Jury Duty

First up, my apologies for the late post.  I had jury duty yesterday which kind of hijacked my schedule.

If you’ve never had jury duty, it is a terribly misunderstood and confusing experience.  Part of the reason I didn’t post a filler episode yesterday is because I wanted to actually recount my experience and share it here.  I have known people who talked about getting out jury duty, which is a behavior I don’t understand.  Jury duty is one of the simplest active functions a person in our society can hold and it is one that I feel strongly in favor of.  If you’ve heard it is a thing to avoid, please read on.  I’d like to persuade you otherwise.

I live in Chapel Hill North Carolina.  If you’re a basketball fan, it’s the town with UNC.  If you’re a football fan, it’s not too far from Wake Forest.  If you’re not a sports fan, I’m like three hours from where they shot the Hunger Games and Iron Man 3.  I’m half an hour from Raleigh, which is the state capitol, and three hours from Charlotte, which is where all the interesting stuff happens.  This is a small locale where the boundaries between the towns and the county really blur.  I say that because the jury experience I’m about to relay may well be different from any experience you’ve had or heard of.  But I’ll wager it’s more similar than not.

I received a letter in the mail some time ago, letting me know I had been summoned for jury duty.  I was given a phone number to call the night before, to see if I would actually be needed.  Come Monday night, I called said number and found that I would be needed after all.

I arrived at the courthouse with a few minutes to spare and was herded into a large room with I would wager a hundred other people.  We were all told to wait for a moment by a charming woman who clearly took way too much pride in her coffee-making abilities.

After about half an hour, we were shown a video on the legal system that was made with far more enthusiasm than budget.  It gave us a simple breakdown on what our responsibilities would be.  I found it particularly interesting how much emphasis there was on not looking up matters.  An example given was a jury didn’t understand how a given device somehow pertinent to the case worked, and so one of them googled it and looked it up on Wikipedia.  Apparently, this was grounds for a mistrial.  The knowledge you bring is fine, but if you require any reference material at all, it is invalid.

The interactions between the jury and the judge were also unknown to me.  I didn’t know that there would be as much communication between the jury and the judge as there apparently can be.  It seems the judge can say quite a bit to the jury, often explaining matters to them directly.  Sometimes, in court?  Who knew?  I can’t recall that ever having come up on Boston Legal or Law & Order.

After that, however, came the reality of jury duty.  Up until now, there had been inexperience, anticipation, and then finally some education.  It was time to be a juror.  And what does that entail?  Sitting.  A lot of sitting.  A whole lot of sitting.  Being on jury duty is boring because the odds seem to be overwhelmingly that you won’t actually sit on a jury.

See, the threat of trial alone persuades some people to take a plea bargain.  As the trial gets nearer, the more pressure there is to settle between the lawyers without getting an actual court involved.  The last step before going to trial is ‘we have a jury in the next room’.  Once jury selection has begun, apparently, there will be a trial.  So this means that even this far along, with a room of a hundred people ready to sit on the trial, things could still get settled ‘out of court’.  And apparently, that’s what happens a lot of the time.

We didn’t know that, though.  Us hundred or whatever were all sitting in this room, reading whatever we had brought or could find, sitting quietly.  There was wifi but it was astoundingly slow and weak.  There was almost no cell reception in the room.  There wasn’t much in the way of decorations.  There were a pair of vending machines but nothing to write home about.  It was like being on a really long plane flight, with really crummy food service.  And all without the excitement of being in a new city when it was all over.

About 3pm in the afternoon, we were released.

No trial.  No nothing.  We came and sat together, and mid-afternoon, out we go.  I understand we were paid $12 for the experience, which is kind of sad but hey.  Note, that’s $12 total, not $12 an hour.  Like I said, kind of sad.

I have the luxury of getting time off from work for specifically this kind of thing.  I know others don’t have that luxury but I also know that they said they’d make allowances for anyone for whom serving would invoke a hardship.

I’ve heard some different experiences from others.  I know a PhD who made it all the way to the selection process for the jury.  The first question was his education, and then he was immediately dismissed.  That seemed odd to me.  Troubling, really.  Seems you would want somebody educated on a jury, but perhaps I don’t understand the legal system.  Or, worse, I do understand that legal system and that’s why.  Another friend was dismissed repeatedly during jury selection, but waited out the whole day.  She was constantly called for a jury from said big room and then was discounted and went back and resumed waiting.

Different municipalities work different ways.  What works in a small rural county will likely not work for a major metropolitan area.  What works for a big city will not necessarily work for a megalopolis.  I can only imagine all the multitude of ways the process and the experience might be different.

But those differences do not change the importance of it.

Jury duty can be an imposition, even a hardship.  It’s also a chance to contribute to your community and your world.  By sitting on a jury, you are taking an active part – however small – in the workings of your society.  I would urge anyone to rethink throwing that opportunity away.  I obviously did very little, and I can’t rule out that I might feel differently had I actually ended up sitting in a courtroom as a case was argued.  I would like to think otherwise.  I would like to think I would feel just as strongly.  Maybe even more strongly.

Just as life is not meant to be a spectator sport, neither is society and one’s community.  Getting involved isn’t a luxury for the few, it is a responsibility.  It’s a duty.  I did mine and I hope to get the chance to do it again.  If you get the chance, I hope you will do yours.

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Author: Robert V Aldrich

Author. Speaker. Cancer Researcher. Martial Artist. Illustrator. Cat dad. Nerd.

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