You receive your notice in the mail for jury duty. I can hear the heavy sigh. I imagine that’s what most of us do when the summons arrives. “How can I get out of this,” is probably the next question going through your mind. ARGHHH!!! I just don’t have time for this!!!
But I have no good enough reason; so on the appointed day, after three days of checking the website to see if my number came up, I am summoned to report. It was a bright, sunny summer morning as I waited to go through the security check at the entrance of the courthouse. Too nice to be here. I’ll just get this jury duty thing over with and then I can get on with the rest of summer, I think. I walked down the hall and waited in line to be checked in and then was seated in a room that resembled a holding pen with about a couple hundred people. Some looked bored; others nervous and a few annoyed as they read, drank coffee and looked down at their phones. I am people watching and imagining their stories. Everyone is now known by a number which they were assigned, and we are called by such and lined up to be taken to the courtroom upstairs. This first group seems to be about 50 strong. As we enter the courtroom, I’m thinking it resembles a movie set. I’m a little excited because I’m always looking for the drama!
As we sit on the benches, the judge asks if there is anyone who feels they cannot serve, and most of the hands in the room go up. Then he asks for a show of hands of those who feel they can serve. There are maybe 12 of us left that are willing. There is a lot of tension in the room, and people are stressed awaiting their turn to be questioned on why they think they cannot serve. They are individually taken to a sidebar and questioned while annoying “white noise” is played in the courtroom so the conversations can’t be heard. For this particular case, they have already gone through one day of selection, and at the moment, there are eight jurors in the box and nine are needed for this case. Oh good, I think. They’re only looking for one more person, so I doubt I’ll even be questioned. Once they’ve weeded out the nays, they start calling the yays one number at a time.
The judge asks a series of questions to the potential juror. Then the person has to tell a little about themselves… age, schooling, job, family members and what they do, leisure activities, where they get their news, etc. Some are interesting and funny; some are boring. After the “getting to know you” dissertation, the person is brought for a sidebar where the judge and the five attorneys surround you. The white noise is played, and another series of more probing questions are asked that will determine your views on certain subjects that regard the case. Based on all of this, you are either excused or asked to take a seat in the jurors’ box.
Randomly, people seated are dismissed and another juror is chosen. All the same questions, the white noise, more questions, seated or not. Over and over. I get even more nervous than I already am. The selection is down to four people then three then two. I get called. Oh no. I sit in the vacated seat in the box fidgeting as the questions are read. No, no, no, no, yes, yes, yes. On it goes. Then I have to stand and tell about myself. I don’t think my life is all that interesting, but as I talk, I see some smiles and nodding, so maybe they like what I’m saying? Is it funny? Is it not? Who knows?! I am motioned to the notorious sidebar as the judge and lawyers gather round. Being surrounded by this many kind of handsome men makes me nervous, and I start to sweat. The judge asks some difficult questions. I find myself at times losing my train of thought. Their eyes are piercing. I ask the judge to repeat a very long three-part question. One lawyer repeats what I have answered. Did I really say that? Yikes, they really are listening and taking notes. In the end I am seated as Juror No. 4. They must have liked something I said, only I don’t have a clue what it could be since I felt like a babbling idiot.
A jury member remarks that we should not be nervous…the plaintiff and the defendant should be nervous because we have their future in our hands. What a thought. I mean, who am I to be determining the fate of these people? Why am I seated as a juror? I just don’t know. I don’t know what they are looking for. I would imagine everyone else is thinking the same thing. We watch the same process unfold over and over again. There is only one original juror left that was chosen on the first day. I can only describe the picking and choosing as a brilliant game of chess.
Then the judge makes a poignant statement. He says that besides serving in the military, serving as a juror is probably the next most important thing you can do for your country. With that having been said, my whole perspective changes. Suddenly, I am not nervous anymore. I am proud to be there and want to serve. I actually feel honored to be chosen. The day drags on with the same process, questioning, choices and dismissals. At the end of the day, another juror is dismissed leaving a vacant seat. We are eight and need a ninth. It’s very tiring, but at the end of the day, I’m still Juror No. 4 and holding.
Monday arrives with a whole new selection pool. The judge says that the selection would be over today, and the trial’s opening arguments would be presented in the afternoon. So today could be my first actual day of jury duty, or it could be the last. I am “in the box” at the moment as opposed to “on the benches” with those awaiting selection. We sit through the questioning again and again. Finally, in the afternoon, there are 9 jurors. The lawyer representing the defendant stands and says they are satisfied with this jury. It looks like I’m in! I’ll be Juror No. 4 for this trial. Then the two lawyers from the plaintiff’s side start conferring. They look the jury over and over and whisper to one another. I wonder if I’ll be the next to go. Then they look at me and then down at their notes. I stare at them, and they look away. Uh-oh. One stands and dismisses me. What?!?! But I want to serve, I think to myself! I’m one of the ones who want to serve! The lawyers thank me for my service. The judge thanks me as well. They are very sincere in their appreciation for those who have responded to the call. I nod and say that it has been a pleasure as I awkwardly climb over the other jurors making my way to the door. I look back one more time and smile. It would have been so cool to be a part of this case. Oh well. I walk down the hall to the exit kind of bummed. Another time; another place…like in three years when you are up again.
The thing is, though, if you get chosen for jury duty, change your perspective and just do it. It’s painless, and it’s an excellent way to serve your country. The alternative, as in a lot of other countries, is that a dictator determines your fate instead of your peers. And what if you were put in the position of needing to go on trial for one reason or another and had a bunch of people making up lame excuses to get out of it? By serving your jury duty, you are keeping our democracy strong…by the people and for the people and all that. So just do it!