This week I was called to jury duty. I know, I know, I can hear the moans from here, but to be honest, it was an interesting experience. I was not one chosen to sit during the trial, but I did get this close. My expectation was that most people would be trying to get out of being picked for the trial. I found, however, was that the vast majority of people in my grouping seemed to feel a sense of duty and gave what I felt to be thoughtful and honest responses to the judge’s and lawyer’s selection questions.
We were to be there at 8:30 am and assembled in a large room on the 5th floor. The room was full, not standing room only packed but full, I would estimate at least 80 or 90 people. Coffee was steaming hot, the room was filled with activity; this one talking about family, over here travel, some people quietly reading magazines or books, some pursuing their smartphones. All comfortably waiting to see if they would be chosen for a trial.
I have been in this room before many years ago, waiting, waiting the better part of a day then told that the judge had released us. Well that was uneventful. This time however, the clerk let’s us know that we will all be going to one or another courtroom for the selection process.
From appearances there is quite a nice cross section of the community. Some people seem to know each other and greet each other like neighbors. Others, more introverted like myself, observing, listening.
It isn’t long before the first group is called to be taken by a bailiff to a courtroom. Another 30/40 minutes pass and the next group is called and I’m in it. Mixed feelings, damn I can’t go home, coupled with hmmmm this might be interesting.
The 38 of us are led into the courtroom of Judge Randy Wilt. The courtroom is much smaller than I expected, probably due to all of those episodes of Law and Order that I’ve watched. The selection process is tediously slow, rightly so from the other side of the jury box, you want your jurors to be as honest and unbiased as possible.
The first round of questioning netted nine jurors for the trial; five more needed to be picked for a total of 14, 12 for the jury and two alternates. Alternates are picked in case any of the selected jurors become ill before deliberations. The alternates listen to all of the evidence but they don’t participate in the deliberations.
Judge Wilt has an interesting take on alternates. He doesn’t tell the jury who the alternates will be until after the closing statement. His rational is that alternates tend to not listen to the evidence as carefully if they think they won’t be participating in the deliberations. Smart thinking.
Long story, short, I am in the second group being questioned and for whatever reason, I am not chosen for the trial. Again, mixed feelings. Glad that I can finally go home, it was a long day of waiting and listening, but also a little disappointed that my real world justice system experience has ended.
My biggest takeaways are, 1) for all of the flaws in our governmental systems, I have to admit that I am awed by the intent and attempts to maintain and carry out fairness, justice, and respect within the offices that are charged with keeping our society safe and running smoothly.
And 2) I hope I never need a lawyer. Those four lawyers, two representing the state and two representing the defendant, were babies! They looked like they graduated law school last week. That’s like going to the doctor and seeing Doogie Howser, yikes!
Actually, that is more evidence of my advancing years than of their inexperience, but where is Jack McCoy when you need him.