Most people mind serving jury duty. I don’t. I’ve served jury duty several times and been on three trial panels that were more reserved (okay, boring) than those typically depicted in films. The actual experience is mostly sleep late, read during recesses, take long lunches, read some more, and take the time off work. It bears little resemblance to “12 Angry Men,” “Runaway Jury,” or “Jury Duty.”
Jury of My Peers
I serve jury duty so the system works. If I was accused of something and on trial, I would truly want a jury of my peers -middle-aged women with kids, a Master’s degree and some level of professionalism. For a while, most juries were filled with seniors or the unemployed. This is changing since acceptable excuses for avoiding jury duty have dwindled, but a lot of people immediately develop excuses when a jury duty summons appears. I might feel differently if I had served on sensational trials that took months to try, but most trials take less than one week.
The Jury Room
Most jury waiting rooms feature people with laptops, talking on cell phones, and doing what they might have done off jury duty. Others are reading newspapers, their emails, or the occasional best seller. This is different from the old days where you could be stuck in the jury room for two weeks, sans electronics, trying to ignore people bopping silently to headphones, grannies playing bridge or the truly bored doing jigsaw puzzles. Now, in many jurisdictions, you are in the jury room for one day maximum; you are either put on a panel or released.
My Trials and Tribulations
When you are called out of the jury room and sent to a courtroom, the voir dire begins. You are questioned to determine how fair you can be in hearing the trial. It’s like a musical chairs game where people are eliminated based on answers, others in the room take a jury box chair until they are all filled and there are no more questions. Those left in the seats come back for the actual trial. Those who aren’t return to the jury room or are dismissed from service.
The trials I’ve served on dealt with drunk driving, assault, and drug dealing charges. They each taught lessons in how the legal system works and that most jurors want to be fair:
- The drunk driver was obviously guilty, so us jurors worried that we missed something in deliberating for merely minutes. The judge later explained that the driver had insisted, against his lawyer’s advise, on a jury trial. Did he think we were idiots? Or thought he should be driving over two times the legal limit?
- The assault case troubled the jury. The way the law was written (touching your ex involuntarily) made him guilty; us jurors, however, felt it was a technicality and wanted him to get off. We told the judge we found him guilty but didn’t believe he committed a crime.
- The drug dealer jury vote was deadlocked and not budging after a few days. Everyone was polite during deliberations, but it wasn’t obvious one way or another. The lesson there was the concept of “reasonable doubt” meant we have to be reasonable with each other.
If you haven’t served jury duty at least once, you should. It isn’t that much of an imposition for most (okay, you might need to arrange for someone to pick up your child that day or miss another “important” meeting). But when you consider the alternative, a jury system that can’t is representative, is it really so bad to give up a few days every couple of years?