Daily Press (Sunday)

Citizens, survivors play crucial role in ensuring justice

- By Joshua Jenkins Joshua Jenkins is an assistant commonweal­th’s attorney in Newport News. Trey’s name was changed to protect his privacy.

In the ICU, I stood with Trey, a 19-yearold survivor of six gunshot wounds. He’d been in the hospital for three months. His parents stood next to me at his bedside, explaining the surgeries Trey had been through. I didn’t understand it all. His voice still a raspy whisper from the intubation, Trey said, “I’m strong enough for this. I’m ready.”

As a prosecutor, each time I meet someone like Trey, I think of how brave survivors of crime are. They’ve survived so much and yet continue to press on in their recovery and their pursuit of justice. That pursuit is not just for themselves but for their communitie­s.

More than a year after I stood in that hospital with Trey, the trial of his attacker began. Trey is there. He uses a wheelchair now; his voice is still raspy but louder than it was in the hospital. Trey knows he’ll have to testify — to face his shooter in court.

He’s nervous but determined to see that his attacker is held accountabl­e. If all of us were so brave, our neighborho­ods would be safer.

Before the trial begins, we must select a jury. Thirty citizens, randomly selected from our community, sit in the courtroom. We will ask the jurors questions to determine if they are biased and whether they are legally eligible. From that group of 30, we need to select 12. If we fail, a mistrial will be declared and justice for Trey delayed. I’m nervous. He’s been through enough already.

When selecting a jury, our goal is to end up with diverse and unbiased citizens that represent our city. We want fair-minded adults of all races, genders and ages, with a variety of life experience­s, family situations and careers. But that goal is often difficult to achieve.

Getting out of jury duty is so commonplac­e that internet memes abound. In this courtroom, the reasons are many: “I have a dog at home that will miss me,” “I’m very busy at work right now”, “I have to pick my kids up from school,” and “I’m a doctor, and I’m seeing clinic patients tomorrow.” These reasons are probably true. Everyone is busy, and everyone has important obligation­s. Trey watches this process unfold. I imagine he’s wishing for those obligation­s instead of the shooting that brought him here.

For a few potential jurors, the obstacles might be insurmount­able. But most of us can make time for what’s important. Throughout our lives, we make accommodat­ions to our schedules — finding someone else to pick up the kids, rescheduli­ng a dentist appointmen­t or trading shifts at work. We make time for what’s important.

Serving on a jury is inconvenie­nt, but it’s worth the sacrifice. There is no simple answer to the complex problem of violent crime in our communitie­s, but ensuring fair trials with diverse and caring juries is part of the solution. The pay for serving on a jury in Virginia was recently raised to $50 per day, and it should be raised more. But the money will never justify the inconvenie­nce. The inconvenie­nce is necessary for fair trials and safe neighborho­ods. We don’t serve on juries for the money; we do it for our friends and neighbors. We do it for people like Trey. We do it to promote justice.

At Trey’s trial, after weeding through the excuses, the number of potential jurors was down to 12 — exactly the number we needed and not even one more. It was a close call, and Trey was relieved that the case would finally go to trial. The jury deliberate­d for a few hours before returning a guilty verdict. Trey felt relief and closure after his long journey toward justice. After the verdict, as I packed up my books in the mostly empty courtroom, I heard Trey’s raspy voice behind me. “See, I told you I was strong enough for this.”

 ?? The Newport News Courthouse. STAFF FILE ??
The Newport News Courthouse. STAFF FILE

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