You would think that with all of the times I've been called for jury duty, somewhere in the double digits, I would have served on a jury. I've never even gotten into the jury box, until two weeks ago when I was selected to serve on a jury for the US District Court.
You can't talk or write about the case until it's over (which is murder for a writer, who lives to communicate) but now that the trial is over I'm free from restriction so I thought I'd share my thoughts about jury duty.
1. It's Expensive - I don't get paid when I don't work. I'm out more than $1,000 for my little civic adventure. I'm incredibly fortunate my employer gives me vacation time so I won't have to absorb that hit, but I'm still out 7 days of vacation.
2. It's Boring - You see all those exciting courtroom dramas on TV and in the movies but a real trial is nothing like that. The case itself was interesting, but the process was not. There were lots of "side bar" conversations where the attorneys chat with the judge in a corner to decide some complicated thing they may not want the jury to hear. They turn on a white noise generator during these side bars and whenever the attorney doing the questioning consults with the second attorney on the team. There's a whole lot of nothing to do during these times for the jury.
3. It's Fascinating - I found myself completely wrapped up in the testimony of the witnesses. As a juror, my job was to judge who might be fudging on the truth, who might be biased because of personal or professional issues and to what degree the witness testimony was trustworthy. I had questions that went unanswered and that made it more challenging during deliberations, but you have to decide the case based only on what is presented so unanswered questions remain unanswered at the end of the day.
4. It's Sad - This was a wrongful death case. A man was killed at work, falling off the top of his truck as he was loading it with molten sulfur. The only eye witness had been hard hit emotionally, something that was obvious during his testimony three years after the fact. No matter how we decided the case, it's tragic to hear how suddenly and violently life can end.
5. It's Educational - This case made me painfully aware of how dangerous some jobs are. I understand that from living in Wyoming and hearing the workplace fatality statistics, but dry statistics can't show you the real people who do this work. The men who testified about their experiences doing the same job were tough, but admitted they're always scared, but they have a job to do and you get it done or you don't have a job anymore. That really touched me.
6. It's Frustrating - During deliberations, reaching agreement on all aspects of the decision was an adventure. It took us five hours, but we were unanimous in the end. Out of respect for my fellow jurists, that's all I'll say.
7. It's Important - I know it sounds corny, but the judicial system wouldn't work if it weren't for people being willing to answer the summons for jury duty. I know everyone talks about ways to get out of it, but if I were a plaintiff or a defendant, I'd sure be thankful for the people who serve. A jury of ordinary people, taking time to hear both sides, weigh the case presented, talk through the issues and come to a decision is a beautiful thing.
I'm glad that I've completed my service and am free from being called (by this level anyway) for two years, but after all those times not even making it to the jury box, it was nice to see the process from start to finish. There might have to be a trial in the future for one of my characters...