Undercover at Jury Duty

I have now been summoned for jury duty twice in my exactly thirty adult years. Some folks never have, so I promised to document it for my curious friend.

Part of me thinks jury duty could be interesting. A bigger part of me has serious problems dealing with such a disruption to my schedule. We recluses tend to highly value our routine.

The courts clearly had a meeting about this, PR brainstorms, focus groups, I don’t know, because no less than four people started their part of the process with a speech about how important serving our country this way is, and a great honor — three with “personal anecdotes” about nearly being chosen and their devastating disappointment when they weren’t. This was in addition to the actors in a propaganda-like film meant to simultaneously explain what to expect and psyche us up describing how much they loved serving.

I appreciate the effort, but honestly, it was a touch overkill, and by the fourth earnest thank you for coming (as if we had a choice) I was mostly thinking, “Christ get on with it already.”

But I’m ahead of myself. The instructions said to report at 7:45 (a.m. Ungodly for someone who starts work at 9 and whose commute is literally one stop in the kitchen and up thirteen stairs. To say nothing of all the stress pooping I need every time I leave the house). But that security could take up to twenty minutes so arrive even earlier.

Boy, they weren’t kidding. As I walked through the front door, I was dismayed to see a line of about eighty people. Which I only stood in for about five minutes before a security guy bellowed irritably “You all can go to that other line across the way and not wait so long!” We all turned around to see, way down a ramp, another gate with about ten people waiting.

ūüėē I don’t talk in emojis often, but FFS. Would a sign pointing in both directions be too complicated? Most of us don’t come here very often. Can you blame us for gravitating towards the huge, obvious group of people?

I don’t know why I was so anxious to get there on time. I’m not one of those “all government is cumbersome and inept” folks, but they really don’t do anything quickly, or even on the schedule they themselves set. I filled out a questionnaire about any previous experience with the courts or law enforcement, any reason I couldn’t serve, etc. and then sat in the huge room (think DMV) and waited for probably thirty minutes.

Pro tip #1: Bring a book, or knitting. Don’t be a dummy like me and expect to rely on electronics. No wifi, and just like my recent staycation at the DMV, T-Mobile’s data network deserted me in my hour of need. My only option was an obnoxious cooking show with a woman who put enough fat, sugar and salt in her dishes to give a cow heart failure (I listened amusedly to two petite women behind me, previously strangers, who bonded while providing a running commentary that echoed my disbelief). ¬†It was so terrible I was convinced it was a clever ploy to make jury duty a relief just to escape her.

Anyway, things finally got underway…sort of. ¬†They called us by name (after I went to all the trouble of memorizing my juror number on the summons, 4447) and told us to come turn in our questionnaires and pick up a badge. To my surprise, I was like the second one called. My group had yellow and black badges — Hufflepuff colors, the house of fairness, my house. How appropriate.

Just as I was sure this meant things were going to start moving, a tall lanky man bounced into the room, informed us he was a judge, then launched into the second thank you of the day; followed by quizzing us about how we thought judges became judges and his anecdote about serving. ¬†Dude, I didn’t come for a civics lesson. ¬†Can we skip to the end?

After another thirty minutes (during which the TV switched to Valerie Bertinelli’s cooking show (she also seemed determined to kill her audience, making a dish in which bacon was the top three ingredients)), we were FINALLY called to proceed to the courtroom. I could feel the faint beginnings of hunger pangs but there wasn’t much I could do (pro tip #2: snacks are allowed).

Once we were seated in the gallery, they explained it was a DUI case and they needed six of us. Now, in my first rodeo, there were about three times the required bodies and I sat in the gallery the whole time, watching the proceedings from a safe distance (they don’t dismiss anyone until they’re sure they’re covered). Today there were only twenty of us, and they were going to put twelve of us in the box and whittle down from there. I’m no actuary (I can barely handle math), but I calculated my chances of going to the box as uncomfortably high.

Then one guy got dismissed because he knew a witness, then three more for confidential reasons (more later), and I knew my goose was cooked.

Yep. I was the fifth one called. Damn damn damn.

What followed was first a bunch of explaining what reasonable doubt meant, the difference between direct and circumstantial evidence, and the presumption of innocence (“The fact that Mr. Innocent is sitting here doesn’t mean anything about his guilt,” we were told. What, so you’re just pulling randos off the street to judge? ¬†That’s a chilling thought). ¬†The defense attorney, understandably, also wanted to make sure we knew how to avoid jumping to conclusions, with several illustrative scenarios. Dude, I didn’t come for a philosophy lesson. Can we skip to the end? (I’m kidding. Since getting to the box, shit got real and I was taking it very, very seriously.)

Then we were asked if we had or knew anyone who had been been accused or a victim of a DUI. I and about six others raised our hands.

Here’s what happened every time someone wanted to speak to the judge privately. They had to approach the bench, along with all the attorneys. Then loud static was played over the speakers so no one could eavesdrop. It was an unbelievably time-consuming process, with everyone returning to their seats each time, only to get back up a few minutes later.

The guy to my right approached the bench and got dismissed. The woman who replaced him from the gallery was asked the same question, and she thank god broke the tradition of speaking privately and answered from her seat. Zip zip, bless you madam.  No more static.

I was next, and I tried to speak loudly and clearly, but, as usual, my brain started shouting “WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING” and my voice came out much meeker and weedier than I expected. Still, I uttered the phrase “my wife” before everyone (I still feel weird saying it to friends) and the judge didn’t bat an eye.

Amazingly, everyone pronounced my very long Polish name correctly. Poor Mrs. Thames (the woman next to me) was giving them fits, despite her repeatedly patiently correcting them (“like the river,” a phrase I guarantee she’s probably sick to her eyeballs of saying by now).

Everyone explained over and over how the burden of proof was on the prosecution. Then they brought up “elements,” how each charge had separate elements and we had to be sure that all of them were satisfactorily proven for a verdict. This is when I zoned in a panic. Were we supposed to keep track of all these elements? It sounded like a lot of information to be responsible for, and a man’s freedom at stake. (Pro tip #3: note taking is allowed.) And how much speaking would I be required to do?

Plus right about here I was teetering on the edge of hangry — although not angry, just losing focus or interest in anything not involving lunch.

Fortunately we were winding down. Even more fortunately, I was dismissed in the “preemptory” wave (no reason given. Trust me, no offense taken). The judge offered us the option to stay and observe, “and in fact, if you’re ever home with nothing to do, all trials are free to the public!” ¬†Thanks, your honor, but that’s what Judge Judy is for.

If leaving the house is hard on me, it’s twice so on my cats, who have an unspoken kitty truce, not to exceed twenty minutes from the moment of my return.

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Normally mortal enemies

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