Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Reporting for Jury Duty

I grew up watching Perry Mason and Matlock, so my expectations for jury duty were pretty high. 

With fifty or so other Wayne County residents, I reported to the courthouse Monday morning to serve my civic duty. We have a nice courthouse, with exceptionally tall ceilings, large windows, spots of stained glass and a budget that apparently doesn't support air conditioning on 85-degree days. 

This was my first experience with jury duty, so I read from front to back the handy booklet they give you at check-in. I was especially interested in the glossary in the back, so I could at least pretend to know what they were talking about. I usually have the Dateline cases solved by the time we get to this point in the show, so I needed to brush up a bit. 

The judge weeded through the fodder pretty quickly once we got started. He asked if anyone was currently convicted of a felony or on probation. As fate might have it, the gentleman to my left was excused during that time. I have a real knack for picking a seat. 

Down the line we were asked if we knew anyone in law enforcement well enough that our opinion could be swayed, or we could obtain special information about the case. I was shocked at how many people in our random sample of fifty folks are related to police officers. My personal favorite example was the gal whose great uncle was a traffic cop. With more questioning, we learned he died three years ago, so she felt confident she could keep quiet about the case, should she be selected as one of the twelve. 

I considered raising my hand and telling the judge that my date to the winter semi-formal dance my senior year of high school is now an undercover officer, but I didn't want to get into the messy details of adolescence.

Four selected jurors were quite vocal in their belief that the defendant was guilty until proven innocent (rather than innocent until proven guilty) so that got them on the fast track for dismissal. I wondered what jaded life experience had gotten the four to that point, but I didn't ask questions. By this time, we were an hour into the process and nine seats remained open. My goal was to avoid all eye contact so perhaps they would forget I was there. 

While sitting on the sidelines, admittedly just waiting for my name to be called, I thought about all the things I could - and should - have been doing on that Monday:
Exploring outside with Caroline
Visiting Grandma
Writing scripts for three agronomy videos to be shot next week 
Answering Monday morning emails
Grocery shopping
Laundry to the line
Prepping dinner
Rescheduling a dentist appointment
Creating marketing pieces for a February 2019 event
and so much more.
Instead, I sat in a hot, old room waiting to be casted onto the 2018 version of 12 Angry Men

Then came Roger. 
Roger was probably fifty-five, but on this particular day he appeared to be closer to seventy-five. He moved extremely slowly to the jury box and wasn't stable when moving between the rows of chairs. His hair was unkept. His sweatshirt had stains down the front. She was unshaven. His white K-Swiss shoes were grass stained.
The judge asked Roger if there was any reason why he couldn't serve on a jury for the next three days. 
"I'm having a hard time staying awake. I'll admit, I fell asleep during the movie, here in the beginning," he went on to quietly tell the judge. 
"Sir, you'll have to speak up. This is being recorded and we cannot make out what you're saying. Do you have a special circumstance that is making you so tired this morning?" the judge asked. 
"I went to work at 10:00 last night. Got off at 7:00.......I went to my mother's and gave her a bath......I'm trying to get her into a nursing home but I can't afford that right now.....Then I came here......I'm just tired," Roger finished, slowly and still a bit muffled. 
"When do you go back to work?" asked the judge. 
" 10:00," Roger said with his head down. 

Instantly, my better-things-to-do list became incredibly insignificant and trivial. I became sincerely grateful for a night of rest with Caroline's sleep talking as my only interruption.  I closed my eyes and prayed for Roger, his mother, and rest for both. I prayed that God would bless him in a special way this week. 
Roger was dismissed. I hope he went straight home and slept before reporting back to work. 

Two other men were dismissed from duty because they admitted that if they didn't report to work that day, they would not have the funds to pay child support. My case for inconvenience was growing weaker and weaker. 

One lady admitted she has trouble paying attention, and if they put her in a room with windows for three days, all she'll do is watch the leaves blow in the breeze. The entire east wall of the courtroom was windows. She was sent on her merry way. 

One by one, the selection process narrowed down the pool of viable jury candidates. I became more vested in the process because I realized I was quite capable of serving in such a way. Caroline was taken care of for the day, dentist appointments could be rescheduled, I have a good sense of right from wrong, and I was capable of listening to facts and making my own judgement. 

Of the fifty or so who walked into the courthouse that morning, only seven were left as unselected. I was one of the seven. I took three flights of marble steps to the ground floor and texted Cody, letting him know I was able to communicate again. 

I blew out of those courthouse doors like a free woman. 
A free woman with a realization that God has a way of putting life's troubles, worries and problems in perspective. 
It took me over four hours of sitting and listening to strangers' experiences, priorities, home life and circumstances to realize how fortunate I am. All of that, before a minute of testimony was heard.

It is true:

I never even got to hear a minute of the trial, which turned out to be fine by me. Even though I truly believe my years of job shadowing Angela Lansbury would have paid off tremendously in that moment. 

Maybe next time. 

1 comment:

  1. I have filled out the jury questionnaire several times, but I've never actually gotten to the point where I report to the courthouse. As someone who loved Perry Mason, too, I've always wondered if I'd make it through the selection process.

    It doesn't take long for us to appreciate what we have and our circumstances, if we just open our eyes. This was a good reminder. Thanks!