After two weeks of testimony, the time finally came when the case was going to be handed to the jury for deliberation. I was pumped! By this time I was totally into it and was looking forward to finally being able to talk about the case with my fellow jurors.
The judge then designated one of us as the foreman, and then announced that since there were 16 of us, 4 would serve as alternates. As the judge was saying this, the Court Clerk came out of an adjacent room with a wooden lottery box. At the beginning of this adventure I had a sick feeling in my gut that with my luck I would get stuck on this case. I was getting that same sinking feeling again that my number would be picked again to be an alternate.
I was right again. Mine was the third of the four numbers called.
What is the point of having alternates? Basically, it is a position that came out of understanding that “life” happens. Sometimes jurors are not able to continue serving. Maybe they or a family member gets sick or have a family emergency. Maybe they are found by the judge to be ineligible to continue because they were talking about the case outside of the court. When that happens, an alternate is called in to take their place. Since the alternate has heard all the testimony of the case, they are able to fill in so that the case does not need to start over from scratch. That is time consuming and expensive.
You might think I was relieved that (barring some reason one or more jurors could not continue) I would not need to carry the burden of deciding the case. After all, this was not some domestic dispute, or parking violation—this was murder! A person’s life hung in the balance!
Nothing could be further from the truth. I was upset! I felt slighted (though I had no rational reason for feeling so). I felt like two weeks of my time had just been flushed down the toilet! Worst of all, the four of us who were selected to be alternates were still required to show up every day the jury deliberated, were to be sequestered in a room away from the jury, and were still under oath not to talk about the case with anyone or to form any opinions of our own! Not happy!!!!
Apparently, this is not an uncommon reaction. The bailiffs did their best to encourage us and explained that we were not feeling anything abnormal. One of the bailiffs shared that he had been sat on a jury three times and all three times ended up being an alternate! Ugh!! They assured us that the drawing of alternates was totally random and that we were not singled out for any reason by the judge, prosecutor, or defense as being unfit to deliberate. It was just chance, nothing more.
From the outside, the alternate can be seen as a very important, even necessary position, as it allows for life to “happen” without derailing the case. Needless to say it took me a while to adjust to my new position. The jury deliberated for three days before coming to a conclusion—guilty of 2nd degree murder with a sentence of 25 years to life in prison.
After it was over we were reunited with the other 12 jurors and the judge came in to personally thank us for our time and service. She also took the time to specifically thank the four of us who had served as alternates, acknowledging that that was an additional hardship and that she was grateful we had stuck it out and were willing to serve in that way to the end.
Of course, God did not let this go by without using this to bring up another lesson I need to be learning. We don’t choose what part of the body we are, we need to be content with the part we are and help support the rest of the body. Unlike the lottery system that randomly chose me as an alternate, God intentionally creates us to work as the part of the body we are.
In 1 Corinthians 12:18 (NIV) Paul says, But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. The NLT translates it as, But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it. The word arranged in NIV and put in NLT is the word used to describe how a jeweler would set a stone onto a piece of jewelry. The body of Christ is not some random thing. God has deliberately, intentionally, specifically designed and placed each of us right where He wants us, so that we can do the work He wants us to do together. So we shouldn’t balk that God does not have us working in such and such a place or doing such and such a job or with such and such people. I have been learning that I am happiest when I submit to being the part of the body He wants me working at any particular time.