A "surrealist" experience that isolates and does not leave "unscathed": former jurors tell AFP the "vertigo" of assize trials, before the great beginnings of a new jurisdiction that will judge crimes without a popular jury .
Starting in September, the "criminal courts", set up to speed up the proceedings, will examine crimes punishable by 15 to 20 years' imprisonment, including rapes, and will be tried for three years in seven departments.
"I wanted to go back to his guts"
. Marie-Pierre, 56, jurist in Ile-de-France, juror a dozen years ago in Créteil
When she received the convocation letter, Marie-Pierre initially felt "excited" at the idea "to know how a trial is going on from the inside" but quickly, the "fear of being wrong" has taken over.
Convened for a session of three trials, the lawyer had to learn "some elements of justice" and visited a prison. "At this moment, we all say: + we have better think +".
Marked by the last case, that of a murder, Marie-Pierre reviews this image of the accused "arrived free at the hearing, with his wife and children and handcuffed".
Just before the deliberations, she had found herself behind the accused in a bakery: "I had only one desire was to go back to his guts to know the truth, because I was sure of nothing ".
"The day before the verdict, I spent a sleepless night writing all I had heard during the trial," she says, determined to defend her "intimate conviction" against professional judges.
For Marie-Pierre, "it was a very heavy time: I was very lonely, during the trial but also afterwards when I was married, with children and a job".
"It's always the judge who decides"
. François, 40, business leader in Ile-de-France, juror in 2012 in Paris
"I did not come back when I received the mail, I did not think it was going to happen to me one day," says François, "not necessarily happy" to be "in the skin" of a judge .
Drawn by lot for two cases, a rape and an armed robbery, the company manager felt "manipulated by the magistrates during deliberations".
"The president knows very well where he wants to take us, finally it is still the judge who decides," he says, not convinced by the popular jury. For him, "it's a job to judge".
But he keeps the memory of "a surrealist spectacle". "The foundation is anything but cold, it's the theater, and the orality is the most important".
"It does not leave unharmed"
. Morgane, 39, translator, juror in 2007 in Rennes
Drawn by lot, she entered for the first time in a court, with "a mixture of apprehension and fascination, curiosity a bit unhealthy".
Judging rapes against women of her age put her in "bulk". "The evening of the first hearing, I put my car in the ditch."
It retains a memorable remembrance of the deliberate - written by each juror "on small pieces of paper" - and "tensions" in "the tiny room" where they were gathered. "A lot of older women were shocked that people do not offer significant sentences," she says.
"I think about it quite often, not like something traumatic, but it does not leave indifferent, nor unhurt," she adds.
"Judging is difficult"
. Florian, 25, a student in political science, juror in February 2019 in Paris
Following courses in the sociology of law, Florian was not "surprised by the judicial system" but rather by the "work upstream magistrates". "They also took the time to learn our names and our professions, to advise us," says the student.
"The president was very attentive and did not want to influence us," says Florian.
"Judging is difficult" because "we always have a doubt and lawyers are working on these doubts," said Florian, who thinks, since then, to embark on the bench.
"Moments of pure vertigo"
. Hervé, 62, former journalist, substitute juror in 2015 in Douai
"For a week, my life revolved around this case," says the former journalist of the Voix du Nord, which evokes "moments of pure dizziness", especially when "the accused has relived the crime scene in the telling in a chilling way, without any emotion ".
Jury substitute, Hervé was however unable to participate in the deliberations before the verdict: "The fact to have been completely immersed for a week in a case and then to be in a room next door at the time of the verdict, it is extremely frustrating. "
However, he remains attached to the popular juries, this "acquis of the French Revolution". "If it's only done by professionals, there's a loss of meaning."
© 2019 AFP