Jury Duty

juryIf you have never served on a jury of any kind, you are missing a great experience and opportunity of community service. However, when your name comes up and you receive the “Official Jury Summons” in the mail, it never calls you to report on a convenient day. It seems to be a reminder of just how busy our lives can be: chocked full with schedules and appointments and virtually impossible to squeeze anything else into. So, we start looking for loopholes in the instructions on the form and try to discern a good reason why we cannot possibly be at the courthouse on that particular day.

But if you bite the bullet and report to serve, you will find it to be a rewarding experience at best, or at least an eye opening experience of how our jurisprudence system works (or not). You’ll find real life drama unfold before your eyes, smart people and not so, unveiled and the opportunity to bring a decision of justice to the situation.

Your name can be randomly chosen to receive a summons from any of a number of lists that are kept by the state, including registered voters, driver’s license renewals and people receiving unemployment benefits. So, you would have to drop completely off the grid to be assured of never getting a summons.

jury2I have been in jury pools and not selected as a juror and others in which I have been selected. Once, in the 1970’s, I was selected as a jurist on a murder trial. It was interesting to see the evidence presented, and it was obvious that the young mother shot the victim at point blank range.

The story was that the husband was cheating and he and his lover were at the liquor store, stocking up. She was in the passenger seat and he was loading the beer in the back seat. The wife approached the vehicle and fired, immediately killing the lover. The husband ran as fast as he could and his life was spared.

But the interesting point was that when we brought back a sentence of guilty, the judge and prosecutor seemed very surprised and immediately took the sentencing phase back from the jury. We, the jury, had decided that she was definitely guilty, but were going to lighten the sentence so she would be with her children as soon as possible. We took the adultery rage situation into consideration, but did not discuss this with the judge. So, in the final verdict, this is exactly what he did. It was a compassionate court and he felt the same way as we did.

Another time I was summoned to a civil court, where approximately twenty potential jurors sat in the jury pool to be questioned. The defendant was a young, egotistical, twenty-something guy. He had been ticketed by an officer for not giving a turn signal. (This is a no no, you know, especially in a small town.)  This “legal wizard” decided to defend himself. The lady from the prosecutor’s office was a sharp young lawyer who looked and verbalized the part very well. (I’m thinking, “Dumbo, why not just pay your fine and be done with it?”)

jury4Well, he was first to question the potential jurors. His very first question was, “Do any of you believe yourself to be overly religious?” (Huh? What does this have to do with anything?) I immediately said, “What does that mean?” He repeated, “I just mean do any of you believe that you are overly religious?”

I replied, “Well, I am on staff at a Baptist church, does that count?” As he pondered my question, a lady behind me raised her hand and said, “I teach a Sunday School class in the Methodist church.” Yet another said, “Yes, I am a deacon at our church.” There were probably six or eight similar responses. With each declaration, the countenance on Mr. Confidence’s face grew less confident and paler as he realized “his goose was cooked” and he was going nowhere in his defense.

I don’t know what he had against religious people, but that was not the venue upon which to vent. Nope, small town, conservative America was evident that day. As small as it was, it was still a victory for Christian conservatives over arrogance and bias.

jury5I wasn’t chosen for the jury, go figure. But I always wondered how the rest of the trial went. I’m sure it was a “no brainer” for the jury and the use of turn signals was emphasized as part of the law that needs to be obeyed.