The judge actually said that to the room of 103 of us — “Jury selection is not part of “Law and Order” for a reason…it’s really boring. But it’s really important to the process and we need to do it, so here we go.”
Let’s rewind a bit. When I got my jury summons in the mail, the date it listed was, of course, the weekend plus Monday Tyler and I planned to spend in Las Vegas. Luckily, through the most annoying phone system in the world that didn’t accept calls from out-of-state cellphones, I was able to change it “one time” to a date of my choosing.
The week after Vegas, I arrived at the courthouse at 7:00 AM and got to listen to a no-nonsense state worker audibly roll her eyes at the entire room of 300 people summoned that day. “Please fill out the green section. The green section — fill it out. If you haven’t filled out the green section yet, do so now.” At first, I was offended at how she was speaking down to us, but sure enough, for the next 10 minutes, people raised their hands asking, “My green section is still blank, should I leave it like that, or…?” I do not envy her job. At 10:00, she gave us all a break from the tiring 3 hours of nothing we’d been doing (I’d filled my green section in July when I got it in the mail…like I thought we were supposed to?) and I got a coffee.
When we were called back into the room, we were informed that those lucky few of us granted unlimited days off by our companies (and unfortunate housewives and retirees) were prescreened for a “big case” that would take 20 business days, and all the people should answer “yes” when their names are called if their schedules allowed it. I had a doctor’s appointment, but they said that anything that could be rescheduled SHOULD be, and they had ways of checking up to see if you actually had prior engagements. I made a rude gesture in my mind as to the probable validity of that statement, but I’m hesitant to jaywalk, so I told them “yes” and was instructed to come back…a week later. Fun!
Fast forward to then, and me and 102 other people are being herded into a stuffy courtroom to be asked if we had any friends or relatives in the legal profession or law enforcement, and if anyone in our families had been victims of crime or arrested/convicted of a crime. All 103 of us were asked this. And the judge had follow-up questions to every answer. And for the disturbing number of people there who had 4 adult children, they were asked to list their and each of their spouses’ occupations. I was number 29. They didn’t get to me until the third day.
I’d had enough time to call my mom and ask what I should say. I know our house had been broken into when I was little, but my mom only told me about it a few years ago, because she knew I’d be too scared to sleep there (true). I also know that my brother once kicked back a little too much of grandpa’s cough syrup and mistakenly wandered back to his friend’s next-door neighbor’s house instead of his friend’s, and Pennsylvania’s finest were called, but it was expunged from his record because he’s such an otherwise upstanding citizen. I wasn’t sure if I needed to say that or not, but I decided to err on the side of Total Honesty (ask me later how many friends that gets me!), and when the judge got to me and asked if anyone in my family had ever been arrested for something, I answered, “Accidental Breaking and Entering.” And the whole courtroom laughed! Still got it! The judge made an “I’m possibly amused but let’s get back to bidness” look and said “Moving along!”
Again, I was number 29 out of 103. I kept wavering back between wanting to be there and not. On one hand, I was getting equal pay to being at work, and here we got 1.5 hour long lunch breaks. On that same hand, I had thus far finished two books and the scarf I was knitting for Tyler. On the other hand, I had the whole weight of the law, possibly not agreeing with a room of angry-at-me people, deciding the life of a human — all that. And something I hadn’t even considered until the trial started (spoiler alert! I got chosen!), the intense listening and note taking. It was like college, except the final exam was someone’s future. I filled up two notebooks. And only ONE page was a drawing of a cat, which was done on a break in deliberation when everyone else was “being social.”
I honestly didn’t expect the counsel to whittle down as much as they did. Potential jurors 1-12 looked fine to me. Okay, one was a kid who got stabbed and didn’t call police because they “didn’t do that in his ‘hood.” Maybe he’s out. And, yes, the Forensic Science Professor, sure he’ll probably be kicked to the curb. And the scowling grandma who declared that it’s a lawyer’s job to lie, and abortions of justice happen every day of the week? Maybe not the most stable person to be passing judgment to others. But the rest of them looked fine, normal, not sociopathic.
And of course, a few jurors were weeded out in the first few minutes with the Super Sleuth I-See-What-You-Did-There method of raising their hand when the judge asked if anyone hated all police or Hispanic people. When all my wacky friends asked why I didn’t just “get out of jury duty,” I could see that this was what they were talking about. The judge really let them have it, knowing that this was their tactic, and of course, eventually they were dismissed — and, sure, what’s 2 minutes of embarrassment in a roomful of strangers you’ll never see again that will prevent you from being stuck there for 4 weeks — but I’d like to think I have a little more shame than that. And, to be honest, I find policemen and Hispanics to be quite charming.
But counsel of both sides hacked through the jurors, and we all got to play musical chairs. Shit started to get real when I was in the number 15 spot and moving down fast. One thing that made me mad — because I was only answering honestly! — one of the defense lawyers asked if ANYONE had even the MOST BASIC concept of forensic testing and DNA. I raised my hand, along with a few other people, and he asked me to be more specific. I said that, for my job and in my free time, I had watched a lot of “Forensic Files.” He sort of smugly shrugged and turned to the rest of the now 75 people, saying, “Well, we all know that this is real life and not TV, right?”
What I wanted to do was stand up and say, “Well, okay, first off, I’ve probably seen over 150 episodes of the show. Second, you asked for the most basic concept, and, yes, I think if you walked up to any layman on the street, they probably couldn’t tell you all about mitochondrial DNA and hair bulbs, but, no, you’re right. I actually think we’re on TV right now, and I’d like you to introduce me to Mark Paul Gosselaar!” What I did was press my lips and sit silently, hoping they didn’t ask another question like “Does anyone love stand-up comedy?” or “Who thinks cats are cute?” that I would now be reluctant to answer, in fear of some snarky retort.
To make a long blog not any shorter at all, they somehow looked past my gross delinquency and passed me up to chair number 5. People around me were still getting voted off the island, so I had hope, but when both sides agreed that they were happy with the jury as it stood, I froze. Counsel had only intensely questioned jurors 1 through about 50. Juror number 4 turned to me and said, “This can’t be it. Is this it?” Unsure of myself, I said “No. I’m sure they have to go through the rest of them.” Until the clerk asked the people sitting in seats 1-15 to stand up and be sworn in, and the 50 people left in the audience chairs let out an audible sigh of relief. It was surreal. I was sure the judge was going to stop the proceedings and say, “I’m sorry, my bad. Juror number 5 looks too terrified with the fear of Doing What’s Right that she can’t even twitch a muscle in her face, so I’m going to have to let her go, too.” But, to everyone’s surprise, I’m sure, he didn’t.
I looked around me at the 14 other people just as suddenly nervous as I was, and as a group, I guess we accepted our fate. People who believe in “The Secret” hoo-hah will probably tell you that it was all the positive “this might be a cool and patriotic experience” vibes I was giving to the universe that got me up there — the same universe who rudely ignored my “oh god oh god I changed my mind Get me out of here” vibes from the last 10 minutes, but thems the breaks.
And thus began my Jury Duty Experience! I cannot promise more concise summaries than this! Sorry! It was a busy month!