My Jury Service

A month or so ago, I received a summons in the mail to report for jury duty. I let my employer know well ahead of time, and on the designated day (Friday), I reported to the county courthouse.

I show up at 8am Friday morning. I went through a security checkpoint that reminded me of the good old days of airport security, when it didn't include taking off your shoes and submitting to a physical search that would only be appropriate in an after-school special titled "Bad Touch". In the jury room (a very large room with hundreds of chairs laid out in even rows), I picked up a questionnaire and started filling it out, while Fox News displayed on two TVs in the front.

The questionnaire included a lot of personal questions, including things like "Have you or anyone in your family had an experience with a law enforcement officer recently? Was it positive or negative?" They also included the name of the person on trial and a long list of names of potential witnesses, asking if you knew or recognized anyone. It also asked if there would be any difficulty serving the length of the trial, which was expected to last eight days.

When I was last summoned, I was very upset that, as a contractor, I was only guaranteed the low legal limit of $50/day. Now, as a full-time employee, I'd get my full pay, but only for the first three days, and then I'd be at that below-minimum-wage rate. (Colorado minimum wage is currently $7.36/hour, working out to not quite $60 per day.) I'm not much happier about this.

Time passed as more jurors reported in and started filling out their questionnaires. After about an hour, the clerk addressed us, along with a judge, to thank us for our service and tell us how important jury service is. We then watched a short video about jury service, in which people shared their thoughts about service. I noticed that the testimonials included valid concerns (like "I had small children, and I worried about what I was going to do with them", "I was really busy at work and didn't know how I'd fit this in"), but then they said how good they felt doing their civic duty — without addressing any of the concerns they initially expressed. (So, what did you do with your kids, ma'am? How did you support your family making less than minimum wage, sir?)

Our questionnaires were then gathered, at which point we were given a new randomized juror number. We were then sent home, with instructions to call a certain number after 6pm to see if we were selected to return on Monday.

This seemed like an unfair inconvenience. I was unable to tell my employer if I would be at work on Monday or not until after office hours were closed. I suppose my employer wouldn't know how long I would be out anyway, and the judge and attorneys need time to go through the 150-some questionnaires, but still, it doesn't seem like the needs of the citizens are taken into account at all.

I called, and sure enough, I was selected to return on Monday. I sent an email to my employer to give them what notice I could.

On Monday, I reported at the designated 9am time (which at least gave me plenty of time to drop my kids off at school, as usual). Reporting in were the hundred or so jurors from Friday selected to return, plus another group asked to report for the first time on Monday. The Monday jurors were processed first. The clerk announced that their trial was expected to take five days. They filled out their own questionnaires, and again we watched the video, temporarily interrupting the CNN discussion of Osama Bin Laden that was playing on the TVs today. I noticed that the video stated the average trial lasts 1-3 days, and I couldn't help but wonder how many trials must last less than a day to get that average down, considering our trial was 8 and theirs was 5.

Finally, around 10:30am, we were sent up to the courtroom. There was probably at least 20 minutes spent getting everyone seated, as we were supposed to sit in order of our juror numbers in a particular configuration around the courtroom. (The judge and attorneys had seating charts, and this would ensure they knew to whom they were speaking.) Some additional jurors had been dismissed, so there were some holes in the jury box. The first of us on the benches were called up to fill in the holes. As luck would have it, I was the first in line and ended up in the jury box to start. When I was in jury selection 6 years ago, I noticed that those people in the jury box at the beginning were among the first to be dismissed, and those called to replace them rarely were; so I had good feelings about being dismissed before hitting a substantial drop in income for a few days.

Questioning began (what is known in the court as voir dire — I guess I did learn something from that jury service video). The judge started with basic questions, such as whether or not any of us knew or recognized anyone else in the courtroom — including the defendant, whom I was honestly surprised to see present. I don't remember the defendant being present the last time I went through this, and I have to wonder if any of the potential jurors felt uncomfortable answering questions in front of him.

One of the questions the judge asked every juror was if there was any hardship in serving. I mentioned that the drop in pay would make it very difficult to support my family. He did say that, if it meant falling behind in bills, he would not keep anyone there. I answered honestly that it would be difficult, but I would at least survive. (It would take dipping into savings, but it would have been possible. I could've lied and said it would've been worse, but I didn't think that would be prudent, especially since we had a lesson in church the day before that just happened to be all about honesty.)

After the judge got through everyone, the prosecuting attorney began asking questions, probing for any biases that may make judging this particular case difficult. I was asked one question directly, but then I noticed that he didn't seem that interested in me thereafter. So, after our lunch break (during which I went to Walgreens to get some Excedrin for the headache that was building up all morning), I decided to remedy this situation. Whenever the attorney asked a general question ("Does anyone else feel like this?"), I raised my hand. Well, any time I could come up with something to say, anyway. I answered honestly, but I tried to answer a lot, so when it came time for the attorneys to dismiss jurors, I was on their mind.

When it came time for the dismissals (peremptory challenges — something I don't think was in the video but was explained at length by the judge), I ended up being dismissed by the defense attorney. I think about five people were dismissed before me, sent downstairs to collect their certificates of service (among other things, used as proof to employers of time served). They must have been discussing who they thought would remain on the jury, because when I showed up, there was a collective look of astonishment on their faces as one said, "You? No way, I thought you were a shoe-in!"

I'm not sure if I said anything in particular that got me dismissed. There was a question asked by the defense attorney along the lines of, "Could someone have a legitimate reason to lie to the police? If they do, does that mean they must be guilty of something?" I answered (honestly) that I wouldn't think they were "guilty", but it would color my perception of their testimony — if they lied to the police about one thing, what else might they lie about? While I can't know the specifics of the case, he must've had a reason for asking; I would guess that either the defendant or one of his witnesses might've lied to the police during the course of the crime/investigation, and my opinion might lead me to discount their integrity. Or maybe it was just my visibility in questioning, or a combination of both. Whatever the case, I wasn't too upset to not have to worry about supporting my family for the next week and a half.

In a way, I'm kind of disappointed I didn't get to hear the case. The charges were read to us, so I know it had to do with domestic violence and second degree murder. I would've been much more willing to serve in this very important process, too, if they didn't make it so blasted difficult to take care of your regular life in order to do this service.

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