Mariya Vandivort, Realtor in Champaign Urbana, Illinois

Coroner's Jury Duty

In early 2005, I received a letter in the mail from the Champaign County Clerk's office informing me that I had been selected for Coroner's Jury Duty. I didn't really have any idea what Coroner's Jury duty actually was. A lady that I work with had received a similar letter a year or two earlier, but she didn't end up actually having to serve. Also, web searching for Coroner's Juries didn't return many results. Apparently this is a rather anachronistic tradition. Most places no longer use Coroner's Juries; but Champaign County, Illinois definitely does.

The letter had a scheduled date for orientation, and said that we had to rank three months to serve in order of preference: March, April, and May.

Orientation for the jury duty was scheduled for February 14th, 2005. I had thought that I might be out of town that week, so I had mailed my orientation letter back in with my preferred months. I expected to be getting busy with work as Spring wore on, so I chose March, April, and May, in that order. I knew that I had a meeting at work scheduled for May, so I wanted to stay as far away from that as I could.

As it turned out, I wasn't out of town on February 14, so I went to orientation. At orientation, there were 21 people there. The jury meets once per month; typically on the third Thursday. Further, I had learned the dates of the May meeting, so it actually worked out that May was the best month for me. Each jury sits with 7 members. 6 actual jurors, and 1 alternate. So, with the 21 people that were there, every single person was put on a jury. I ended up with May.

The purpose of the coroner's inquest (which is the formal meeting where the jury makes their decisions) is to determine the manner of death. The manner of death is the fashion that brought about the cause of death. Cause of death (COD for all of you CSI: fans) is predetermined and that information is given to the jury. The possible manners of death include:

For natural causes, the coroner can make the determination. For anything that isn't a natural cause, it has to go to a coroner's inquest and a jury of one's peers must make the determination. If a death occurs where natural causes is questionable, it will still go to the jury. Or at least we have to trust that it will.

During orientation, the coroner, Duane Northrup, took various questions. He noted that the deliberation room is close to the room where the inquest is held, and that, as jurors, we should be wary of loud laughing, etc., as the family can be at the inquest (and might get the wrong idea if they hear laughing). In fact, the inquest is open to the public. Generally a reporter from the newspaper might be there, and, if a popular death, there might TV cameras, etc. Also, the jurors were able to ask questions of the people on the stand. This is one of the things that really made it different than a regular court room jury in my mind.

Fast forward to May 19

I had to be at the location at 8:00am. It was raining, people were driving slow, and I ended up getting there at about 7:59. Plenty of time to spare.

Once the coroner got there, he went over a few of the rules with us. The room was probably 20 foot by 40 foot and had a couple of those 6 foot folding tables at the front. A single folding table was off to the side for the jurors and there were about 30 chairs for the audience. There were nine cases for the day, scheduled approximately 20 minutes apart. Apparently on some days there were 15 or 20 cases.

A jury foreman was chosen, and the six people sitting on the sides of the table were true jurors, and the person sitting on the end was the designated alternate. We had the option of switching among the jurors so that the alternate could sit on some of the cases. For our jury, we had a person that had an emergency, and the coroner had called in an individual that had sit on previous juries. This individual ended up being the alternate for several of the cases, because they had knowledge of the death. The two main reasons for having an alternate were: 1) someone gets sick, or 2) a person on the jury knows the deceased or family members and might not be impartial. The alternate couldn't ask questions, and didn't go into the deliberation room. For all of the cases, the coroner holding the inquest could ask questions.

Now, the cases:

Cases 1 & 2
Cases 3 & 4
Cases 5 & 6
Cases 7, 8 & 9

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