. Just a few younger adults were able to take a day off work to participate in the program.
At the end of the day, each volunteer “juror” receives a “Certificate of Participation” proving they volunteered that day in the Bronx DA office.
When I first participated, we even met then-DA Robert Johnson; and two years ago, we were greeted by our borough’s new DA Darcel Clark. Both thanked us for our volunteering service.
It felt great to volunteer my time and input to government and the community. By helping to train our borough’s future prosecutors better, we help ensure fair trials and that justice is served. (The DA’s Public Information department wasn’t able to give feedback in time for my publication deadline.)
This year’s felony trial training program jury day will be held on Tuesday, June 19th, 2018, from 8:00 A.M. through 4:00 P.M.
If you’re available and interested to serve as a mock juror, please register your attendance by calling the DA’s Community Affairs Unit at (718) 590-2272. Volunteers are served breakfast and lunch.
About the author:
R.M. Thomson is a freelance writer, author, and artist, who moved to and has lived in the Bronx, NY, for the past 23 years. He attends classes and writer groups in several library branches as well as the Bronx Writers Center, and moderates the biweekly meetings and special events of the Yorkville writing circle in Manhattan. His short memoir story “Basement Buddies” has been published in the 2018 book anthology “Bronx Memoir Project Volume 2,” and his artwork collage “Build a Better World” was featured on the cover of the fall 2017 magazine edition of “Library Zine!” His other publications in 2017 and 2018 include poems and op-ed letters in the “Riverdale Press” and the former Sunday Magazine of “This Is The Bronx.” Twitter: @rm_thms
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