Oh joy–jury duty!

Spoiler alert: I did not get picked for a jury yesterday. They were down to picking the last alternate, and I was in a pool of four. They dismissed #1 and took #2. I was #3, so whew!

I actually have mixed feelings about jury duty. I find it really interesting to see the court system at work. I have never gotten a civil case, so that might be partly why it’s interesting to me–yesterday’s case was first degree homicide. Hard to get more interesting than that!

The day began with setting off in my car at 7:30 on a sunny day, but about 20 minutes later one of the worst storms I have ever experienced blew in and began rocking my car. The rain poured down, the trees were whipping around, branches were hitting the car, and I pulled off for about five minutes.  When I got going again, street lights were out–in fact, at one huge intersection (North and Cumberland) the street light was lying smashed in the street. At one point, I had the thrilling but fortunately not shocking experience of driving over a couple of downed power lines. Seriously scary.

So by the time I got parked at the horribly designed Maywood Courthouse, my nerves were pretty jangled. Getting through security took awhile, and they don’t actually put a sign at the entrance to say where jurors go, so here’s a tip if you have jury duty in the Maywood Courthouse. You have to go down to the basement and find a really dingy room where you will wait and wait and wait with your fellow citizens.

After lunch (mmm, McDonalds for me!) and accidentally giving myself a scenic tour of Maywood because I didn’t know Cumberland had turned into First, we finally got taken to a courtroom. And that’s when you know it’s really serious business. There’s a young man there (my younger son’s age, as it turns out) and four attorneys–two for the defense and two for the state. And the judge reads a series of charges that to my ear were identical–maybe she was emphasizing different syllables in the words, I don’t know. But the bottom line is this young man the age of my son is charged with shooting another young man to death. And whether or not I will be one of the jurors is completely in the hands of these people, not me.

Jury questioning is always fascinating if you’re a people-watcher, and no two judges seem to carry it out the same way. This time, they took fourteen at a time and asked them all the same questions–do you subscribe to a newspaper? What are your hobbies? (Fishing seems to be a surprisingly popular hobby.) Some of the people seemed very resigned to serving, while others were clearly trying to weasel out of doing their civic duty. The answer that made everyone laugh was “I can’t be impartial. The defendant has the same name as the man who stole my girlfriend four months ago.” One time I served, the judge took anyone like that and held them aside, not releasing them until the end of the day. The judge and attorneys made the decisions in back and then dismissed about half–sadly, all of the people who tried to weasel out were dismissed.

It’s such an important job, and being there made me realize that all of my worries and concerns beforehand about the inconvenience of the long drive, and missing work, and being upset and uncomfortable were not significant next to making sure that the court system worked as it was supposed to. I’d have been glad to serve, if I’d been picked.

It’s also such a strange set of contrasts. You have the majestic language, the judge’s robes, the seriousness with which the security people walk you from place to place. The court room has high ceilings, and clearly is supposed to look imposing…and behind the state’s attorneys were a couple of cardboard boxes with carelessly scrawled signs: Sergio Martinez, murder.

So that’s it for this year. Interesting, unsettling, and now my life isn’t on hold anymore. I’m kind of glad, and kind of sorry.

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2 Responses to Oh joy–jury duty!

  1. David Gutteridge says:

    It seems very odd that you see the defendant and hear the charges before you’re called and sworn for the jury, and VERY partisan that you’re asked questions by Judge or Counsel before the selection is made. In England 15 people between 18 and 70 are ushered in before the Clerk of the Court who looks them over and selects twelve on appearances alone. No weasels.

    • sdlempke says:

      David, I guess the idea is to winnow out anyone who might be unable to judge fairly, usually because of some personal experience. But that’s very interesting to hear–I had no idea it was so different in England!

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