Our justice system does beat the guillotine…
Two words sure to draw groans were jury duty. With reliable transportation and a grown family, I was a prime candidate for summons. No where on the eligibility questionnaire could I fit “I don’t want to.”
I worried about sitting in judgment over a Mafia don or drug dealer who’d gun down my family if I sent them to prison. What if I impersonated God and handed down a death sentence? Would He be ticked off and cozy up a place for me in Hell?
Uncomfortable with the situation, I asked others what to expect. The overall consensus was that I had an overactive imagination. Jury duty was boring. I should take a book to read.
Our county courthouse was located in a quaint town surrounded by beautiful countryside. I knew this because I covered a lot of ground when I became lost trying to find the parking area. Quaint towns lacked parking. Prospective jurors were to be bussed to the courthouse.
After a metal detector determined the metals on my person were buttons not switchblades or guns, prospective jurors gathered in a room to trade our summons for a number. A search of my purse turned up the novel Frankenstein. My summons was forgotten on the table at home because I made room in my purse for the book. The court employee still gave me a number, two. I hoped the numbers were random with no significance.
A video gave us a run down of what was expected of us as jurors. The judge proclaimed that our legal system hadn’t changed in hundreds of years because it worked. I believed our system of justice sure beat the guillotine where DNA evidence would be moot after sentencing was carried out.
We prospective jurors learned we’d be sitting a civil case, which involved the rights of an individual being violated in some way. From the limited information presented, I gathered that the two parties (neighbors) had a breakdown in communication. They decided to pay lawyers to convey their sides of a story which probably involved a factor of money. You’re kidding; I had to listen to a squabble between two neighbors? Sheesh, I was worried about murder and mayhem?
Money holds no incentive to be involved in the court process. For my time, I expected to be paid for mileage, a total of $18.18. I already put $20.00 in the tank when I stopped to ask directions. If I was picked as a juror, I’d be paid $25.00 for the day in court. Maybe there was wisdom in the meager compensation, but I wasn’t seeing it.
The judge repeatedly thanked us for coming despite the inconvenience. We did get lunch, but in some way I’m sure I paid for my sandwich and a few of the salads. To save myself money, I skipped the drink because I’d brought a bottle of water. There were people who stuffed their pockets with pretzels to get their money’s worth.
The next phase of juror selection was a series of questions designed to weed out bias. This phase provided the opportunity to get out of duty with a legitimate excuse. People acquainted with the parties involved were excused as were people with a doctor’s excuse. “I don’t want to,” would never have made the cut.
Person after person went before the judge to either be excused or made to sit back down and try again. Then the judge asked the question, “Has anybody present experienced a similar situation?”
I raised my hand. Standing before the judge, I explained a dispute with my wacko neighbor. I didn’t actually say wacko because I didn’t have proof of his mental instability only personal experience. We put up a fence to solve our dispute which probably cost less than a lawyer. Fortunately, the lawyer comment stayed in my head.
I honestly answered that this incident wouldn’t deter me from passing unbiased judgment. The word fence kept popping into my head, but I didn’t consider that bias just common sense in my case.
Standing in front of the judge, flanked by two lawyers, made me want to pee my pants. After I walked back to my chair to collect my coat and upon exiting the courtroom, I needed to find a bathroom.
I think now would be a good time to confess that I’ve put off getting my hearing aid checked for about six years. A court employee was sent to fetch me because I was dismissed to go sit down not excused from serving.
Thank goodness we took a recess right after I sat back down. I was really close to pissing myself.
Upon return, a few more questions were asked, “does anyone have sensory problems such as sight or hearing issues?” This question cleared up my unexcused walk down the hall.
Juror selection began from the thirty-seven of us left out of a pool of fifty people. As the lawyers looked us over, we sat like puppies in a pet store waiting to be picked. Unlike puppies, most people scrunched down in their seats praying don’t pick me.
Twelve people, people just like me, who left their summons paper at home, got lost on their way to and soon to be from the courthouse, and who walked out of the courtroom because they misheard the judge, would get to decide the fate of the disputing parties.
This realization made me determined to always do the right thing, stay out of trouble, and to continue to solve my own problems. But despite that determination, I also realized shit happened. If it happened to me, could I expect someone like me to have my back?
Neither lawyer took the chance that I’d be competent to serve and chose other jurors. I felt disappointed, but thought it best for the parties involved. This wasn’t what I expected to feel.
Before my next summons, I’d finish reading Frankenstein and visit an audiologist. We still lived in a country where everyone had the right to be heard and judged fairly. Next time, I’d show up prepared to do my duty and serve even if I still believed a nice privacy fence might solve most disputes.