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Juror - Interrupted

by Winn Maddrey

August 7,2008

Duty. And Honor. These are two terms that I believe I have lived up to in many ways. Whether doing the right thing or simply using my judgment to act in a certain way, I believe that I am able to state that I hold these terms to heart.

Recently I received a jury summons in the mail, my first summons ever. Images of me sequestered in a low-ceilinged room in late July with peers, trying to make a life-altering decision impacting a person and all of society flashed through my mind. All of my extensive training – watching To Kill a Mockingbird, LA Law, A Time to Kill, Presumed Innocent and others – had prepared me for the upcoming mental, emotional days that I, as a juror would face. I was ready.

During the time between summons’ receipt and the actual date, I frequently mentioned to friends, colleagues and others – often with an air of excitement, since I’d never been chosen – my upcoming duty. Each time I mentioned it, it was as if I had waltzed up to Lucy Van Pelt’s psychiatric booth, plunked down five cents and asked for help. Yet I didn’t ask. But the advice came and came. Regardless of the recommendation, the consistency in the unsolicited input was the same – how to speak and act to ensure that I would not be selected for the jury.

Here’s some of what I heard:

• “tell them that you support capital punishment.”
• “describe that you have recently been robbed, are a victim of a crime that was never solved.”
• “explain that your religious beliefs do not allow you to sit in judgment of others.”
• “make sure they know that you read the paper every day and may already be aware of the case.”
• “make them think that you think the person is guilty.”

Every comment contributed to my jaw dropping a little lower.

When I arrived, many of my preconceived notions were dispelled. There were a hundred, perhaps two hundred, people there. They soon became both my peers and later, I realized, my competitors. At sign in, we were told that it was “Juror Appreciation Week,” to which I cynically thought, isn’t that every week?

Then my amazement continued. I falsely assumed that I had only to wait a few scant minutes until asked to come and serve. Rather there was a lot of sitting and waiting, interrupted by roll calls of prospective jurors. I was not chosen. Then the appreciation began. We had a magician. We had a movie, National Treasure II. Then roll call again. Again, I was not selected. Then we had live jazz and free coffee. Then a lunch break. When we got back from lunch, there was another roll call. Nope, not me. Then we had a visit from the county bomb dog and her officer. And another roll call. There were only a few people left and my number did not come up. The first movie finished and we started a new one – The Patriot. And there was free popcorn.

At the end of the day, at 4:30, I was released, told that I would not be called for two years and that my service was complete. I was stunned, shocked that I had come so close to entering a real courtroom and yet it was not to happen.

But, from a higher level, I was more stunned at the process of the whole thing. At first the irony of people encouraging me to stretch the truth to avoid playing a role in justice seemed bizarre and rampant. And then the day of sitting was surreal. People in a room, not talking, watching TV, waiting. Nothing productive, no leveraging of the skills, opinions, ideas and passions of a hundred plus residents of our county. The notion that we pluck people out of their day-to-day routines, stick them in a room to wait mindlessly and allow them to disengage does not seem to me to be a way to prepare them to provide the judgment and guidance I would want out of a juror.

I am left questioning who is serving and who is being disserved?

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