I received my jury summons several months ago and had to reschedule twice. The original date, I was going to be out of town. The second time, I got stuck in traffic when they closed off the highway. I scheduled the 3rd time and then organized my life around it.
While sitting there the greater part of the day, I had plenty of time to think about the whole process. As much as everyone seems to dread going to jury duty, I found it to be quite interesting as long as I was being observant along the way.
Here are some ideas that can make your day more enjoyable:
- Ride the bus. The bus is free when you present your jury summons in the morning, and the court gives you a pass to ride home, so you save money on gas and also parking. It had been years since I’ve ridden the bus downtown and I looked at it as a treat. Since I’ve worked at home for the past 9 years, it was a bit of a walk down memory lane to be downtown again. The best part was that I wasn’t riding the bus to go to work.
- Wear comfortable shoes. Riding the bus was great because I didn’t have to fight traffic, but it also meant I had to walk a few blocks. I walk every morning, so this wasn’t a problem except that at home I don’t walk in dress shoes. After jury duty, I walked to Hard Rock to buy a shirt for a friend, and then walked to the building where I used to work. The business is gone but the building hadn’t changed a bit. My biggest regret was that I was sorry I ignored my thought of packing a pair of walking shoes. By the time I got home, I felt like I had gel inserts in my shoes because of the big blisters on the balls of my feet!
- Wear comfortable clothing. The summons tells you what NOT to wear – shorts, tank tops, etc. to show respect for the court. I wore a long skirt and a lightweight sweater over my blouse. I was glad to have the sweater because it was cool in one of the rooms, but also had the option of removing it if it got too warm.
- Take a magazine. They tell you to bring a book, but we were so busy listening to instruction that I really didn’t have time to read. I spent most of the time watching people. I only spent about 30 minutes in the 8 hour day reading but used my iPhone to email and text.
- Don’t hire anyone for murder. The trial I’d been chosen for was a capital murder trial for a man accused of hiring someone (his son) to kill his wife. Of course I did a search on this man when I got home and learned that he was a pastor whose church had mysteriously burned down the week before his wife was murdered. I don’t think I’ve ever been in the room with an alleged murderer before.
- Don’t be foolish enough to believe that because you’re potential juror #63 out of 63 that you won’t get chosen. I was #63, and #62 was convinced they’d find 12 people before they got to us. There were people with lots of different issues on why they couldn’t make impartial decisions about this case so that increased our odds. I was released, but #62 was invited to step into the juror’s box! I didn’t say anything that I thought might keep me from being selected, but I thought it was important to mention that a family member had been the victim of a “murder for hire.” Even though I told the prosecutor I didn’t think that would keep me from being impartial, it probably lowered my odds of being chosen.
- Take your calendar or at least know your schedule for the next few days. If I’d have been chosen, I’d have been committed to 5 days next week. Potential jurors were asked if they had responsibilities that would prevent them from serving. The judge was happy to call employers who had a problem with it.
- Pack a lunch. We only had a 15 minute break at noon so people could go to the vending machines. I brought a couple of sticks of beef jerky, a snack pack of grapes, a granola bar, gum, and my own bottle of water. I made it through the day just fine without having to buy anything.
- Take some cash. If you ignore my suggestion to pack a lunch, you’ll definitely want to have money for stale chips or old sandwiches. If you drove, you’ll also need money for parking.
- Be patient. You have absolutely no control over what’s going on and can’t rush the system. I arrived at 8 am and was released at 2 pm. That meant six hours of mostly just sitting and listening to instruction. The judge, prosecutor, and defense attorneys all want equal time!
- Listen. I learned a lot. I learned the difference between capital murder and just plain murder. I learned that people really don’t pay attention when they are told how to line up in numerical order outside the courtroom. I learned to take that bathroom break whenever I could get it. I learned that prosecutors and defense attorneys can be funny even when advising you about the rules in a criminal case. I saw for myself that an alleged murderer doesn’t look any different than you or me. I also realized that the nice man in the blue shirt who was on trial didn’t look as crazy as the man they interviewed on the news. I learned that in some countries, they still use the Napoleonic Code, which says that you’re guilty until proven innocent.
- Remember that it’s a real honor to be part of the jury selection process. No one really wants to be on a jury, and it’s an inconvenience to spend even a day at the courthouse, but like the judge said, “I know you’re all busy people with responsibilities, but if you were all unemployed with nothing to do during the day, we’d all be in California.” I consider it a great blessing to be an American and to have the opportunity to live in this great country where we are considered innocent until proven guilty. Our system may not be perfect, but it’s still the best system in the world.
While most of us are under the misconception of believing that “innocent until proven guilty” is written in the US Constitution, it is not. This concept is part of the constitution because we have the right to remain silent and also the right to a jury trial. An interesting website to read more about this is: http://www.usconstitution.net/constnot.html#innocent