I was called for jury duty on Monday.
Sometimes the U.S. legal system can be mundane, at least from the outside. I got up early and my kind wife drove me to the courthouse around 8:30 in the morning. I sat in the jury waiting room until around 9:45, at which point we were told to come back at 1:45. Which meant I had three hours to kill, since I didn’t have the car and getting home and back would have been a bit much (not to mention a burden on my wife, who was working all of this time). So I left and walked seven blocks down to Jack London Square, wandered around, walked back to the courthouse, went through the metal detector for the second time, bought a couple of plain old-fashioned donuts, and went back to the waiting room, prepared to wait for the more than two hours it would take for 1:45 to arrive. I’d started reading Nelson George’s book on Soul Train, and figured I’d just go back to it.
The waiting room was empty except for the guy behind the counter, and I had this bizarre feeling that I was the only person among the 120 or so folks who had been called, who had nothing better to do than return to the room and sit around.
Good news finally arrived: the judge had postponed everything until Tuesday, which meant us Monday jurors could go home, with our jury obligation served for another year.
I’ve been on a couple of juries, and I’ve been thanked for my time and turned away a couple of times. To be honest, I prefer the latter. The first jury on which I served was a purse-snatch … trial lasted six days including two days of deliberations before we found him guilty. The second jury was ended in the middle when one side agreed to pay money to the other side … it was a fight between two guys during a pickup basketball game, and I still don’t know why the tax payers’ money was wasted on the case.
When I am questioned by the judge and/or attorneys, I can tell a truthful story that makes me sound like a good or bad potential juror. Mostly, I can turn myself “bad” by mentioning certain things, like that my dad did time as an embezzler. But in recent years, after a long time teaching critical thinking classes, I feel like I’d be paralyzed on a jury, because my standards of truthful evidence are much stricter than they used to be. For one trial, I told this to the judge … explained that I had a hard time accepting basic stuff like eyewitness testimony, even though I said I could follow the judge’s instructions. I was thanked and dismissed by one of the lawyers.
I don’t know … in some ways, I’m a perfect choice for a jury. I’m smart enough, I’m good at analyzing material, and I’m at least semi-retired. Yet I can’t get rid of the notion that any jury I sat on nowadays would end up a hung jury, with 11 votes one way and me saying “I don’t know”.