At some point in our lives, we all get the dreaded jury summons in the mail, and most immediately try to think of ways to get out of it. Since I didn’t have a good reason, like breastfeeding or not being a Benton County citizen, my way was to ignore it—but every year I would get a new one. City Hall wouldn’t take the hint.
Three jury summons and a request for a deferral later, I finally responded to jury duty and had to report to City Hall at eight in the morning, which for me is considered the butt crack of dawn. I went through the metal detector, met in a small room with 34 other victims, and waited (I did a lot of this). Twenty minutes later I had to fill out paperwork so that the court could see if I was fit for duty. Although my friends told me to say outlandish things to get me out of it like, “I’m a communist” or “I’m a racist,” I didn’t lie.
The final piece of paperwork asked if I would like to donate my jury money to City Hall. I was already mad that I was missing work for this which paid a lot more than $10 a day and $0.20 to the gallon, so I said no, and played on my phone while I waited for everyone else to finish up.
Next came a boring video about the importance of serving on a jury, and as penance we were subsequently offered a 15-minute break; too long to wait in the room, but not long enough to go anywhere, so I stayed in the little room and hoped that I wouldn’t fall asleep.
After an indescribable amount of time later, we were finally ushered into the court room where the judge called us to the stand. The defense and district attorney for the case questioned us to see if we were fit to be the kind of jurors they wanted us to be. They asked questions, and if anyone wanted to answer it they would have to raise their hand. Some of the questions were, “Are you biased against drug users?”, “Have you ever been a victim of domestic abuse?”, and “Do you think you use your emotions to make your decisions?” When a juror raised his or her hand to answer the question, the attorneys would always ask, “Why?” as if it were an interrogation. And it was. I was surprised at how personal the questions were, and I noticed that if you answered them in a way the attorneys didn’t like, they would guilt-trip you, especially with the question, “Do you want to be here right now?” which no one answered to, and so I decided I would not raise my hand.
They put us back into the little room and we waited for another 30 minutes to find out who would be the final pick. Since I didn’t answer any of the attorneys’ questions, I hoped that they would think I wasn’t interested—again, I was trying to ignore it—but it didn’t work. I was the tenth one called. Was this my punishment for ignoring jury duty for all those years? I called my boss and told her I was going to be really late for work during the next of our million 15-minute breaks.
As time continued to lurch forward, I eventually found myself sitting in the jurors’ room with the other 11 upset retirees, college students, and middle-aged mothers. We were instructed not to talk about the criminal case until it was finished, so all we could talk about was how none of us wanted to be there and wagered how long we thought this case would last.
Twenty minutes later we were finally called in to listen to the case. I avoided eye contact with the mother charged of the drug possession and child endangerment crimes who didn’t have much of a case since there were two cops, a forensic scientist, and two cases of evidence shown against her. Apparently the district attorney had done his homework. The only defense her attorney had was that she was in an abusive relationship. Seriously? You just lectured me on how I wasn’t supposed to feel sorry for her. But I sat and listened while trying to avoid rolling my eyes.
When the mother was trying to explain why she had drugs in the car with her children in it, the judge randomly told the jurors to leave. The bailiff ran from her seat and escorted us out back into the juror room. Whoa, what just happened? I sat in the room confused. Maybe the judge realized, like I did, that the mother didn’t have much of a case for herself and would let us go early. Maybe they were working on a deal with the mother… wishful thinking. I would never find out why we got randomly kicked out, because when the judge called us back in the case kept going as if nothing had happened.
Once the two sides had finished presenting their cases, my cohorts and I went back into the juror room to make a decision where only 10 of us had to agree. Since it seemed disrespectful that we had a verdict after only 10 minutes, we looked at the evidence again, talked about the case again, and voted twice. The two drug charges were a definite guilty verdict—after all, we were looking at the evidence from her vehicle on the table in front of us—but the child endangerment charges were a little harder to decide on because we weren’t sure if her children would be taken away or not. The thought of possibly splitting up siblings was unsettling, but that would be a decision based on emotion, and emotion was apparently bad in the court room, so we decided that she was guilty of everything.
My heart raced when we came in and presented our verdict. Although I believed she was guilty, I still felt uneasy judging someone, so I conveniently blamed it on the attorneys who said we couldn’t vote based on sympathy. We were finally dismissed before the judge gave the mother her final sentence.
A week later my $11.50 check came in the mail.
by Jenna Campbell
Summon Someone Else: Personal Accounts of Serving Dilemmas
I dread finding another jury summons in my mail. Though I haven’t served as a juror yet, that hasn’t stopped Benton County from aggressively pursuing me each year to perform my civic duty. The first time I simply discarded my summons request, opting to pretend I’d never received it. When the second one arrived, I was so preoccupied with work and school I didn’t open it until well after the deadline. Ooops…
After admitting these jury duty mishaps/white lies to my fiancé, she demanded I do the right thing and go through the motions of serving. I crossed my fingers before calling in and hoped my number wasn’t requested for trial. Don’t get me wrong, I respect the process, I just don’t want to be involved. I’m not comfortable determining a defendant’s guilt or innocence along with my peers simply because the court believes I’m qualified. What if I chip in on sending an innocent person to jail or vice versa? I can’t have that on my conscience.
Surely there are others chomping at the bit to participate, so ask them. I say offer jury duty to first-come, first-serve and/or court ordered volunteers. Non-voters could choose jury duty in lieu of voting. That’s a win-win!
I am 32 and have yet to serve on a jury, and doubt that I ever will. I’ve had too many encounters in my life that have created severe bias against the legal system, and therefore I cannot in good conscience cast a vote that determines guilt or innocence based on data provided by said system. I’m no stranger to objectivity, but I do not believe that a court provides one with the ability to have it.
I’ve been on both sides of being screwed by the system too many times, I guess. I do believe that the system works most of the time, however, and support the jury system in its current state. I just can’t be a part of it without betraying it, or myself. I feel like I’m fulfilling my civic duty by staying away, and keeping one more biased person out of the deliberation room.
Look, courthouses are scheduled for the convenience of the suit and muumuu clad law graduates that get paid to be in them, not us would-be volunteers, or more accurately, conscripts. I do other volunteer work in the community, but I always dodge the jury summons. My barely solvent single parenting tail-end can’t afford some indeterminate number of whole days in a jury box. My other volunteer gigs offer me something more than the pangs of failed-citizen guilt I feel over thumbing my nose at jury duty, they provide scheduling choices.
Give me a menu of four hour a day shifts or a choice of a Saturday shift and I’ll add your courtroom to my otherwise brown bag life. I could do some night shifts of 5:30 to 9:30, but I don’t have a full day to give, even though I want to. Likewise, there are some parents that don’t even need to work that would easily sign-up for mornings, something like 8:30 to 12:30 would have them home well before their little charges are off the bus. Sure, this may mean a two day trial needs to be conducted over four days, but it also means people like me get to be fully participatory citizens.
One can of course already here the plaintive cries of objection coming from the ranks of the professional justice league over the odd hours and bit of computer software that such scheduling would require; my response; get over it. Medical people and cops have had to do deal with these realities for forever. And as a reminder, you are paid to be in that courthouse and we are not, so some croissants and coffee would be nice too, just sayin’.