I’ll admit it. When the envelope arrived I wasn’t thrilled. In my 42 years of being eligible for jury duty I’d only received a summons once before. Since it was just weeks before leaving for college, I didn’t have to serve. This time there was no escaping it.
My first concern was the date. I was being called to report the day before we were due to leave for a 6-week vacation. But as it turns out, deferring my term of service was as easy as requesting an alternate date online. Whew.
The first day was predictably chaotic. There were numerous people to process, missing names, lost survey forms and mysterious other reasons to delay progress. As expected, it was a lot of sitting around. It didn’t take long to find out that most people were not thrilled to be there, and it was easy to succumb to the general aura of discontent. I actually had it easy, being retired. But that didn’t stop me from obsessing over my long to-do list and that I would rather be at home tackling it. However, I did make great progress on my cross-stitch project that day.
With a trial ready to start immediately, we did proceed to jury selection before once we completed our orientation. That’s when it started to get interesting. I was not chosen as one of the 22 potential jurors, but was required to sit in the galley throughout the remainder of the selection proceedings in case they had to replace anyone in the jury box. Because of the nature of the trial, the process of questioning was extensive and thorough. I found myself fascinated by the line of inquiries made by the judge and attorneys, trying to follow their reasons for asking the questions and how they would act upon the responses. I also tried putting myself in the shoes of those being grilled. How would I answer that question? Would I be able to think quickly enough to articulate my position? There were definitely times when I was glad not to be in the thick of it.
It took well into our second day before the jury was finalized. So we all returned to the courtroom the following morning. I felt like I was back at work again, making my lunch the night before, setting my alarm for close to 5am in order to get in a run before leaving, and allowing time to make my coffee and toast before leaving for my “job.” It was shortly before 11am when the final jurors were selected, and I was off the hook – able to go home and resume my normal life. For the time being, anyway.
Round two came the following week. We arrived to find that there were two trials starting, a criminal and a civil suit. This time my name was called for the criminal suit. Fortunately, this case was less complex, so the jury questioning was not as intense and was completed more quickly. By this time, I was quite enamored with the process. My irritation had transformed into a desire to see it all the way through. So I was actually pleased when I made it to the final set of jurors.
We were cautioned several times that real courtroom proceedings do not match what one sees on TV. They even questioned jurors on whether they would be disappointed not to see the histrionics of television trial drama. What I discovered was that it was all a very controlled and deliberate environment, that incorporated a great deal of respect. In the two cases I was exposed to, I was very impressed by the lawyers and judges. They worked hard and were very professional, yet I found them personable and they showed great consideration for the jurors both in our role and for our personal needs. They also readily showed their human side, including numerous jibes at the paltry $10/day we were being paid.
Our case took only until mid-morning the next day to conclude. It was then in our hands. It’s a mighty responsibility to weigh the guilt or innocence of a man, and I wasn’t sure how I would react to doing that. But with the law clearly laid out for us, along with guidelines for treating the evidence and testimony, we had a good process to follow. There were unanswered questions, holes in the evidence and ambiguous bits to navigate. And ultimately I could logically evaluate each component and support my decision. Guilty. Fortunately, my fellow jurors all came to the same conclusion.
After being dismissed, the judge came back to meet with us in the deliberation room. I did not expect that, nor his candor and willingness to respond to any questions we had. He explained some of the reasons behind certain procedures in the courtroom, and the roles each person played in the proceedings. We were surprised to learn that the defendant was already in custody prior to the trial, which he said was deliberate. They were very careful to hide that fact from us as it may have biased us to presume his guilt.
With that, I was free. Having served on a trial, I no longer had to check the phone line each night. I no longer had to report for service. It felt like I was retiring all over again – suddenly my days were my own again! And yet I was glad I had done it. It was a good experience and well worth doing my civic duty.