Last week I had jury duty for the first time. We were there from 7.20 am to 5.07 pm. I was enthralled with the process though I ended up sitting in on a rather petty case. What a thorough, involved, and fascinating process. And to think this happens every day across the country.
An army of citizens, some licking their chops, others outraged reorganized their lives: childcare, work, carpools, co-workers, school. For me, all this because Her Majesty walked out of a J.C. Penny with $64.00 worth of make-up.
It was the second time I had been summoned. It’s my privilege. The first time, I called the night before and was dismissed. I had mixed emotions and felt somewhat rejected. I consoled myself, “Better to be dumped now than to show up for nothing tomorrow.” Four phone calls later, my life was back on track. This time after tiresome instructions on the voice-recording, numbers 160-299 were ordered to show up. I was number 299. Again, mixed feelings.
I’d received a sweet text from a friend I hadn’t connected with for a while and I carried some writing paper with me to court. She got a twelve page hand-written letter. Why don’t we hand write letters any more? It must be amazing to get one!
After a tedious check-in and registration process, a judge came in to speak to us for ten minutes. He thanked us for putting our lives on hold. “Even the brain surgeon who tried to tell me he had a surgery scheduled couldn’t get off the hook,” he said. “No one is more important than anyone else.” I got a mental picture of myself on a literal meat hook, flailing hopelessly. Is that what this was?
The throng was whittled down to about seventy people for 3 cases. As expected, some were relieved, others miffed. I couldn’t look any in the eye, unsure if I was fortunate or condemned to hang. Twenty four of us headed to one courtroom, up three flights of stairs, down long cold hallways, around corners. All marching in tense silence.
We had to stand in order and not swap positions. We had to sit in order. We had to scoot along the bench in order. The case was quickly introduced: the state of Oregon vs. Her Majesty. Why the state of Oregon I will never know. J.C. Penny must have been busier than the brain surgeon. My tax dollars at work.
6 potential jurors were called up to the jury box (I really should have learned what the technical terms here are, now that I am an expert in the field.) The defense attorney stood and immediately tried to put us at ease. It wasn’t working. Her Majesty sat beside her twirling her hair and trying not to look nervous. It wasn’t working either. The attorney spent 30 minutes getting us to relate to the client.
“Have you ever taken something that’s not yours? Of course you all have. And what really, is stealing?” She wore an ill-fitting suit. She looked like she’d be more comfortable surfing or bungee-jumping in a jungle wearing an old t-shirt, cut off jeans, and worn Tevas. She looked like the fun big sister who’d vouch for you and save your hide. Mr. Prosecutor, on the other hand, was serious, well coiffed, eagle-eyed with a hooked nose to match. He meant business and had plans for the royal snollygoster who was smacking her royal chewing gum.
They both engaged us and made sure we all responded to various questions and scenarios they set up. The judge thanked and assured those that would not be selected that we had not wasted our time as this was an important part of the process. Presently, they began to choose jurors.
The lawyers write something on a small piece of paper and the clerk shows each of their papers to the other. Each nods and the clerk walks it to the judge who excuses one of those in the jury box. Yup, he’d wasted his time. The next potential juror is called up to the box so there are always 6. I pick my back-pack and jacket up off the floor and scoot to the right. The lawyers write on another piece of paper which is then showed to the other. They nod and it’s walked to the judge. Another is excused. Pick up, scoot. And again. And again. I’m called up to the box. Pick up, walk. Juror number 5. All the rest that haven’t been called up are thanked and excused.
The non-committal mugwump beside me is elated to go home.
Specifics of the case are presented. We are sworn to secrecy and to not touch our cell phones till after the case. More instructions and it’s noon. Lunch time. We will reassemble in an hour. Really? I have never felt less productive in my entire life. It had taken 5 hours to get to this point. In my mind, this could easily have been about thirty minutes worth of work.
Lunch feels like it’s four hours long and we’re all sitting on our hands in anticipation with thirty minutes to go. We’re prohibited to say too much to each other about the case.
The afternoon goes like I thought a jury duty shivoo should. Rapid-fire questioning. Witnesses, cross-examination. “For the record, please pronounce and spell your first and last name.” Objection, hear-say. Sustained. Her Majesty whispers repeatedly to Jane. Being a documentation Nazi, I am appalled by the store security and the shoddy work they did and reported. They omitted important details. We watch surveillance footage. Eagle-eye is on his case and the case is clear. Theft III. Correct person, correct date, intent established.
Back in our chambers, we deliberate for close to an hour. There are strong feelings and opinions. I am not convinced about intent as some are. We turn it over this way and that. The physician in the group is also unsure. The ex-marine is bumfuzzled. The nurse and manager are certain she meant to steal the merchandise. The retiree would really like to go home. It’s 4.54 pm. We can come back tomorrow. This isn’t majority rule. That would be easier. But we must all agree. Did she intend to? The store could easily have done a much better job convincing me of her guilt. They did not. They punched holes in their credibility. We wish that along with making our decision we could wag our jury finger with some strong words for Her Majesty.
We buzz the clerk at 4.58pm. At 5.03pm the judge pronounces her not guilty. I feel sorry for the prosecutor. Of all the people, he actually did the best job, but he could have done better.
I can’t wait to share this day with the world. I quickly learn that everyone I tell I just had jury duty immediately says, “When I had jury duty…” and launches into a twenty minute tale of woe. I guess they didn’t get to tell anyone their story when it was fresh.
I suppose I’ll have to wait till someone tells me they just had jury duty and then I’ll jump in and say, “When I had jury duty…”