The Trial of all Crimes, except in Cases of Impeachment, shall be by Jury; and such Trial shall be held in the State where the said Crimes shall have been committed; but when not committed within any State, the Trial shall be at such Place or Places as the Congress may by Law have directed.
Being summoned for jury duty is a great reminder of the distinct American culture, its diverse peoples, countless micro cultures, ideologies, unique beginnings and peerless idealism.
That said, I used to dread receiving jury duty notice in the mail and I don’t know if it’s just me but I receive this mail almost every year without fail. I know it’s selfish and I felt the gnawing guilt all the more after watching the National Geographic’s documentary, “Arlington: Field of Honor”. My fear stems from my innate tendency to account for the worst case scenario (being a programmer and all) – for example: being selected for a capital case.
When I was first called to serve, I just started a new job so I attempted to get out of it but the judge didn’t budge although I eventually got dismissed after a second round of questioning. I’m pretty sure I know the reason why. This week, I had to report for jury duty again but unlike the first time, I want to serve for the following reasons: 1) it’s a misdemeanor case, 2) the trial is to last only 4 days and 3) I get paid full for its entire duration. I didn’t get selected but alas, I had to sit in the courtroom for 8 hours and listen to the judge ask the same 14 questions at least 50 times before I found this out. Now, I know you’re probably thinking there must be countless ways to entertain yourself during this seemingly laborious process. This is true, except that none of them are legal in the courtroom: chewing gum, sleeping, talking, surfing the internet, social media, eating and drinking. Que horror! What’s a person supposed to do? And yet, despite the clearly posted signs, some people have trouble following instructions as simple as turning their phone off. Ugh. One of my pet peeves.
My salvation came in the form of humor and childlike fascination after hearing the first couple of potential jurors answer the judge’s questions. I have to say, it is rather amusing to hear all manners of excuses and flimsy attempts to get out of jury service. Some of them are as outrageous as a child’s “the dog ate my homework” excuse. But nothing wakes you up from this zombie-like courtroom state faster than a racist or a sexist excuse. I just can’t believe that some people resort to saying things like that, in this age and day, in progressive California! Are they telling the truth regarding their prejudices or is it just a tasteless attempt to be dismissed from the service? Either way, it’s bad.
Several minutes into this, I became convinced that there’s more drama in the jury selection process than any Kardashian episode. Well, it’s pretty much expected when you put 80 strangers from the whole gamut of society into one setting and have them disclose intimate details about their lives such as their jobs, criminal history, law enforcement connections, military services and experiences being victims of crime. You see, whether we realize it or not, most of us spend the biggest part of our lives in a predominantly homogeneous setting. Generally, people of similar (or closely similar) beliefs, lifestyle, jobs, educational background, culture, religious belief, economical means, tend to interact together. And because of this we forget that even within the same county, people are quite diverse. Jury service is the only place where unemployed, hippies, retirees, doctorate holders, college graduates, uneducated, students and people of many ethnic backgrounds congregate and share intimate anecdotes, some of which are criminal in nature.
Hearing short accounts of these people’s stories make my life seem like a walk in the park, boring at best. Not that I’m complaining but I was shocked to find that most people have experienced theft, car break-ins, identity theft, being mugged or getting held at gunpoint. It was also fascinating to listen to quite a number of people with connection to the FBI, CIA or the Pentagon. It’s like being in a movie or something, only it’s real. There’s no cool soundtrack or countless DNA evidence – just the judge, the D.A., the defense attorney, the accuse and the jury pool. Still, it was a surreal experience.
There’s no question as to the weight of having the power to imprison or to free, and in some cases, to control whether or not a person lives. Still, I would love to serve this country and carry this responsibility.. As long as it’s not a criminal case for I wouldn’t be able to handle the enormous weight of that. I’m quite sure that experience would be profound, nothing like any of those courtroom drama tv shows. Someday…
And now, I leave you with this quote from Thomas Jefferson:
I consider trial by jury as the only anchor ever yet imagined by man, by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution.
Have you ever served on jury duty? If so, what’s your favorite story from this experience?