As I thought about a title for my account of my Jury duty, I searched for a word that would include all the parts of it, all the conflict, all the surprise and all the depth of it. “Serving” Yes, that one word encompasses everything.
I was summoned to serve on a jury. Shit. I didn’t want to go. I tried to think of a way out of it, didn’t want my time taken by the government, didn’t want to be bothered. I will probably feel the same way if I am summoned again, because it takes more from a person than one expects. You “serve” on a jury. If you do the job the right way you give your all to the jury.
Couldn’t get out of it.
Thirty minute drive to the county seat. On the appointed day I drove to the Courthouse in Mercer and found my way to Courtroom number four. There, I was taken through a process that prepared me to serve. That was surprising to me…how well it was set up and run. Oh, I knew I was being psychologically prepared, that my mind was being conditioned to think a certain way…to become a “juror”. The films, the talks from the Jury Commissioner, the location in the majestic old courtroom; all were structured to set your mind in a new direction.
There were about a hundred fifty of us there. None of us spoke to each other during the morning…we didn’t even look at each other….we all hoped that the others would be picked, that we would return to our lives at the end of the day. Lunch. Return to the courtroom, with it’s high ceiling, it’s dark paneling, it’s large jury box. Still we kept silent. We sat in silence while we waited…still no one looked at the person next to them. Everyone returned to the same seat they’d taken that morning. Oh, we are creatures of habit. The mind training had been done. We sat. We waited. I knitted.
Then the doors opened and the Commissioner returned and walked to the central podium. Silence still, as he sorted the little name tags. Yes, I was nervous! I was uneasy!
“Stand and go upstairs to courtroom three if your name is read.” No “please”. Just do what you are told. Follow the instructions. You were “summoned”, not asked. Forty names read, forty people stand and leave. Not my name. Yay!! You could see people relax. Shit No, not done. More little name tags sorted. “Stand and go upstairs to courtroom 4 if your name is read.” Fifty names read. You listen to make sure you move if your name is read. Was that? Yes, my name. I stand, I move quickly, I find a seat in Courtroom 4 and wait. Oh…stopped at the toilet first. I never take chances with that.
Courtroom four is much smaller and far less grand than the first courtroom. There is the judge, the prosecutor, the defendant, his attorney. And there is the jury box. Oh please, not me. I have things to do! I have a trip to plan! I’ll miss bowling!
Questions. The judge will ask general questions. If you can answer “yes” to a question, raise your hand. Wait for the judge to point to you. Stand and answer. Don’t speak out…follow instructions. Oh, I knew by now that this procedure had been planned and practiced for decades. That this was all part of the preparation to make us jurors. To have us “serve”.
One man dismissed. Two women dismissed. Listen carefully to the questions…can I raise my hand? Can I answer “yes”? No. Still there. Forty-seven now.
“Stay where you are while the attorneys confer on those they choose to strike.” The judge knows his shit. Try to look a bit crazy, try to sink down in your seat. You watch them as they pore over the surveys all of us completed. What did I write/ Oh, why didn’t I write something outlandish!
The attorneys finish. They nod to the judge. Fourteen little name tags are handed to the bailiff. Oh please!!! Not me! I hate being confined. Why didn’t I write that on the survey!
“All prospective jurors stand! If your name is called, sit down where you are.” #1…not me. #2, #3, #4, #5,…Maybe I’ll not get called….#6, #7, #8, #9, #10…so close…just four to g…#11…yes, my name. I sit, I slump. Oh shit.
The others leave, the ones not called. “Come up in order and sit in the jury box”. Shit!!! I have things to do! The defendant is black, two of the jurors are black…oh, this could be such a mess. I take my seat…we are out of order, but that seems to be all right. I am juror #7. Second row, middle.
We are given instructions by the Judge for the next 45 minutes. “I will try to teach you two years of the Law in an hour.” “Reasonable Doubt” “Innocent till proven guilty” “Can only consider the evidence presented in court” “don’t Google anything about the defendant, talk to anyone about the case, talk to each other about what you hear in this courtroom” “The defense does not have to present evidence, just throw doubt on the prosecution’s evidence. The defendant doesn’t have to testify against or for himself.” “don’t speculate” “a man’s life is in your hands”
Shit, shit, shit ,shit, shit!!!! I don’t want this responsibility! I am quiet. What if these people are assholes? What if we’re here for weeks? Oh, three days says the judge. Some relief.
Judge is finished. We are led to the Juror’s room, given large yellow badges to wear whenever we are in the Courthouse. Instructions repeated. “You can leave. See you tomorrow.”
Shit. I know I won’t sleep.
The entire day has led to this…and these people have taken 14 disparate people, from all over the county…all ethnic, religious, financial, gender backgrounds…and have led us to think one thing: to serve.