We The Jury

Jury duty. Love it or hate it, it’s part of our civic responsibilities. Sometimes you’re summoned, but your group number is high and you don’t have to report.

This time, no such luck. I reported for potential jury duty this morning at 8:30.

7:33

I take this sort of thing seriously, and worry about messing up, so I left the house at 7:33 giving myself plenty of time. I drove ten minutes to the light rail station, boarded the train and arrived in front of the courthouse at 8:00. Not bad! I waited in line, cleared security, waited in another line, and learned I was at the wrong courthouse.

NO!

A snappish worker barked “there’s no one here today.”  Now it was 8:10. I retraced my steps, got back on the train, and went two more stops. From there I hoofed it three long blocks, repeated the same security procedures, and after one elevator ride and a short line I was finally where I needed to be. It was eight-thirty-ish by then, but no one seemed to mind.

9:15

I’m waiting in a room with about 100 prospective jurors. We’ve each been assigned to a group. I figured out the wi-fi so I can wile away the wait time.

9:58

We’re called to a courtroom two floors up . Our group of sixty makes it to the 4th floor, and we’re seated in the courtroom.  After we’re sworn in by the bailiff we meet both attorneys and the judge. The courtroom judge is welcoming but he also makes it clear that hardship excuses will only be honored in extreme cases. 15 people line up anyway. The rest of us return to the second floor

10:10 Waiting…

10: 28 Good Times at the Vending Machine.

Boredom and snacks frequently go hand in hand. I arrive to see a woman trying to feed the machine with a two dollar bill. I can tell she’s been at it for a while, as she turns and leaves in disgust. I feel for her. I buy a bottle of water with a five dollar bill, then wait for her to return. She graciously accepts my two dollars in quarters in exchange for the cranky two dollar bill and waits for her turn at the machine. The man in front of us isn’t having much lucky either. His coins drop, but  the swirling arm in the machine refuses to deliver his snack. It’s partially extended but not dropping.  The three of us stand there commiserating. We all give the machine a few thwacks but the fig bar refuses to budge. Then the woman offers him her remaining quarters, and at last he’s rewarded with his original snack and a spare.  A wonderful bonding experience that we can all write home about.

11:00 ish

We’re all back in the courtroom again, two flights up. Roll call, stand up, sit down and further instructions. The law clerk calls the first 18 names at random, including mine. We all file into the jury box and one by one answer a series of questions from a piece of paper. More questions follow from the judge. Then the defense attorney approaches the group and the questions continue until noon.

12:00 – 1:30

Lunch…with a mom I used to volunteer with when our sons were in grade school. She’s in my group! What are the odds?  We’re under strict instructions not to talk about any of the intense material covered the hour before. I find myself thinking of 100 things I want to say, but stopping myself every time. It’s such a strange day.

1:30

Second floor jury room

1:40

Fourth floor courtroom, back in our seats. More questioning from attorney number two. The attorney’s gather in whispers with the judge. Then they excuse six of the original 18 prospective jurors and six more join us in the box. The judge announces that we’ve all passed the prospective juror “test”. The judge announces the next phase: peremptory challenges. Then in rapid fire order, the attorneys took turns making peremptory challenges, and on the second or third round my name came up.

2:30

In my relief and exhaustion, I board the wrong train. I correct my mistake, eventually make it home, and by 4:30 I’m snoozing on the couch.

Epilogue: Reflecting back on the day’s intensity, I think the biggest challenge is the amount of new information coming at you, interspersed with the mundane. Sitting on a jury is serious business and you want to get it right. I mostly feel intense relief that the day is done with complete empathy for the final twelve jurors of the day.

Have you served on a jury before? What was it like? Would you want to do it again?

 

26 thoughts on “We The Jury

  1. Alys, I have not served on a jury before, and now that I’ve said it, I figure my odds of getting called have somehow increased dramatically. I have heard what a crazy, long process it can be and especially of the hardships of being called to sit on a grand jury. I’ve also heard that boredom can be a large part of the process. Thanks for sharing your experience. It was interesting to read a first-hand account!

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    • Thank you, Stacy! I hope the odds continue in your favor, though I do think juries benefit from people like you with a bright mind and an optimistic outlook. That said, it’s exhausting and time-consuming and a hardship for many.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

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  2. Myohmy, you were ready for a good meal and a nice cup of tea on arrival. That is hard work! So does this mean, you are not on the jury? Or what happens now? I find this system very complicated. xo Johanna

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  3. I just left a longish story of my first call up for jury duty on our group chat thread – you of course at that time were busy making your way to the wrong courthouse 🙂

    It is something to take seriously – and I certainly did at the time. It was late November, the school year was winding up, I was in the teachers Christmas play, writing reports and still teaching but chose not to opt out [I took that option a few years later though after this first experience]. It was a long exhausting day and I was extremely pleased not to have been chosen for the jury panel but dumbfounded at the manner in which the jury was loaded in favour of the defendant. I came away much better educated about the reality of our courtroom system. And not really impressed!

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    • LOL! Yep, leave it to me to arrive in the wrong place when it matters the most. I did arrive exactly on time for both of my sons birth, so in a pinch, I can make it happen. 😉

      I read your details on the private post and found the process fascinating and irksome too. Biases are alive and well and in the end each side wants a win. You would never hear someone say “I know my client is guilty of assault, but we’re here anyway to make sure we follow the letter of the law.” I suppose a number of people do eventually plea a deal when they realize which end is up.

      Not impressed? How could you be otherwise. [sigh]

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I do hope you will end up being part of the jury some time considering what you went through, your certainly are keen to do your bit to serve your nation. In my own nation we do not have a jury system it is up to the one judge to decide on each case. I guess each system has its own flaws hopefully justice is done.

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    • Thank you for that. There are pluses and minuses to both systems. I think we’re working from the best system so far, and will hopefully continue to evolve as a people. The justice system in the Scandinavian countries are based on rehabilitation and education, not punishment. I think we have a lot to learn.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment and for sharing your perspectives.

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  5. Gosh, the jury selection process is complex in your state. I have done jury duty in NZ. The jury selection didn’t take long. I am glad I was selected to be part of the jury. The case was difficult; the verdict was right according to the law but I do have some doubts about whether justice prevailed.

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    • I was just reflecting on this in another comment, the idea of justice verses doing what’s right.

      We were raised that it was wrong to steal or to take anything that wasn’t ours, but at the same time our mother told us of women shoplifting toys for small children around Christmas at the Five and Dime where she worked. She said she just looked the other way. It was an important early lesson for me. It is so easy to judge until you walk in the other person’s shoes. I’m relieved to have done my part this week, without having to serve on what would be a painful trial.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I’ve always sort of wanted to be part of a jury but, every time I get called, they seem to dismiss me when they hear I have a Ph.D. and was a college prof–do they think I’m too liberal? Your day sounds very intense–that business of going to the wrong courthouse would’ve left me completely undone!

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    • It takes a long time to ensure that everyone is following the letter of the law. We’ve come a long way from lynching first, asking questions later, but the process is indeed long and tedious. It’s also silly to think that anyone on the planet can be “fair and unbiased”. We’re all biased. I think of myself as honest and fair, blah blah blah, but I don’t think I could convict in a death penalty case because I’m morally against the state taking a life, any life. And If a single mom stole food for her family, while guilty, I would want to turn the other way. It’s complex, isn’t it?

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  7. Ugh. Hope never to do it again, but I suppose that’s wrong, since I threw a monkey wrench in a rush to judgment. It seemed like a lot of waiting around doing nothing for a long time, then when someone got serious, bammo! 12 of us were selected in short order. Shoplifting case. Woman was guilty. Number of times she’d been convicted of stealing something elevated her sentencing to the penitentiary. Drug abuse problems no one had ever tried to address when she was incarcerated before. Fellow jurors wanted her fined and in the pen for several years. I was mortified (murderers sometimes get less) and argued for some time in the County jail, where she would likely get some drug treatment. They still fined her, but yeesh, and this in the People’s Republic of Arlington!

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    • Your story under lines my own fears of sitting on a jury. Could I carry out what is legal, even if I didn’t think it was fair? Our jails are clogged with people who would be better served in rehab programs, education programs and job training. It’s heartbreaking. Three Strikes was one of the worst laws to hit the books, an extreme overreaction of one horrific event. In what world is it okay to sentence someone to 25 years in prison because a third offense was possession of marijuana? Thanks for being the upstanding citizen that you are, Lisa.

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  8. I have never been called for jury duty yet. Maybe because I moved so much . I don’t know that I could stay objective . I don’t think the system works all that well. The letter of the law vs/ common sense. My daughter was called up but never served either. Hope I don’t ever have to make those decisions .

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