Adventures in Jury Duty

At my age, you would think I would have served on at least one jury, but all of the times I’ve been called, I’d never even made it to the jury box. Until two weeks ago, when I was selected to serve in the US Court.

The trial is over and I thought I’d share my updated thoughts about jury duty.

  1. It’s Expensive – I’m a writer with a part-time job that pays the bills when book sales are sluggish. I don’t have jury duty leave, so I don’t get paid when I don’t work. Sure, the court will eventually get around to sending me $40 a day, but that’s my hourly rate. I’m out more than $1,000 for my little civic adventure. I’m incredibly fortunate because my employer gives me vacation time so I won’t have to take that hit, but I’m out 7 days of vacation.
  2. It’s Boring – You see all those exciting courtroom dramas on TV and in the movies but a real trial is nothing like that. The case itself was interesting, but the process was not. There were lots of “side bar” conversations where the attorneys chat with the judge off in a corner to decide some complicated thing they may not want the jury to hear. They turn on a white noise generator during these side bars and whenever the attorney doing the questioning consults with the second attorney on the team. There’s a whole lot of nothing to do during these times for the jury.
  3. It’s Fascinating – The testimony of the witnesses was fascinating and I found myself completely wrapped up in it. As a juror, part of my job was to judge who might be fudging on the truth, who might be biased because of personal or professional issues and to what degree the witness testimony was trustworthy. I had questions that went unanswered and that made it more challenging during deliberations, but you have to decide the case based only on what is presented so unanswered questions remain unanswered at the end of the day.
  4. It’s Sad – This was a wrongful death case. A man was killed at work, falling off the top of his truck as he was loading it with molten sulfur. The one eye witness had been hard hit emotionally, something that was very obvious during his testimony three years after the fact. No matter how we would decide the case, it’s tragic to hear about somebody who was just trying to make a living, have his life end like that.
  5. It’s Educational – This case made me painfully aware of how dangerous some jobs are. I know this from living in Wyoming and hearing the workplace fatality statistics, but dry statistics can’t show you the real individuals who do this work every day. The men who testified about their experiences doing the same job, were tough but admitted they’re scared up on their trucks every time, but you have a job to do and you get it done. That really touched me.
  6. It’s Frustrating – During deliberations, reaching agreement on all aspects of the decision was an adventure. It took us five hours, but we were unanimous in the end. To protect my fellow jurists, that’s all I’ll say about that process.
  7. It’s Important – I know it sounds corny, but the judicial system wouldn’t work if it weren’t for people being willing to make the sacrifice to answer the summons and come in for jury duty. I know everyone talks about ways to get out of it, but if I were a plaintiff or a defendant, I’d sure be thankful for the people who serve. A jury of ordinary people, taking time to hear both sides, weigh the cases presented, talk through the issues and come to a decision is a beautiful thing.

I’m glad that I’ve completed my service and am free from being called (by this level anyway) for two years, but after all those times not even making it to the jury box, I’m kind of glad that for once, I got to see the process from start to finish.

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