Being in a room, surrounded by people who are at least as irritated as you, can be uncomfortable. Black. White. Male. Female. Wealthy. Poor. Star Trek fan. Star Wars fan. Republicans. Democrats. We were all one and the same on this day. We were all here because we had received one of those cream-colored folded pieces of papers which beckoned our presence in this room. Those papers which instilled a sense of disease within us upon receiving them.
And after opening that revolting notice, we all thought the same thing almost immediately... how do I get out of this?
Of course, it's not that easy. At least not in California, where they've adopted a one day, one-trial law which makes avoiding jury duty altogether impossible. Essentially, they send you a summons, then ask if the time they've requested is conducive to your schedule. If not, you can reschedule. But upon rescheduling, you must provide an alternative week which suits your needs. You can continue to reschedule for up to a year, but then you must serve. This doesn't mean you'll actually BE on a jury, only that you'll be in the available pool of jurors for that day. Even then, you have to get picked, put on the stand, and agreed upon by both sets of lawyers. The chances are slim to say the least. (NOTE: Those who are caretakers, including single parents of minors, can be dismissed right away)
No matter what, you'll have to be there for one day, and then your jury duty will be completed for one year. If you're lucky, you won't be summoned for many years after. It's all chance.
The first jury notice I received was scheduled for an inconvenient time. I rescheduled.
Then several months ago, my new designated week came up, the one I had told the state of California would be best for me. I sighed and stewed with anger. First off, it was all the way downtown, which for you non-Los Angelenos means a simple 15 minute drive could take well over an hour. Furthermore, at the time of my new week, I had been feeling incredibly overwhelmed with work. Granted, they're self-inflicted projects which keep burying me, but still... it's jury duty! Did I really have to go?
Several people I encountered before I went told me how they just rip up their notices and pretend like they've never gotten any. Let me make this emphatically clear, the people who did this were mostly affluent people. Rich people. Retired people. I'm not joking. Let me tell you, if you ever needed evidence that supported the stereotype that wealthy people think they're better than others and the rules don't apply to them? Bring up jury duty. (More on this later).
I finally succumbed to the process and figured I'd occupy the musky, dated rooms of the California law system for a few hours and be on my way. I brought a book, a journal, and my laptop for writing. How hard could it be?
Within the first ten minutes, my name was called for a panel. I've been in this position before, and it certainly doesn't mean you're going to serve on a jury. It simply means you could be called to the stand, then asked various questions to discern your prospective ability to serve. No problem.
I walked up to the court room with four or five dozen other people and waited for my obvious dismissal.
They started calling juror numbers. I stared at the wood-paneled walls and started to daydream. I think I was wondering what compelled George Lucas to add that god-awful "NOOOOOOOOO" to Darth Vader's movement towards the end of Return of the Jedi in the new blu-ray releases.
The judge called a few numbers, than repeated one particular number three times. Seriously, it was like Bueller, Bueller, Bueller in real life. Only difference was, Bueller was there. He was me, and my number was being called.
I had made it through the first three rounds of jury duty and had yet to be released back into the sea of jurors no doubt going home for the day, never to return until years later. What was going on here? For once, I was winning a game I wanted no part of.
After sixteen of us took the stand, we took our oath and awaited the lawyer's questioning. Still, I've been here before. They usually dismiss well over half of us based on our answers. I was golden.
I especially thought I was off the hook when they inquired about past crimes committed against me or loved ones I knew. Without going into details, I did have some experience with the type of crime allegedly committed. Based on my answers, I again thought my day would be coming to an end.
Except that it didn't.
That's right, I was put on an actual trial. One that was predicted to last over a week.
I couldn't believe it. My face contorted into one with anger and disbelief, the kind of face Mark Wahlberg earns a living out of making. You know the one. Pissed off at the world and ready to explode at any minute. I thought they had made a mistake and someone, ANYONE, would stop and say... wait a minute your honor, we forgot about that guy over there. No way do we want THAT guy.
Alas, that wasn't the case.
I was going to serve on a jury, whether I liked it or not.
I don't wish to go into details on the case, for this blog isn't about that (and quite frankly, they're pretty mundane as the case was pedestrian at best). It's about the experience of jury duty and how I've changed my mind regarding said duty.
The fact of the matter is, our country asks very little of us in terms of civic duty. You're asked to abide by the laws. You're asked to pay taxes. And you're asked to serve on a jury from time to time.
You don't even have to vote if you don't want to.
And yet, millions of Americans complain incessantly when they're asked to appear in court for a jury summons. To be frank about it, we've become a nation that bitches and moans about everything, including an idea that supports the very basis of our dwelling in a democratic nation.
How dare they interrupt your day, you know the one where you can go about your life in any way you see fit for the entire 24 hours? How dare they ask you to actually perform a very important civic duty?
Let me be more clear, without jurors and a system where there are 12 opinions that must be unanimous, there'd be complete anarchy. In the face of a democratic nation, jury duty is essential for order.
And if the soapbox approach doesn't work, how about this... God forbid you were on trial for something. I assure you, you'd definitely want a jury of agreed upon, seemingly intelligent Americans deciding your fate. Or conversely, what if you were the victim of a crime? Wouldn't you want to see justice? How can that happen if no one serves jury duty?
Being on a jury is fascinating. It gives you a more concise picture of how our legal system works. It's certainly not perfect, but it is to be respected.
You learn very quickly where your personality lies in a group of twelve jurors. Some people are ambivalent. Some are quiet. Some are instantly respected more than others. And some are, 'ahem', louder than most.
Most cases last 5-7 days, and really, that's not too much to ask.
When the case came to a close, I left with my head held high and a new appreciation for our system.
Moreover, I left with a new disgust for those that rip up their jury summons. I don't inject a lot of criticism towards individuals in these blogs, and I'm not real found of insults in this venue. But from where I stand, those of you that discard your jury summons into the garbage are fairly revolting individuals.
I loathe elitists, and those that think they're above basic tenets of citizenship.
Bottom line, serve your duty. Chances are, you won't be assigned to an actual jury. And if you are, you'll attain a better understanding of our system.
It's not that hard people. It really isn't.